Remembering My Best Friend

First Line, 3rd from left: Dr. Hamid Jawad al-Khatteeb, military service in Hamrin Mountains, Iraq 1965
First Line, 3rd from left: Dr. Hamid Jawad al-Khatteeb, military service in Hamrin Mountains, Iraq 1965

A year ago, I lost my father. My dad, sayid Hamid Jawad al-Khatteeb, born in Iraq in 1929, was 87 years old. He survived everything life could throw at him, living through the incredible strife of his home country, a nation he loved deeply and the land he returned to as his final resting place.

He endured 35 years of political persecution, a heart attack at 50, and a stroke, until his final battle with a stage-4 cancer, which rendered him vulnerable to severe pneumonia. It was this which ended his fruitful presence in this world.

His departure was also the conclusion of a beautiful three decades of close friendship with him that I enjoyed to the fullest since the age of 17 in 1986 – the very year that marked my return to Baghdad to reunite with my parents after years living in hiding in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, where I lived with my eldest sister Salma, in Sulaymaniyah province. While I was a refugee living in Kurdistan, he was busy smuggling the rest of his children out of Iraq, but he would go on to help those closest to him as much as those he barely knew.

At the time, the political climate in Baghdad was as dangerous as the days when I left (in 1980), but the Ba’ath regime that had ruled Iraq since 1968 had become preoccupied with its war against Iran, which had turned into an existential struggle, a brutal slog that typified the ventures of the reckless dictator Saddam Hussein.

Genocidal campaigns against the Shia and Kurds and the harsh persecution of dissenting groups, including Communists and dissident Sunnis, was relentless. Mass graves, sectarian deportations, massacres and mass arrests, as well mindless torture, are all now well documented. Reports from the time by the UN and human rights organizations still make for shocking reading. Saddam’s brutal intelligence agency, known as the Mukhabarat - which later on produced some of the high ranking members of ISIS, or Daesh - was the iron fist that the tyrant used against the people of Iraq to control and crush opposition for nearly a quarter of a century. The Baathists who joined ISIS may have renounced their former ideology, but they used the same sadism to lead the terrorists.

Nonetheless, there was a brief respite for our family in the late 1980s on my return to my birthplace, Baghdad. A new chapter in my life was opened as my father enrolled me in a high school thirty minutes’ drive from home. He used to take me to school and pick me up, every day without fail. I once urged him that I will use public transportation but he refused, saying how he had already lost my brother, Abdul-Jalil, to the Mukhabarat on the last day of his final exams at Baghdad’s Dental school, not knowing his whereabouts or even a trace of his body. He told me he just could not tolerate the slightest risk of losing another son.

My dad had a hectic life, being the head of the wider family, a focal point and counsel for our tribe, the Al-Awadi, whose lineage goes back to the Prophet Muhammad. However, the journey to school and back home granted me a unique opportunity to learn much of his wisdom and rich experiences in life; these lessons were like a first-class degree in understanding Iraq, something that I wouldn’t find in any highly ranked university.

Being with dad was like being with a walking encyclopedia of history, politics, religion and Arabic literature. Beside the fact that he was a poet himself and a legal expert by training, his journey in life was so rich in experiences that it saved me a lot of time seeking answers. His mind gave me quick guidance on the toughest questions. His memory bank was phenomenal – he would memorize by heart thousands of verses from classic poets of pre-Islamic history to modern writers. He taught me a unique method of investigating historic narratives by cross examining them with what was established by known poets of old times under the dynasties that ruled from Persia to Andalusia.

I developed a serious interest in studying politics and history after my Baccalaureate, but he advised against it for his worry that this could land me in prison. Then I asked him to rebuild his library after he was forced to burn his books as a result of the inquisition that we faced soon after Saddam’s arrival to power in 1979. But he objected to the idea, as this could jeopardize the security of our family. I still remember the days when he dug up his books from the back garden after he buried them following the arrest of my brother, and had to burn them in the basement at night so people wouldn’t see the smoke – at that time Saddam ordered his secret service squads to check people’s gardens for buried literature and arrest the “perpetrators” for possessing any history or poetry books that didn’t comply with his new police state.

