“One day a director of general security visited to me. He told me that Khomeini’s continued presence in Iraq will lead to strife and dangers,” he recalled. “He has not respected the condition of his hosts and does not cease his incitement.”
The man spoke of a foolproof plan to get rid of the “difficult guest” and conclude his story “for good”. He can be left in the desert and never found. “We will say that he secretly left for Iran or that Iran’s SAVAK managed to abduct him,” he added.
I looked at him and said: “Do you mean to say that history will record that Iraq betrays its guests?” The head of security became flustered and excused himself.
He continued: “I was visited by another senior security official. He said that Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani have turned the northern parts of the country into a thorn in Iraq’s side. Their presence in Baghdad is a prime opportunity to get rid of them, through poison or some other means.”
I replied angrily: “I don’t like them, but Baghdad is my home. Do you want others to start saying that I betray those who I welcome in my home?”
It was no ordinary night for the man residing in the far-off hotel. He knew that televisions will recall those days. The images of his statue as it was brought down by the American armored vehicle. The image of George W. Bush celebrating his capture in a pit. The image of the noose around his neck.
He stood at the balcony of his hotel room and went through memories. Suddenly, Moammar al-Gaddafi, Ali Abdullah Saleh and Rafik al-Hariri arrived. He gave them a terse smile. They probably came to console him. He is not sad or remorseful. “If you can’t prevent your enemy from killing you, then you should deprive them of the opportunity to humiliate you.”
He welcomed them, saying: “The leader does not choose his fate. He walks towards it. I am not naïve. I am the son of this raucous history. I never expected to die of old age or of a heart attack. Fate itself wanted my death to be like my life: A bullet against my enemies.”
Ali Saleh was not surprised with what he heard. Gaddafi was a bit jealous. He feared that Saddam’s remarks about Khomeini were a deliberate jibe at the fate he drew up for Imam Moussa al-Sadr. He tamped down his desire to protest. How difficult it is to protest in the presence of Saddam! Hariri, meanwhile, concluded that Saddam had not learned anything from his plight or that of his family and people. He kept his thoughts to himself.
He continued: “I fought Iran on the border so that I wouldn’t have to fight it in the streets of Baghdad. I knew it was preparing to settle historic scores. Have you seen what has become of Iraq when men shaped by Paul Bremer and Qassem Soleimani were left to fight over it? I don’t regret refusing the advice of the director of security. I will leave it to history to say what it has to say.”
“For the record, I don’t deny the story behind the invasion of Kuwait. My closest associates encouraged me to do it. Power is the greatest intoxicant. Perhaps they rushed to execute me so that I wouldn’t expose secrets,” he added.
“I am not surprised by my fate. I fought, killed and was killed. Despite our differences, I can say the same thing about you brother, Ali, and you brother, Moammar. But what wrong did Rafik al-Hariri commit to be murdered. He rebuilt Beirut’s buildings and soul. He brought it back from war and sought, through prosperity, not bullets, to reclaim the country’s voice and sovereignty at a time when Ghazi Kanaan and Rustom Ghazali were appointing presidents and governments, just as Soleimani would later do in Baghdad.”
Ali Saleh said: “Yes, I fought, killed and was killed. But those who killed me have also killed Yemen. Look at what they have done to the people, state, sovereignty and decision-making. Yemen was already a difficult place. Its terrain and history are treacherous. Ruling the country was like juggling bombs. I maneuvered, stalled, fought and reconciled. I mock the snakes that betrayed me. I will leave it to history to judge what I have done for my country and what the Houthis are doing to it.”
Gaddafi said: “The Americans who killed your regime and paved the way for your murder attempted to kill me years ago. Their planes reached my bedroom. I won’t hide the fear that I felt when I saw your corpse hanging from the noose. I won’t hide that I envied you. You faced your fate with your head held high and without being pitiful. You deprived your killers of the joy of seeing tears in your eyes.”
“I know you are angry with me. This is an opportunity for me to apologize, me, who never apologizes. Iremember well that the first rocket Iran fired at Baghdad came from our warehouses. In truth, I was not as eager as Abdessalam Jalloud to send the rockets, but I was swept up in the moment. These are our fates.”