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Business Trip of a German Delegation to Baghdad in the country between Euphrates and Tigris – organized by the German Ministry of Economy from 11. to 14.10.2013 by Rolf Meyer-Reumann

Guiding Principle

The German Ministry of Economy organized a business trip for a German Delegation to Baghdad from 11. to 14.10.2013 . Rolf Meyer-Reumann joined the Delegation and reports on his visit to a city, which he knew well since the Iraq Embargo time and which is still behind the curtain for the entire world.

The Travelogue

When the German-Arab Friendship Society (DAFG) informed me in September 2013 that the German Federal Ministry of Economy was planning a journey to Baghdad/Iraq I indicated interest and was invited. The Federal Ministry of Economy must have been aware and must have considered that apparently the imminent risks in Iraq remained within limits. During the embargo (Aug. 1990 to April 2003) I had visited Baghdad frequently and toured the country. Selected photos and reports of this period are available on M&P’s website http://meyer-reumann.com/travel-reports/erbil-102011/.

As my flight on FlyDubai approached Iraq, I saw below me the Euphrates and Tigris peacefully seeking their path in many bays from Turkey to the Gulf. Peacefully? Really or a Fata Morgana?

Mesopotamia was and is too land to be ever left in peace by its neighbouring nations. To understand the present dilemma, you have to go into history, to see that this is Iraq’s fate in general. The reigns of Hammurabi[1], Alexander the Great[2] and Haroun Al Rashid[3] are peaks of Iraqi history. During the ruling of a dynasty and the country flourished. However the good periods were followed by invasions and conquests, and the prosperity period was followed at some point by the fall of the dynasty. This was the destiny of Iraq through the ages. At a time, Euphrates and Tigris carried milk and honey instead of water, at other times, the bloodshed in hefty battles coloured the water. Other drifts and turbulences came from underground, mostly masterminded by humans. The Tower of Babel (2300 B.C. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turmbau_zu_Babel) is an outstanding sample of this cycle in prehistoric times.  Advanced civilizations have existed in Iraq since 6000 years and made Iraq to “the cradle of civilization”. In the 2nd century A.D., the Romans added Mesopotamia to their empire. In the 7th century, the country became Islamic. In the medieval times the Turks and in modern times it was the British who tried to rule Iraq. The fall of Iraq in recent times was initiated by the takeover of Saddam Hussein in July 1979. Armed conflicts followed i.a. with Syria, Persia and the Kurds. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990. This step was based – probably not only – on his craving for power. The world, i.e. the United Nations, with the strong support of the United States of America, stopped him successfully[4]. However, Saddam Hussein did not gain power, but Iraq ran into a worldwide embargo, which lasted 12 years until April 2003, when the Americans liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein. However, the situation did not turn to the better but to the worse. Terroristic attacks occur ever since on a daily basis. Only Kurdistan managed to stay out of this chaos.

During the trip of the German delegation, all of the official spokesmen tried hard to look positively at the future of Iraq, but none of them really managed to create a bright nearby future. Not only because of Al Qaeda but rather for various different interests of individual groups such as the Sunnis, Shias, Kurds and other smaller groups. All means are taken by each group to defend their interests and to secure or get their part of the cake even before it was even baked.

The welcome speech of the German Ambassador Mrs. Birgit Wegener addressing the delegation at the Cristal Grand Ishtar Hotel – previously Sheraton Hotel – described the present scenario well. The image she put across was not really a bright one. The small size of the German delegation reflected the current politics of the German federal government i.e. the politics of small steps. I considered this to be the right approach nevertheless and preferable rather than the loud rumble of the world powers, including America, England, China and Russia. From the regional neighbourhood, Turkey, Syria, Iran and Israel interfere severely. None of the speakers had a nostrum how to solve this dilemma and no one dared to make any realistic prognosis. They restricted themselves to maintaining the hope for better times. There was no vision for a nearby bright future.

At my arrival in Baghdad I was leaving the airport and looked for a taxi to take me to the car park, where my driver was waiting for me. Someone saw me and offered me a lift to the parking ground. He was a consultant of the Southern Oil Company in Basra, which is affiliated to the Petroleum Ministry and in charge for the Iraqi petroleum trade in the South. The drive took about 10 minutes. When we arrived, he had appointed me as his “wakil” i.e. attorney! Knowing the Arab world, I took it for what it was: Arabic courtesy. I would be happy to welcome him to a cup of coffee at his next visit to Dubai. The next day I phoned him and before saying anything, he greeted me saying “Hello Mr. Meyer!” Where, the hell, did he get my name from? The answer: He had a computer program that very quickly associated my telephone number with my name and displayed both!

Upon arriving at the hotel, we had to pass through the hotel guard post. My driver rolled the windowpane down and the guard asked (I guessed) for our passports. Instead of passports, my driver reached for his pistol, released the safety catch and ….. handed it to the guard. The guard had not asked for our passports, but for the pistol and my driver didn’t release the safety catch, but he secured the pistol. The pistol had been ready all the time to fire. The guard and my driver had considered all as normal and routine in a city where nothing actually was normal.

