Iraq’s top doctors all meet on Fridays at our hotel pool, they drink big pints of beer, eat crisps and swim. They have a British look about them. A 1950’s English style. It is a look I always liked about Iraq.
Are you British? one of them asks me in the pool. “Yes..” I answer. The big burly doctor smiles. “I studied in south London, in 1986.. I lived in East Dulwich..” “So did I” I reply. “Why didn’t you stay there?” I asked, “I wanted to, but we are a big family here in Iraq, my father was a merchant, we inherited many properties, factories, businesses all over Iraq. I came back to look after them with my brothers.”
“What was business like under Saddam?” the doctor shakes his head. “We stopped all business because of Saddam, he didn’t care about business, he believed that this country was rich only in oil. Anyway it was dangerous to get into BIG business in Saddam’s time. Anything that threatened him would be cut.” So where you for the war?” I ask him. “No, but I’m pleased Saddam is gone.” Another doctor joins us… “It was the only way of getting rid of Saddam, the war was necessary.”
“What we Iraqis need to realise is that Iraq is a rich country, but that it is impossible for us to have this on our own. There is always someone who wants to share it. During theBritish rule we did well, so lets hope that the Americans get what they want, and maybe we can all do well again.” The other doctor looks at me, “Iraq was the envy of Middle East. We were living like kings while Jordan was still a piece of desert, Bahrain, Dubai.. they never even existed. Now they look at us as second-class citizens. That is Saddam’s fault. You know the people of Europe used to say that the Arab world should take it as a compliment that Iraqi’s consider themselves as Arabs.”
“But you know the best period in Iraq in the last 400 years was between 1920 and 1985 when the British ruled us. Our economy grew, we had 3 Iraqi dinars to each dollar. The other doctor interrupts, “When Bremmer first arrived in Iraq we met with him. I told him, Iraqi people are not poor, we have food and enough to eat and live, but what you have to realise is that we are 5000 times poorer than we were.
The crippling inflation of the 1990’s with the UN imposed sanctions saw Iraq’s inflation rise 5000 fold. It will be along journey to restore such wealth, and for most who left their money in Iraq it is too late. Samir sits listening to the doctors. He shakes his head, “You know at the end of the 1980’s I had 200,000 dinars in the bank, about half a million dollars. It went to the wind, inflation, the sanctions. Now I don’t have the money to bury myself.”