Obituary: Muhammad Hadid

Alan Rush
Thursday 05 August 1999 23:02

MUHAMMAD HADID was an eminent Iraqi politician and industrialist whose career began in 1931 and ended with the destruction of party politics by the Baath dictatorship in the 1960s.

He was also controversial - accused by some of compromising his socialist ideals after the downfall of the monarchy in July 1958, defended by others as a pragmatist who could accept that Iraq's quest for a liberal democracy must involve sacrifices to the grim realities of Iraqi public life. While people argued over his attempts to square the desirable with the possible, all agreed that he was an intelligent, lively and cultivated man who throughout his life aimed to serve his countrymen.

Born in 1907 (officially 1906), Hadid belonged to a wealthy family whose importance pre-dated the First World War when the region - then called Mesopotamia - was part of the Ottoman Empire and had yet to be established in 1921 as a Hashemite kingdom under British mandate. Based in the northern city of Mosul, his forefathers traded with Syria and Turkey before investing in industry and real estate. His mother belonged to the Al- Dabbagh who ranked for generations among the leaders of Mosulite society. His wife was the grand-daughter of the enormously rich Muhammad Pasha Sabunji. Hadid himself, however, was known less for his wealth than for the frugality for which Mosul's merchants are renowned.

Hadid was educated locally and then at the preparatory school (now the International College) attached to the American University of Beirut. In 1928, he travelled to England and studied at the London School of Economics where, guided by Harold Laski he acquired a life-long admiration for Sidney Webb, Hugh Dalton, Maynard Keynes and all those other economists and socialists whose Fabian ideas excited not only Europeans disoriented by the First World War, but also Middle Easterners eager to raise a new social order from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire.

In 1931, Hadid returned to Baghdad and joined the Ministry of Finance. More importantly, he became a founding member of the politically progressive Ahali group which embraced the ideals of Britain's Labour Party and attracted other leading personalities such as Abd al-Fattah-Ibrahim, Jafar Abu-t- Timman, Kamel Chadirchi and Hikmat Sulaiman - some of them authentic idealists, others disgruntled opportunists, but almost all of them people who, given a chance, might have made Iraq a better place.

Instead, their ideas alarmed the palace and British officials who quietly blocked all constitutional means of implementing them. This was partly why, in 1936, Hikmat Sulaiman involved the group in a coup d'etat led by the profligate army general Bakr Sidqi. Though the coup succeeded and several colleagues gained ministries in the new government, disillusion came when Sidqi began seeking dictatorial power at the expense of their own plans for public welfare and reform.

It was a perilous situation from which the Ahali ministers escaped by resigning en bloc and fleeing for their lives in June 1937. Four months later, Sidqi - bound, some say, for a secret meeting with Hitler - was shot dead at Mosul Airport. In these adventures Hadid was involved as an Ahali member and yet more so following his election as deputy for Mosul.

After lying low during the Second World War, he returned to public life in 1946 when he became Vice- President of the National Democratic Party. As successors to the social democratic wing of the Ahali group, its members championed agrarian reform, workers' rights and state control of Iraq's nascent oil industry. Notwithstanding, Hadid and most of his colleagues firmly rejected Communist ideas, insisting that the evils of capitalism should be fought, but not capitalism itself.

In November 1946, in exchange for promises of free elections, Hadid agreed to serve as Minister of Supplies in a transitional coalition government led by his bete noire - that most cunning and ubiquitous of Iraqi politicians, Nuri Said. Soon afterwards, faced with evidence of electoral interference, he resigned in protest. Clearly he and his fellow National Democrats had fallen victim to a typically Nuri-esque ruse designed to exploit and divide the opposition parties.

While representing Mosul in the Chamber of Deputies, Hadid extended his commercial interests and became a leading member of the Council of the Federation of Iraqi Industries. During business visits to the United Kingdom he supplied the press with calls for genuine parliamentary democracy in Iraq where British influence was still immense. Also, he opposed Iraqi participation in the pro-Western defence organisation known as the Baghdad Pact.

