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Friday, September 3, 2010

President Abdul Rahman Aref

Abdul-Rahman Aref
[1916- 24 August 2007]

The Man Who Ruled Iraq: Lived Quietly and Departed Quietly

Kadhim Finjan Al-Hamami
(The Arabic Version)
الرابط لمقالة كاظم فنجان الحمامي

Translated to English by Misbah Kamal

On this day in 2007 the former Iraqi President Abdul-Rahman Muhammad Aref passed away after a principled life-long service and historic deeds to the homeland that will not be forgotten over the generations. He was a genuine patriot loved by all people whether they agreed or disagreed with him. He did not bear grudge against any person in Iraq or elsewhere. His attention was focused on serving the Iraqis; he put these concerns above all other considerations.

His reign was characterized by calmness. He lived quietly, and distanced himself and his family from the vagaries of political turmoil and explosive conditions. That is why he enjoyed a long life of nearly ninety years. He departed calmly as an ordinary person, like one of us. Indeed, he is the only Iraqi president who died naturally in his bed. His funeral in Jordan, where he was buried in the Mafraq Cemetery among other Iraqi officers and soldiers who died in the battles of liberation, was a majestic event. He was not dragged to death or assassinated or hanged; he simply died laying in bed in an intensive care unit in Amman, and that is a blessing from God that set him apart from other rulers of Iraq.

Aref’s regime was characterized by a wide margin of cultural freedom, a prevailing spirit of tolerance, magnanimity, bypassing trivialities and grudges, and discarding denunciations. He was known during his reign for his tolerance, flexibility in attempts to open the door for opponents, establishment of what is known as the Presidential Advisory Council, which included a number of former prime ministries, some of whom were opponents. During his presidency, political parties became active; he kept friendly relations with them. He was tolerant even with those who sought to overthrow him. Throughout his rule, he never signed any decree of execution.

Let me record here a unique situation related to me by Qais Abdul-Rahman Aref, my teacher at the Marine Vocational School. This incident reflects the simplicity of the president and his serenity. He refused to be accompanied by the trappings of presidential processions. He was never happy with security vehicles following him with their sirens breaching traffic rules. He was happy with only one car driving behind him slowly. One day he decided to drive his white car himself accompanied by his gentle wife to visit his relatives, unaccompanied by any protection. It happened that one of the tyres of the car was suddenly damaged in the middle of the road. A car passed by driven by a young Iraqi doctor with his family. The young doctor stopped and saw that the President of the Republic was stuck on the side of the road with a flat tyre. The doctor walked towards the President, and said to him: "Am I imagining or you are really the President?” The President smiled and said to him: “Yes my son, I'm the President.” The young man rolled up his sleeves, replaced the flat tyre and accompanied the President all the way to the house he intended to visit out of his concern for his safety.

Incidents like this were not alien to this humble man, who kept his Baghdadi home in the Yarmouk district, seen by people in the popular Ma’moun Market with his wife (Umm Qais), shopping vegetables and meat, wearing a white dishdasha, conducting himself spontaneously like any ordinary citizen, thereby expressing extreme simplicity that was a mark of his life and those of his children after him, chief among whom is Mr Qais Abdul-Rahman.

Captain Ali Hussein Karim talked to me a few hours ago on the part that Marine Colonel Qais Abdul-Rahman has played in changing the course of his life. Says Ali: “I was frequently absent from the marine classes at the Marine Academy to the point of breaching the disciplinary limits. The order on my expulsion from the Academy was contingent on the signature of the Colonel, but he refused to sign the order. He decided to give me one last chance. He tendered his advice and guidance in the presence of my father, and expressed his concern for my future and the future of my family. At the time I felt his genuine words, the brotherly care, and that the person who was talking to me was my older brother. Today, I am a captain navigating the open sea thanks to this eagerly concerned patriot.”

May God have mercy on the soul of the great Abdul-Rahman Aref, who was a good and wise president, a sincere man overflowing with patriotism, and an Iraqi worthy of respect and honour. He deserves to be well remembered after having lived calmly, ruled quietly, stepped down from the presidential post quietly and died quietly.

Basra 08/24/2010

Translator’s Remarks by Misbah Kamal
This translation was commissioned by Wafaa’ to commemorate the 3rd anniversary of the death of Abdul-Rahman Aref. Wafaa’ rightly believes that the life and politics of Aref, a unique interregnum in Iraq’s modern history, deserves serious study.

Translation was not easy as the style of the writer is discursive and lacks conciseness. I have taken some liberty in rendering the text in English. The article reads like a rushed journalistic piece to pay tribute to Abdul-Rahman Aref on the third anniversary of his death. It is anecdotal. Aref was president of Iraq for two years (1966-1968); therefore crediting him with “historic deeds” as the writer asserts may be viewed as an exaggeration..

For a different journalistic approach, Arabic readers can refer to Laith Al-Hamdani’s article (published on 27 August 2007), some of whose ideas were borrowed by Kadhim Finjan Al-Hamami. Here is the link to Al-Hamdani: