In the seventies, two young men left Iraq to escape from then-deputy Saddam Hussein and his murderous security machine. The first is Nouri al-Maliki, a member of the Dawa Party, which Saddam had decided to uproot. The second is Iyad Allawi, a member of the Baath, who was appalled by Saddam’s forceful control over the party, under the mantle of President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr. The two men will face each other later in Iraq after the American invasion.
In 2010, I entered the office of the Iraqi Prime Minister, and his name was Nouri al-Maliki. The conversation was valuable. As I left, I had the feeling that post-Saddam Iraq had produced a strong man who would not easily leave his new position.
Al-Maliki, who had signed the decision to execute Saddam, said in the interview: “My wish was not to execute Saddam, as this would be his salvation. The death penalty is nothing compared to the crimes he committed. He should have remained a humiliated prisoner, as a model for dictators. But it was the desire of the people and the families of the martyrs...”
During that year, Iraq experienced a long, open crisis over the formation of the new government. Al-Maliki was demanding a second term, while Allawi - a former prime minister - considered himself entitled to lead the new cabinet in light of the results of the parliamentary elections.
Eight months later, Al-Maliki won the duel, and the reasons were many, including Iran’s evident support and the US administration’s keenness to appease Tehran.
Allawi adhered to his “secular Iraqi Arabist” approach, refusing to acknowledge Iran’s right to shape the political scene, as he considered that Tehran participated along with Washington in sabotaging the country. Thus, the years passed, and Allawi did not visit Iran even once, despite assuming the position of Prime Minister and Vice President of the Republic and heading a large parliamentary bloc. He also did not hesitate to voice explicit criticism of foreign interventions in Iraqi affairs, including those of America and Iran.
All these questions would not have been asked if things had gone the way the master of Baghdad had wanted at dawn on Feb. 4, 1978 in London. That night, Iraqi intelligence executed an order by Saddam to “smash the head” of Iyad Allawi, who resigned from the party and began looking for change in Iraq from abroad.
The assassination attempt
I asked Allawi about that assassination attempt, he replied: “The attempt was preceded by many threats. I left the Baath Party completely in 1975. That year, we formed the “National Accord” secretly, without giving it a name. We saw that things began to deviate from their course, whether on the Arab, Iraqi, or national levels. The threats and inducements continued from 1975 to 1978, when they played a very dirty game.”
He recounted that was contacted in London by a person who identified himself as “Jihad Al-Dulaimi.”
“He called me and said he wanted to meet urgently. We had received information, through our group, that 13 people would be assassinated. “
Allawi recounted that during the encounter, the man told him that he was sent by people “who care about you, know you, and respect you.” He added that they were looking for Baathists who have an interest in the party and want to cooperate with it.
Allawi replied: “Is this something you would say to a stranger like me? Go and fix things from within the party... I have nothing to offer, and I am not ready to conspire. I am now working full-time in the medical field.”
Exactly a month later, the assassination attempt took place.
The senior Iraqi official recounted that at the time, he was staying with his late wife in an area called Epsom in Surrey, southwest of London. On the night of Feb. 3-4, 1978, he was at work in the hospital and then accepted an invitation from Kurdish friends for dinner.
Allawi described the attack in detail, saying: “I came home around midnight, and I was tired. I used to keep the curtains slightly raised, to allow some light to enter the room. At about 3 a.m., I heard a sound, so I opened my eyes and saw a ghost near my bed. I thought I was dreaming. But I saw something shining, heading towards me... The ghost immediately hit me in the leg, and I felt as if fire had entered it. I could no longer move my left knee, and I received blows and bites in my hand, nails smashed my chest, and I felt hot water on my head.”
He continued: “When my wife turned on the light, she immediately became hysterical, and attacked the person, who was tall and trained. (Allawi mentioned the full name of the attacker.) The attacker knocked out two of my wife’s teeth with his hand. We continued to fight while I was holding the axe and preventing him from using it.
But the hot water I was feeling turned out to be blood from a blow to my head, and the bones came out of my right leg, while I was on this [left] knee. This ultimately saved my life...”
“I was afraid for my wife. After he managed to take the axe, he hit her on the hand... so I told her to jump and cling to his neck with her other hand, knowing that he was tall, while I was sitting on the knee, and the axe was facing my head... My wife was able to hold on to his neck and pull it back, so I seized the axe by its handle, took it from him, and hit him in the leg with it... He turned his head and left because he thought I would not survive. I noticed that he was with another person who had a gun on his waist...”
A journey of suffering and treatment
Allawi went on to say: “After he left, I crawled to the phone, called the hospital, and told them that my wife and I - were seriously injured, and we don’t know whether we will live or die. I asked them to report this attack on us to the police... In less than 5 minutes, the police and ambulance arrived, rushed us immediately to the hospital, and put us in two separate rooms.
“They transferred me to an intensive care unit, and cut off any communication with me... They kept me under surveillance for three days, as they feared a brain hemorrhage. Thank God, there was no bleeding. After that, they took me to a regular room, and I saw all the sad faces. My family and friends were worried and afraid.
“Meanwhile, a policeman who was present told me that my case was political, and the head of the counter-terrorism department at Scotland Yard, Jim Nevill, would come to investigate it. He added that someone had penetrated the hospital morgue and inspected the bodies there to make sure I was killed. At dawn, while workers were bringing a body to the morgue, they heard footsteps heading towards them, so they fled.”
Allawi said that he underwent treatments and operations for a month in the hospital, under armed protection from anti-terrorism police.
“A month later, the police came to me with a number of civilians and asked me if I was conspiring against the rule in Iraq. The police conducted terrible investigations. They found the assailant’s watch and traces of his blood. They found his watch, which was made in Japan, specially for the Iraqi Republican Palace. They were meticulous. They took his fingerprints.”
The British police told Allawi that they would not be able to protect him permanently.
“You must leave for another hospital, and only the hospital director and the treating doctor would know your true identity... They took me to a hospital in Gloucestershire... Only the treating doctor and the hospital director knew my identity. I told the rest that I was from Lebanon and was injured in the war.”
Allawi said that his wife had a nervous breakdown during the first period after the attack. Then she got cancer and passed away.
The attacker falls into the trap
Allawi said that after the fall of the regime and his return to Baghdad, he received information that the assailant was in Türkiye.
“An Iraqi intelligence officer... showed me his picture and I recognized him... He said that the man was in Türkiye and was assigned by Iraqi intelligence to follow up on Iraqi opposition figures who travel through Kurdistan, to assassinate them, with your name at the forefront.”
Allawi said that when they informed the Turkish authorities of his presence on their land, they replied: “You are executing and killing us, we will not hand him over to you.
He added that the Americans asked the Turkish government to hand him over and set a trap to arrest him.
“They approached the Turkish government, asking it to tell the attacker to return to obtain another visa. He only had to enter Iraq and leave it via the Ibrahim Al-Khalil Bridge at the Zakho crossing in Kurdistan. They told him that he just had to cross the border and return to Türkiye to receive a 5-year visa. Masoud Barzani’s group, the Asayish, are present at the crossing. They received a signal from the Americans, so they immediately arrested him and sent him to detention in Baghdad.
“The Americans asked me to see him, but I refused so as not to do anything to him under the influence of anger. I also said that I am waiving my personal right; But the general right remains, which I cannot waive,” Allawi stated.