However, he did introduce me to his uncle, Sayid Abdul Hussain Al-Hajjar, a childhood friend to the well-known Iraqi orator, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Waeli. His uncle was in his eighties, with a very sharp memory despite suffering a stroke. His house was like an Aladdin’s treasure cave, a place with over 25,000 books and original scripts. I used to seek refuge in that house for hours every week after school, and my dad was rather happy that I had found something of interest to complement his daily tutorials.

Iraqi culture is well-known for its complexity, due to the country’s diverse population and rich history, being the cradle and crossroads of many civilizations and nations, and the collision point of past and modern history. Therefore, truly understanding Iraq requires an excellent degree of knowledge with good command of the Arabic language, classical and local dialects. One of the difficult chapters to master was understanding social practices and tribal traditions. Dad was once again my guide to Iraq’s cultural diversity; he used to take me to funerals and key social meetings where he helped defuse tribal disputes. I still remember the day when he and my late uncle Kadhim took me to the funeral of Sheikh Mojid al-Sha’lan, the head of Sha’lan al-Attiya tribe – one of the largest tribes in the mid-Euphrates of al-Diwaniya province.

Dad briefed me on what was going to happen on arriving to the venue. He covered all the details, right down to the description of the place and the size of the massive audience; as if on cue, everything he said happened exactly as described.

The most shocking part of that day was when my father informed me that we would be received differently from thousands of other guests, including government officials: we will be welcomed by Ardha (عرضة) a group of poets called Mahaweel (مهاويل) and men with rifles firing in the air as a sign of greeting distinguished guests. They will be led by the 80-year old head of the tribe, Sheikh Abdul Amir al-Sha’lan; he will bow to kiss your hand, as sign of respect for your grandfather sayid-Jawad, who was a significant figure in managing tribal affairs for the Hawza of Najaf in this part of Iraq.

But my father told me to make sure I pulled my hand away and not to allow him to kiss it; and that I would then be seated on the Sheikh’s right side at the head of al-Majlis (the main reception room) that holds nearly 300 guests. Dad also taught me all the social protocols of such events. The most interesting part of that funeral gathering was when government officials left the venue and it was safe for the tribal poets to recite and read out their political poems in a sarcastic way (Hischa حسچه) to express the tribes’ resentment of the Ba’ath regime.

It was a fascinating experience, a crash course on complex tribal cultures and traditions. Dad kept taking me to similar occasions in various provinces including Baghdad, Anbar, Najaf, Diyala, Dewaniya, Babylon, and Basra. The more I learned about Iraq, the more I realized that it is far too complex to just rely on reading about it from books – engaging with the diversity of our society was key to understanding.

Fast-forward to the end of the Iraq-Iran war and my dad was once again on the case trying to smuggle me out of Iraq. He spent years obtaining the right papers and paying off government officials to pave the way for me, and maybe one day I will write about this episode in detail.

By June 1990, two months prior to Saddam’s next reckless move, the Kuwait invasion, I had my papers ready and confirmed the day I would leave home once again. This time I did not know if I was going to make it out of Iraq without being caught, knowing that this could mean I would never see my family again.

Tuesday 26th June 1990 was as painful as the day my father passed away. As I made my way out of our residence, I cried like a child, and so did dad – we both fell on the floor weeping aloud. This was a scene that was repeated thousands of times across Iraq as parents gave everything to ensure the safety of their children, hoping that they could continue the family in a safer place.

