by Max Sawdayee


Sunday December 3, 1967

Yesterday Premier Yahya ordered the closing of all daily and weekly newspapers.  He granted permission only to five newspapers which absolutely back the regime.  Those closed were not radically against the government, but in their commentaries and criticisms they pressed our rulers to change their present policies.  They demanded a complete change in the military structure:  new, ‘clean’ elements to take command of our armed forces and reshape them in a truly modern and healthy style.  Above all, they demanded a loyal army.  This is something which the government is surely endeavouring to do, but cannot.  To reshape the army – this may be possible.  But a loyal army?  That can be a mere wish.  Since the ‘30’s the Iraqi army has been characterised by unrest, on a small or large scale.  Sometimes it took an independent stand, or it intervened directly in government or political affairs.  When it suited the men at the top, the intervention was in some cases violent or bloody.

The papers that have been closed also demanded that the Kurdish problem be settled completely and finally and not remain hanging in the air as in its present restless condition.  They demanded a kind of arrangement with neighbouring Iran too.  In fact, our Premier has invested a lot of efforts in this direction, but no progress has transpired.

Furthermore, those papers demanded a healthy economy based on industry, and a lowering of the standard of living in the country.  These are tricky problems that our rulers cannot afford to tackle in these restless times, when important political issues dominate the Cabinet’s agenda but find no satisfactory answers.

Anyhow, the closing of newspapers shows that the government is afraid of criticism and advice, even if these come from a fairly neutral or pr-regime press.  It shows also that vital questions continue to be neglected.  Though Premier Yahya is still strong, many among his colleagues as well as President Aref are too weak to be capable of weathering probably storms.  The Premier is aware that violent currents are overwhelming him all around and undermining his chair.  I feel sure he realises that he cannot hold on much longer.

The news speaks of a heart operation affected today in South Africa by Professor Christian Barnard.  That is remarkable!  Such news carries with it plenty of hopes.  The operation shows that a strong and clever will exists in the world to save desperate human beings from death, whereas in our region responsible leaders are concerned and preoccupied in an opposite pastime – how to get involved in conflicts, how to involve others in them, and how to destroy human beings.

Thursday December 14, 1967

Dr Gunnar Jarring, the U.N. mediator between Israel and its hostile Arab neighbours, is in Jerusalem.  A major development in the area.  Dr. Jarring can be a wonderful messenger of peace.  Let us wish him luck.  He is an active, cool and experienced diplomat.  Besides, he is well accepted by all parties concerned, and enjoys the confidence of the United States and the Soviet Union.  That is essential for the progress of his mission.

In contrast to the positive step of Dr Jarring’s mission, Arab foreign ministers met in Cairo last Saturday with a view to taking a unified political stand about Security Council Resolution No. 242; instead, quarrels unfortunately spoiled the conference, which ended amid most spicy Arabic abuses and vilifications.

The Prime Minister promised a Jewish delegation of women two days ago that the beginning of the next year would see the release of all remaining Prisoners.  He urged the women to keep quiet now and let everything go its way till the end of this month.  Well, it is a good sign, anyway.  The news spreads among the community with the speed of light and instils into some a feeling of relaxation.

Thursday January 13, 1968

This afternoon six ministers suddenly resigned from the Cabinet.  No reason was given for this mass resignation.

Seven months after a military disaster the country stands on the brink of a political and economic precipice.  Apparently a number of factors have contributed to the mass resignation of six Cabinet members.  The government seems to have no plans what to do in the foreseeable future.  It functions in a state of indecision, hence crippled.  The Kurdish ministers have since about one month ago refrained from taking any part in Cabinet meetings, as they seem to be on lukewarm terms with the rest of their colleagues.  Besides, some ministers in the Cabinet itself have been demanding a reshuffle in the portfolios.

Former premier Al-Bazzaz, one of the most educated, respectful, and successful politicians of Iraq, is demanding free elections to be held now, and a parliament, so that the people may have their say.  The army is much against this idea, and insists on maintaining the status quo until a clear position crystallises between the Arab states and Israel.

With all these miseries besieging our government, something of great importance shows up that must be taken into serious consideration.  It is the Soviet Union’s tactics to have a say, a big say, in our political, social and economic developments.  In fact, since the successful coup of July 14, 1958, which abolished the Hashemite monarchy, our relations with the Soviet Union have constantly improved.  But Soviet leaders will not be satisfied with that.  They seek to have a greater influence in this very strategic and rich country.  Control of Iraq means quite a lot to the Soviets – plenty of oil, a foot in the Persian Gulf to help instigate and feed leftist and extremist movements in the oil sheikhdoms, and a pressure upon Iran from the west.  Thus a potential danger to Western interests in this important and explosive area.  Taking these factors into account, the Soviets cannot expect adequate collaboration from our quasi-nationalist, conservative rulers.  They require a more radical, leftist, extremist group to facilitate their job. President Aref and Premier Yahya know this quite well, and both of them have a hard time keeping a balance between their Eastern and Western friends.

Saturday January 28, 1968

It is a beautiful day.  The sky is blue, the sun is shining brightly, and it isn’t very cold for the season.  Baghdad is so wonderful in such weather!