In 1956, when Britain joined France and Israel in attacking Suez, he spearheaded the Front of National Union through which Iraq's political parties united in demanding "the combating of imperialist encroachments". Hadid never opposed the institution of monarchy per se and he was appalled by the massacre of the Hashemite royal family in July 1958. Nevertheless he was disappointed by the family's tendency to exceed the powers laid down for it in the Constitution: and by the 1950s he was certainly pleased to witness Iraq's emergence as a republic. Only later, under Baathist rule, did he admit that most Iraqis, including himself, enjoyed greater freedom under the monarchy than in any period after its destruction.

Though he took no part in the coup d'etat of July 1958, he assisted the Free Officers by meeting the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, in Cairo in order to ascertain his position regarding their plans. Nor was he surprised when he was appointed Minister of Finance in the government formed by the leading rebel, Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim, who now styled himself Prime Minister and Minister of Defence.

Encouraged by the Oriental Counsellor at the British Embassy, Sam Falle, Hadid helped to ensure that, with only three exceptions, none of the friends and members of the ancien regime who were condemned to death in the revolutionary courts was executed. In this way he used his prestige and civilian status to give Qasim's fledgling government a veneer of moderation that greatly encouraged international recognition.

As Minister of Finance, Hadid used credit loans from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to foster industry and pay for ambitious schemes to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi masses. But he also protected the interests of landed proprietors and industrialists. Despite the fact that he himself benefited from these measures, even his later critic, the National Democrats' esteemed leader Kamil Chadirchi, declared that "as far as it is possible for a big capitalist to be clean and idealist, Hadid is clean and idealist".

Although Hadid was gravely embarrassed by Qasim's eccentricities and dictatorial rule, he stood firm when, in 1960, Chadirchi insisted that the National Democratic Party must abandon him. Arguing that democracy needs time to emerge, that there was still no acceptable alternative to Qasim and that his overthrow would deliver Iraq into the hands of Baathist or Communist extremists, Hadid broke ranks with Chadirchi and, in June 1960, formed his own National Progressive Party which was intended to restrain Qasim through what he called "constructive criticism". In later years this would be remembered as the most regrettable act of his career since it split and gravely weakened the democratic movement.

During the following years Hadid's position was further undermined by a vicious power struggle between Iraqi Communists and nationalists. In Mosul, in 1962, professional assassins would happily eliminate any suspected Communist for as little as 10 dinars (pounds 10). In July, after further appeals for Qasim to restore order and institute an elected government, Hadid finally admitted defeat and abandoned politics. But he was still considered a supporter of Qasim, a fact that cost him dear when the Baathists gained power following Qasim's assassination in February 1963.

Interned, put on trial and deprived of his assets, Hadid waited several years before he was fully rehabilitated. Thereafter he confined himself to business ventures and the administration of the Vegetable Oil Extraction Company, of which he was chairman and part-owner.

Hadid loved his country and never wanted to reside elsewhere. But ill health and inadequate medical services resulting from United Nations sanctions forced him to spend his final years in England, the present home of his children, one of whom is the renowned architect Zaha Hadid.

Despite positive feelings for England dating back to his student days. Hadid regarded British distrust of Iraq's intelligentsia as probably the earliest main source of Iraq's present dilemmas. But he criticised his fellow Iraqis too. Besides pointing to corruption in the army, he deplored the extent to which religious and racial prejudice have so often divided Iraq's Sunni Arabs from Shias of Persian origin, and both those groups from other ethnic communities such as the Kurds. Questioned about Iraq's future, his reply was always the same - "I see no substantial change for the next 30 years."

Muhammad Hadid, politician, economist and industrialist: born Mosul, Iraq 28 October 1907; married 1933 Wajiha Sabunji (died 1983; two sons, one daughter); died Maidenhead, Berkshire 3 August 1999.

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