Soon after the invasion of Kuwait and end of the Gulf War, the 1991 southern and northern uprisings erupted in Iraq against the dictator. 14 provinces were liberated by the Iraqi people, who managed to breathe a short-lived freedom. This was quickly extinguished as Saddam regrouped his Republican Guards and brutally crushed the rebels, arresting and killing anyone even peripherally involved, including thousands of women and children. The dictator was given a greenlight by some regional players to do so, while the international media were expelled from the country, unaware of the massacres that took place in southern Iraq. Only months later, when refugees told of the horrors, did some reports emerge of the carnage. Extensive research and testimony was collected in the 1990s by human rights organizations and campaigners such as Kanan Makiya, but the full tragedy would only become clear after 2003, when vast mass graves were discovered.

At the time, the northern part of Iraq was chosen by the United Nations as viable for saving, by enforcing a no fly zone and the creation of a protected zone (safe haven) for the autonomous region of Kurdistan. But if this action was justifiable under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, then surely saving the southern Shias was also justified. Instead, southern Iraq became vulnerable to Saddam’s remaining armored divisions.

With grim predictability, these armies entered the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, shelling holy shrines and driving in with banners on their tanks proclaiming: “No Shia after Today” (لا شيعة بعد اليوم). Even Wadi al-Salam (the valley of peace, the largest graveyard in the world) was bulldozed. The death count among civilians in the south (mostly women and children) reached nearly 200,000 by some estimates, all in less than 4 months.

The southern cities were besieged by the Republican Guards who embarked upon rounding up thousands of people. My father had a large factory and a warehouse in Najaf which the army destroyed. He used this as an excuse to get into Najaf and smuggle out some families that would face death, should they try to escape, claiming they worked for his Al-Ekhwan Factory.

Two years after the uprising, my dad made it to Jordan. There he shared with us the horror stories of the uprising’s aftermath, and I now believe this was the first manifestation of what later became the Arab Spring, which rocked the region twenty years later. That year when we were in Jordan visiting dad, (1993) the movie ‘Schindler's List’ came out, and watching the risks taken by Oskar Schindler reminded me of my father’s role as he saved families from the Middle East’s version of the Nazi party.

My dad’s heroic acts never surprised me as I witnessed him on many occasions rescuing others, including people he never knew, hiding them in our house for years.

Early political intrigue

Three years before I was born, in 1966, dad was appointed by Iraq’s President Abdul Rahman Arif to be the Attorney General to the Highest Military Court, and was forced to take the job despite his objection to holding public office. During his tenure, he worked days and nights investigating delayed and serious cases, and was successful in saving many innocent lives, a role supported to the full by his wife. Being a humble person, dad never craved publicity or ostentatious displays. My mother and eldest sibling told me how dad used to ask his armed convoy to drop him far from our neighborhood to avoid attracting unnecessary attention in street, and how he would walk to the end of the road to catch up with his security escort to work.

Dad sensed the danger of the Ba’ath Party from the early years when they first ruled in 1963, after executing General Abd al-Karim Qasim. He was also a committed activist during his student life when he returned to study after putting his ambitions on hold for nearly 15 years while working as the private secretary for his father, sayid Jawad al-Khatteeb.

Middle: my grandfather, sayid Jawad al-Khatteeb al-Awadi, Basra, Iraq 1960, standing with tribal leaders.
Middle: my grandfather, sayid Jawad al-Khatteeb al-Awadi, Basra, Iraq 1960, standing with tribal leaders.

My grandfather was the special envoy of Najaf’s Grand Marjiya (supreme religious authority) and their representative to the mid-Euphrates tribes, until his passing in 1963. It was my dad who pushed back against the Ba’ath when the “National Guards” (Al-Haras al Qawmi الحرس القومي) tried to control the movements of Grand Ayatullah sayid Muhsin al-Hakim—a small indicator of how bad things would get later, in the 1970s. In 1963, my dad led the Baghdad University student delegations to welcome the Grand Ayatullah and delivered the main speech he wrote, despite the pressure posed by the National Guards of the Ba’thists.

