Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
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IRAQ: Impressions of the general

March 16, 2008 |  9:13 am

I first met Major Gen. Jawad Rumi Daini in Baghdad’s Green Zone in late August 2006. It was a few months after the formation of Iraq’s then national unity government. A politician had recommended I talk to him. We agreed to see each other at the Rashid, once the premier luxury hotel under Saddam Hussein. Now, it was used by businessmen, officials and others inside the Green Zone.

Daini was in the lobby waiting with his son Haidar, a quiet man in his late 20s, who was a dentist. The general made clear he didn’t want me to write immediately about his story. He had lost his job under pressure from the government and he still hoped to persuade the U.S. military and Iraqi officials to help him.

While we sat on the sofas in the Rashid lobby, men approached him and asked what had happened. Daini shrugged and spoke in an exasperated voice about his fall from grace. He was dressed in a dark blazer and blended with the dozens of officials who shuffled from building to building inside the Green Zone.

We had several meetings through late September during which Daini detailed his story. Still, he asked me not to publish anything. He was afraid for his life and worried about angering political figures. He hoped he could find a way back. I also knew that if I was ever going to write about Daini, it would require interviewing numerous Americans and Iraqis about what happened in Baghdad over the course of 2005 and 2006.

That was where matters stood. Through the fall of 2006, the country’s civil war deepened. Then in late November, Sunni militants detonated car bombs in Sadr City. People expected the worst. There were reports of reprisal killings by Shiite militias. I was watching Iraqi state television when it broadcast a town meeting from Sadr City. Hakim Zamili, then a Sadr supporter and deputy health minister, gave an angry speech about the bombings and referred to Daini as a terrorist. A week later, friends informed me that Daini’s son, Haidar, whom I had met the previous August, had been killed.

I tried to contact the general, but he had gone into hiding. I asked various contacts if they knew where he was. No one seemed to know. Some said Egypt and others said Syria. His story was larger than life and like many things in Iraq full of mystery, sadness and contradictions.

— Ned Parker in Baghdad