As my driver was holder of a safety ID card he was allowed to enter blocked areas, such as the Green Zone. His car was “normal” like any other car. The German Ministry for Economy had hired armoured security cars for the delegation. The trained drivers, the security personnel and the passengers wore bulletproof vests. The entire delegation could have easily been transported by two cars but there were two extra cars. I had doubts that these two extra cars indeed improved the security. I had the impression that the convoy was equipped to drive through a war zone and everyone could recognize this.

The streets of Baghdad were crowded due to the large number of security checkpoints which reduced the lanes of the streets from 4 – 5 lanes to one lane only. Since my last visit to Baghdad in April 2011 the number of checkpoints had been reduced considerably. It definitely was good for the traffic but apparently it was also good for terror attacks which had increased in number again.

Not only the streets were crowded, our schedule was also crowded with appointments, such as the visit of Baghdad International Fair 2013 with speeches of the Iraqi Minister of Trade, the German Ambassador Mrs. Wegener and the representative of the German Federal Ministry of Commerce Mr. Karl Wendling. Visits to the Ministry of Petroleum, Ministry of Higher Education and the Chamber of Commerce were all on the agenda. In the evenings, a reception of H.E. the Ambassador and an invitation to the Hunting Club took care that we didn’t feel bored.

We were able to enjoy the “Masqouf”, an Iraqi fish speciality, four times. As for me, I could have liked even more Masqouf. The very first evening, I went like in the old days to a Masqouf restaurant on the Abu Nuwas Street[5], where I often had enjoyed Masqouf[6] during the embargo time.

The schedule for the last afternoon had to be changed on a short notice. The head of our delegation had indeed managed it to arrange a visit to the Iraqi National Museum. It was said, that it actually was under renovation – since many years.  This was a sensation. I would gladly have visited the museum already during the embargo. But it was and remained closed. It is still closed till today, with some very rare exceptions. Now we were granted an exception to the rule! It felt that all of us of the German Delegation were given a medal of  honour!

When the Americans ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003, there was a rumour that the museum had been looted. It was said that some 15.000 pieces had “gone lost” and it was rumoured that the Americans themselves had their finger in the pie. Rumours only? It seems to be ascertained that the Americans actually did nothing to prevent the looting. On August 17, 2006, the director of the museum, Dr. Donny George Youkhanna, fled for fragile reasons to the USA via Syria, where he became a lecturer at the Department of Anthropology of the Stony Brook State University of New York till his death in March 2011.

The museum’s visit was a real pleasure. Some photos available on the M&P website http://meyer-reumann.com/travel-reports/erbil-102011/ speak for themselves.

My resume and Thanks

My résumé of the trip: Within three days, I had seen a lot and established new contacts. The security risks were – to my understanding – within an acceptable range. The small size of the delegation was rather an advantage than a disadvantage. The trip was well and thoroughly planned and the museum’s visit was the icing on the cake.

I would like to express my gratitude to the Federal Ministry of Economy, the German Embassy in Baghdad and – especially – to Mr. Klaus U. Hachmeier, the head of the German Bureau of Economy in Baghdad, who indeed played a decisive role to bring this visit to success.

October, 2013 Rolf Meyer-Reumann
Meyer-Reumann & Partners, Dubai Office

 


[1]     Reigns of Hammurabi – 2250 B.C., who issued the first written civil code in 282 paragraphs, in which no human rights were reflected, cf. http://www.constitution.org/ime/hammurabi.pdf [English], http://www.reinerjungnitsch.de/folie-hammurabi.pdf [excerpts in German] and http://www.theologische-links.de/downloads/archaeologie/codex_hammurabi.html. The Babylonian King Hammurabi wrote a code of law that included many seemingly biblical ideas on morals, but his writing took place before Moses wrote the Bible’s first books, which means that Moses has copied some of his codes from Hammurabi.

[2]     Reigns of Alexander the Great – who conquered Babylon in 331 B.C. His grave is also located there, http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_der_Gro%C3%9Fe

[3]     Reigns of Haroun Al Rashid – 763 – 809 A.D. His reign was a golden age for science, culture, religion and music and the Arabian Nights fables are closely associated with his name, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harun_al-Rashid

[4]     http://www.ag-friedensforschung.de/regionen/Irak/kuwait.html. An elaboration is available in the internet.

[5]     Abu Nuwas Street is a famous street along the Tigris. It has its name from Abu Nuwas, a poet from the period of Haroun Al Rashid, who is still world-famous till today. He was the author of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves, Aladdin and the magic lamp and quite a number of Arabian Nights stories, cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_One_Thousand_and_One_Nights

[6]     The ‘Masqouf’ is one of the most popular fish dishes. The fish is cut open from the back and grilled on open fire of special wood or charcoal, making one of the most traditional of Iraqi dishes. Shabbout, gattan, bunni, carp, samti, hummari, callas, shallik, catfish, salfar, are all river fish of the Euphrates and the Tigris sold by women in the market. http://www.niqash.org/articles/?id=240.

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