Although sayid Muhsin al-Hakim was the leader of Shia-Islam during that era of the Najaf clergy (Hawza), he was also considered a notable figure by the international community, especially in the Arab and Islamic worlds. Most of his sons were later kidnaped, executed or assassinated by the Ba’ath party, including sayid Baqir al-Hakim and sayid Mehdi al-Hakim, who used to frequently visit our house in Kadhimiya in Baghdad in the 1960s. On the passing of my grandfather sayid Jawad-Khatteeb in 1963, Grand Ayatullah sayid Muhsin al-Hakim led the prayers during his funeral and ordered that he should be buried inside the Holy Shrine of Imam Ali, next to Grand Ayatullah Abu l-Hasan al-Isfahani. Sayid Jawad had represented Isfahani for 3 decades before al-Hakim assumed guardianship of Hawza. This was an incredible honor.

After the defeat of Ba’thists in November 1963, they worked hard to gradually climb back to power, eventually cementing their rule for almost 35 dark years. Just before their 1968 coup d'etat, my dad felt helpless and had to tender his resignation to President Abdul Rahman Arif, but this attempt to keep out of politics proved short lived.

Dad went back to Baghdad University to do his Master’s Degree after the Law School launched its first postgraduate program. He proposed the topic of the disputed Iran-Iraq border and the legal status of Shat al-Arab, in addition to examining territorial border disputes with Kuwait. The topic he chose was very much in the news and his course of study was highly encouraged by his close friend Ayatullah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadir, the legendary Iraqi scholar.

His objective was to permanently and legally resolve ongoing disputes between Iraq and its neighbors, to avoid potential conflicts, since the short-lived Ba’ath government of 1963 had agreed with Kuwait to acknowledge border issues. Later on, changing regional dynamics led to the 1975 Algiers Accord between Saddam and the Shah of Iran.

4th from Left: Dr. Hamid Jawad al-Khatteeb, with his friends at Baghdad University in 1972, celebrating the completion of his
4th from Left: Dr. Hamid Jawad al-Khatteeb, with his friends at Baghdad University in 1972, celebrating the completion of his Master’s Degree. His 500-page research and recommendations were ignored by the ruling party as he predicted the Iraq-Iran War a decade before it happened.

Soon after Saddam assumed power, he sent an envoy to my dad asking him to be the Director General of the Legal Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the potential to be promoted to Foreign Minister.

But the Saddamists of course had a malign agenda, to revoke signed agreements with Iran and Kuwait. Dad declined the offer and tried to find a valid excuse on health grounds as Saddam would not take a “no” for an answer. Unfortunately, his efforts didn’t free him from the consequences of this, putting our wider family under scrutiny. The regime harassed us at every opportunity and began to target friends and family members, confiscating assets and selling them on for next to nothing. Our family was now on course to get out of Iraq, but dad never regretted his costly decision – it was all about principles, he said.

During my exile years in the United Kingdom, I used to communicate with dad using coded messages as our telephone lines were under constant surveillance. I used to start the conversation by praising Iraq and its leadership (without mentioning names) and end it with “Insha’Allah we will finish our exams soon and be back to serve our country”.

One day, a local Ba’thist visited dad and asked him: “What kind of study are your children attending in London? It’s taking much longer than any regular degree to complete.” Dad paused for a moment and replied “well, they are not smart enough to pass any sooner, they kept failing many modules and repeating their years.” Then he gave him a generous gift just to shut him up.

But despite this scrutiny, Dad couldn’t leave Iraq permanently, he was still attached to Mesopotamia and serving its people. Needless to say, he was a key pillar of our tribe and all those in need. For many families, he was a social security department during the harsh, bitter years of sanctions. He had to liquidate many of his remaining assets to support his people and sustain his mission in Iraq.

Dr. Hamid Jawad al-Khatteeb receiving tribal leaders, 2010.
Dr. Hamid Jawad al-Khatteeb receiving tribal leaders, 2010.