At nine in the morning I leave the house.  I decide to take a long walk in the main avenue not too far from where I live, which leads almost to the centre of the city.

Crossing the Opera Gardens near my house, I stop there to have a good look at the new big statues lately erected of some Iraqi ancient poets and philosophers.  I am in a splendid mood.  The sun, which I have always adored, the jovial trees on this magnificent winter day, and the memories of those famous men I read broadly about, make me happy and cheerful.  I gaze at the statues for a while, and recall my old joyful schooldays, when I used to discuss those famous names with professors and friends.  The passion of these memories lends me courage and drives me farther to the Sa’adoun Street, very hopeful and sure of myself.  This is one of the most wonderful avenues of the capital.  It is very wide, planted with lovely trees all the way on both sides; and its magnificent buildings, restaurants and showrooms entitle it to be one of the most fascinating avenues of Baghdad.  I keep walking slowly, taking an absorbing look at all showrooms, buildings, shops (among which the attractive bookshops), and the typical and popular street terrace cafés.  Everything looks fine and everybody appears to be taking a live interest in the splendour of the day.  And suddenly something most familiar tome strikes my attention and cuts sadly into my heart:  it is my former advertising business offices.  As long as I owned them, worked in them and received customers in my premises twelve hours a day, I could never imagine that they looked so wonderful from outside.  Many of the rooms overlook the crossing of two main streets; and through the big, modern windows I can recognise many of my former staff – secretaries, penmen, shorthand typists, all of them as active as ever.  Nobody is seated in my room, the lights are turned off there but the curtain is still wide open.  I see my ex-partner chatting with the President of Coca-Cola of Iraq, one of our shorthand typists seated beside them.  It is strange what feelings and emotions shake my nerves.  A thought or two flash in my mind.  ‘it was no joke starting such a business from scratch and growing it to its present powerful dimensions’.  Without knowing why, I suddenly move away and disappear in the crowd, perhaps because I do not want to be seen by anyone I know there, as my eyes may betray a profoundly sad look while I am gazing at the windows.

And with this feeling I return home, perhaps somewhat upset, yet firmly determined and defiant.  I address myself in these words: ‘Life would be tasteless indeed if one never suffered a defeat or setback, or the loss of something one heartily cherished and loved’.

Thursday February 8, 1968

President Aref is in France, with a view to concluding a deal.  Oil versus Mirages.  That is the main concern.  Apparently this man does not know what to do with his time, his money, his position and his responsibilities.  In short, he hardly knows what to do with his presidency.  His chair is swinging back and forth like a pendulum.  His adjunct, Prime Minister Yahya, is having a hard time sitting on the steering wheel of the State, and an enormous percentage of the people from poverty and squalor.  Barefoot, illiterate and miserable workers are sweating to extract the oil from the depths of the earth’s womb.  But the only thing our President finds useful to do now is to go to Paris and bargain the principal wealth of the country for Mirages!  These planes have become an obsession.  And the more Migs we receive, the more our mouths water for Mirages.  His speech in Paris today is arrogant, funny and void.  I wonder what the French people think of their distinguished visitor and customer-to-be!

Mulla Mustaffa Al-Barazani, the Kurdish leader, despatches an urgent message to de Gaulle requesting him not to sell our country Mirages nor any other weapons, as they will certainly be used against the Mulla’s people in the north.  However, I am not sure whether the French President will respond to his request or even take his message into serious consideration.

We hear that some twenty five thousand Jews have left North Africa since the Six-Day War.  Most of them are in Europe and the rest have emigrated to North and South America, and to Israel.  It is a great thing that these people could leave their Arab countries in this critical period.  I suppose the remnants of their communities should also leave the soonest possible as long as there is a chance to do so, lest they should get trapped as we are.  How wonderful it would be if Egypt, Syria and Iraq did the same and allowed their Jews to leave!

Monday February 26, 1968

The anti-Jewish campaign launched by the government information media since about four months starts to bear its poisonous fruit.  Jews here are made to taste its poison 24 hours a day.  Though the Iraqis are good people generally, and we have managed to live with them for countless generations, participating in their happiness and their misery, the trend of current events has created many elements hostile to the very idea of collaboration between Jews and non-Jews in order to satisfy certain interests both local and foreign. 

A former Jewish clerk who calls at the Technical Flour Mill Co. to collect the balance of his bonus gets a hard knock on the face with an iron fist from the sentry, who knows he is a Jews.  Another, who calls at the General Car Company to buy a spare tyre for his Volkswagen, gets a severe beating from two men he knew very well in the past.  A Jew asking for a soft drink in a small riverfront coffee shop gets a hard beating and is kicked out of the coffee shop.  Another, eating in a well-known restaurant in North Baghdad, also gets a hard beating and kicked out of the restaurant.   Many incidents of this kind are occurring now and then.

All of these incidents show that the people are getting the message of our government well driven home, and that they are commencing their first practical tests.  The tongue, with all its bad vocabulary and abuses, has given way to hands and feet.

Premier Yahya has not kept his word.  Not a single Jew has been liberated from prison since December last.  On the contrary, some fifteen more have been arrested and jailed during the past two months.  No one can tell how long the present situation will continue.  It is everybody’s conjecture.