In 2002, we urged him to leave the country as another major war looked increasingly likely. As he made it to London, he endeavored to advise many exiled opposition figures to think seriously about how they should manage the day after regime change. At one point, just a few months before the US led military operation; a family friend Ibrahim Jafari (later the first democratically elected Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Iraq) was visiting dad at our residence in London. Jafari asked him for his advice regarding the best way forward, and my father advised him in no uncertain terms:

“The Iraqi opposition parties in exile have drastically failed the people, in-country and in the diaspora; (during the 90s, serious divisions emerged in the opposition that would be a sign of things to come) therefore, I don’t see how this political class will succeed to govern a fractured state with a complex history. There is a chance however, if you engage with the people and listen carefully to them. You need to act humbly, don’t isolate yourselves or live in palaces, stay away from ethno-sectarian narratives, don’t squander Iraq’s riches. If you fail to act as leaders, then act as servants of the people. The people in exile may know your past, but those inside Iraq hardly know you. You will make it to Baghdad because of the US led intervention, nothing else, try to use this opportunity wisely but most importantly don’t squander the sacrifices of Iraqis to legitimize your presence in power. Surround yourselves with the best, most honest and qualified entourage. Do more listening to experienced people and less listening to your voice. The people of Iraq are a very extreme nation, they keep quiet for a while but when they revolt it will be a nightmare you don’t want to see – just remember what happened to your predecessors. Even Saddam could’ve been history in 1991 if it was not for the implicit support of the international community to keep him in power. The US/UK-led coalition are now moving in because of a seismic shift in policy but most importantly, they know that no-one in Iraq will defend Saddam’s regime. This is my two cents since you asked me to opine. Don’t do the opposite of what I just said” – This was a summary of a long discussion.

Jafari nodded in agreement and thanked my father for his thoughts. Soon after regime change, none of the above was adhered to by most politicians; the rest is history.

On April 7th 2003, my father learned that Abdul-Majid al-Khoei, a prominent exile (son of the revered Grand Ayatollah al-Khoei) entered Najaf. My father, having been in Iraq through the 90s, knew that there were dangerous elements of Iraqi society who not only opposed the Ba’ath, but were opposed to foreigners and virtually every group in Iraq. He knew that a moderate cleric close to westerners could be in grave danger, even a man from a revered family. Dad immediately asked his friends to convey the following message:

“Please leave Najaf immediately and only return when the storm settles. You are an asset that we cannot afford to lose at this critical time. Najaf is not the same city you left when your father was the Grand Ayatullah, especially with some local groups that could see you as a rival to their presence. They will lynch you even if you cling to the walls of Imam Ali holy shrine”.

Tragically, the message never reached him and three days later he was savagely murdered by “unknown” gangs nearby the holy shrine. Dad also predicted the assassination of sayid Baqir al-Hakim, which happened months later at the hands of Al-Qaeda.

The assassination of the sons of two most prominent Grand Ayatullahs in Iraq’s modern history (sayid Abdul-Majid al-Khoei and sayid Baqir al-Hakim), represented the most serious setback to hit the political process in the first months after 2003. It cleared the way for many trivial Shia politicians to emerge, who went on to disfigure the Shia’s role in the new political order. This paved the way for the petty political rivalry that prevailed during Iraq’s long crisis.

But the chaos, betrayal and complexity of Iraqi politics both before and after regime change was never really something dad wanted to engage with. He despised most of the political class that ruled Iraq irresponsibly, selfishly, ignorantly and with absolute greed. Moreover, he advised all his sons not to engage in any government roles, unless we could do so as a neutral observer.

For the last 13 years of his life after regime change, he returned back to what he is best at doing. He completed his Ph.D. in international law and politics; wrote three books on UN reforms, the impact of the Cold War on Iraq, and research on legislative and institutional reforms. He also continued writing poems and helping to resolve tribal and social disputes in various provinces – the very task and asset that he inherited from his father.

During his time of study, I was once again reintroduced to his vast databank of knowledge. He asked me to get him a computer and teach him typing skills with Microsoft Word. I felt so privileged that I was now old enough to teach Dad something, except he was a very fast learner and mastered everything in less than a week. In fact, I was intrigued as to how he managed to type in Arabic, something that I had never tried in the past. I used to enjoy reading his emails, which he used to phrase in a very classical, almost poetic way.

I quickly reverted to the role of his student regarding how to write my first article in Arabic – and that was the beginning of a new life for me as I changed careers from ‘Management Consulting’ to ‘Political Economy’. I ended up being his research assistant, and his Ph.D. provided more than enough encouragement for me to discover the world of academia and earn my doctoral degree a few years later.

In 2004 I was headhunted by Shell International to become their political and business advisor on Iraq; it was my first entry to the energy world – thanks to dad. During my work with Shell, I kept meeting dad in Baghdad and London every month or two; he was very much my primary source in reading the political and economic scene in Iraq.

In 2009, during one of dad’s visits to London, I was traveling back from the UAE to see my family in the UK. Although it was a short stay, it would become a memory that I now treasure. He reminded me that this year he turned 80 years old while he was enjoying a documentary about the French Riviera - typical dad, even on his birthday, he wouldn’t take time off and rarely went on holiday. So I came up with a plan.

I went to my mum and asked her to get ready as I planned to take her and dad to a place for a three-day city break; but she said she wasn’t well enough to join us. Then I asked her to prepare dad’s cabin bag and passport without telling him anything. I went back to the sitting room and asked dad to be ready tomorrow morning as I needed him for an important meeting in central London.

In the morning, we took the taxi to London Heathrow without him knowing we were heading to Nice. As we arrived to the Airport, he asked “what’s this and where are we going?

“To Monaco,” I replied, “the meeting has moved there.”

“But I have nothing with me to take”, he protested. “Don’t worry dad, I have prepared a cabin bag for you,” I said, aware that this was starting to sound odd.

He was rather skeptical and kept nagging me all the way to France; “you have to tell me what’s going on!” Then I broke the truth to him: “Dad, I know you hate traveling unless completely necessary. Kidnapping you kindly was the only way to take you to a place for a break. It’s your 80th birthday – time to celebrate it my way”. He truly enjoyed the trip and we had a very memorable time.

In Monaco, France, with dad, celebrating his 80th birthday in 2009
In Monaco, France, with dad, celebrating his 80th birthday in 2009

In July 2014, soon after the onslaught of ISIS, my dad was visiting London for medical checkups. Despite his age, he insisted on fasting during the long hours of Ramadhan in the UK. I was in Doha when I received the call that he had a stroke, and rushed to the airport for the first flight back to London.

When I got to the hospital he was in intensive care, half paralyzed and with all sorts of tubes and machines attached to his body. Dad soon showed his fighting side, defying the doctors’ assessments that pointed to a very pessimistic outcome. Two weeks later, he managed to regain consciousness, shocking the examining team with his magic memory. Within three months, he regained over 50% of his physical capacity and kept exercising to prepare his health for the next flight back to Baghdad, getting back to his social duties.

Dr. Hamid Jawad al-Khatteeb (1929-2016) Pencil drawing portrait by Qassim al-Rammahi
Dr. Hamid Jawad al-Khatteeb (1929-2016) Pencil drawing portrait by Qassim al-Rammahi

In early 2016 he didn’t feel well, but this time it was the lethal “C”. He travelled back to London just to be told he had a few months to live, and that he should prepare for his journey to the final destination. His decision to take chemotherapy was not because he hoped for many more years, but was merely to win more time to finish off the write up of his last books.

I was in Moscow on official business when I heard the worst news, on the same day that the current Oil Minister Jabbar al-Luiebi called me to nominate me for the post of Oil Minister in the cabinet reshuffle, a post which I declined, supporting his nomination instead. For the last six months of my dad’s life I tried to spend as much time as possible with him. I would sit next to my dad and ask him as many questions as I could to document anything we’d overlooked in our 30-year journey – it was a hopeless effort to download fractions of his memory bank to my limited capacity.

In the last month, his hospital stay increased due to a weakened immune system, as a result of his chemo doses. Nonetheless, every time he arrived home, he would jump onto his computer and start typing despite the pain he endured - even when drinking a glass of water. He insisted on typing his work by himself until the very last days. I urged him to leave the writing until the chemo was finished, telling him he would have months to relax and finish his writing. “Not even weeks my son, I know what I’m doing,” was his response. He lived all his life with a strong independent spirit, a proud man who even refused the help of a nurse to take him to the bathroom. He always prayed that God would take his life before he had to witness deaths in the family or become dependent on anyone.

Despite not knowing it would be the very last week of his life, I cancelled all my work commitments and spent the maximum time with him at hospital. Before long he developed pneumonia after an unfortunate blood transfusion that finished off his immunity. This compromised his health and shortened the initial time allowance predicted by the medical team, but doctors at Northwick Park Hospital where he stayed kept comforting us that he should be “OK.” He was therefore discharged to go home the night before his passing. It was then that he called upon all available family members to come home and surround him, as if he knew it was a matter of hours before departing, not even days.

I was about to call British Airways to cancel my flight to Washington DC, that was scheduled for the day after to speak at various institutions. But dad insisted that I should travel and not to worry about anything.

The night before his passing we kept holding each other’s hands. He looked at my son Muhammed and hugged him while in bed, and said to me “take care of him, one day this boy will be somebody, and InshaAllah he will be in charge of more than all the responsibilities you and I handled in our lifetime”. Then he said: “and make sure you take tomorrow morning’s flight to DC, it is the city that I always wanted to travel to and attend to the scholarship I declined half a century ago, due to family commitments – promise me you take that flight, and imagine me in any audience you speak to.” Unfortunately that is what I did, and regretted not disobeying him for once.

As I left the house at midnight, he called after me to return back to his bed, and as he was lying on the bed, he pulled my hand and kissed my right arm and said “now you good to go, you should not worry about anything from now on.” I kissed his hand and his head as I never had done before, so did my son and daughters. I left to the airport the next day not knowing that my family had called the ambulance the moment I switched off my phone, just prior the takeoff. I was weeping in silence all the way to DC, feeling that I will never see my dad alive again.

The moment I touched down in DC, I received the bad news by text, “Luay, come back home, our dearest dad has passed away”; I was completely devastated as I reached the immigration desk feeling as if I was walking in a parallel world, in absolute disbelief. I managed to cancel all commitments and get on the next available flight back to London. On Sunday 18th Sep 2016, my father was admitted for the last time to Northwick Park Hospital, fighting for his last breath. He died at noon sharp with my brothers Samir and Kusay standing by him. One hour before he passed away he told my brother Samir, “If you see Luay, tell him I am radhi/pleased with him, آني راضي عليه” - radhi, loosely meaning a combination of pride and satisfaction for someone – the ultimate honor a son would seek to secure from his parents in Islamic culture.

My dad passionately loved my mother and all his children, but he always thought he was created for a greater cause: to serve as many people as he could during his life. For me he embodied the meaning of the word ‘principles’, the father I dreamed to have, the teacher whose every lesson I would enjoy, the leader that inspired me, and the friend I trusted most. He was everything to me.

His experiences and struggles were the best legacy a father would leave to his son. Serving him was an honor that will never be matched in my life. My last service to him was to wash his body with my eldest brother and take him to his final resting place, with my sibling, to the holy city of Najaf.

My dad has shaped my life and destiny. Since his passing, the sentiment is almost the same. He will always be missed, for all the happy years he left me to cherish. Thinking of this, the saying, “it’s the life in your years, not the years in your life that count,” has never seemed truer. For this I truly thank God for gifting me with such good parents.

My son Muhammad always reminds me of dad’s last words to him: “Muhammed, I love you, you are in my heart, you are in my heart”.

Dad, I love you, you are in my heart.

Your son, Luay.

With my Father and Professor Ali Allawi at the launch of Iraq Energy Institute, London 2008.
With my Father and Professor Ali Allawi at the launch of Iraq Energy Institute, London 2008.
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