The curse of Iraqism and the Iraqi Airways

Yasin Aziz

By Yasin Aziz:

We Kurds from South Kurdistan who live abroad have often dreamed of a direct flight to the Kurdistan Region. I was going back to Slemani in April and discovered that the newly-established Iraqi Airways was going straight from Gatwick, England to Slemani.   I felt this was a unique occasion, as it was my first time to board an Iraqi Airways plane, and to experience the sort of federal governance that we have often heard about the recently-established federal republic.  I was delighted, as I have been living in England for the last 30 years and become sort of used to living in a country that has had a democratic system for the last 300 years.

I was overwhelmed with hope and anticipation, counting the days and hours to board that democratic plane flying back to Slemani.   When I booked the ticket in Edgware Road, I asked whether there were flights to Erbil too, and the reply was, ‘No there are not’. I was surprised and not quite sure why, until I boarded the plane.  When the normal safety procedure started, they did this in Arabic and broken English, but not in Kurdish, even though more than 90% of the passengers were Kurds. Besides this, there was a Shi’ite religious ceremony/recitation that was quite funny, making many of us smile and wonder whether it was the Shi’ite Ashora ceremony or a part of the international journey that we has unknowingly signed up to.

Iraqi Airways flight

Iraqi Airways flight

There was no alcohol allowed and, when a bottle opener was requested for a bottle of soft drink, even this was not allowed, as perhaps the crew suspected it might be used to commit a blasphemy.

We arrived in 4 hours 20 minutes and we were quite happy, even though our Kurdish language was ignored throughout the aeroplane’s announcements. I guess we were used to this, as all the Iraqi Arab despotic regimes are the same, and it was obvious none of them seem much better than Saddam’s.

When we boarded their plane to travel we did not know how the return flight would be.  We knew we would return to the UK via Sweden and wait at Malmo airport in South Sweden for a few hours.  We thought this was just natural transit, as with so many other airlines, to change planes and to alight or board more passengers.  In fact, it was not. Our entire luggage had to be taken off the aeroplane to be scanned again, our shoulder and handbags were checked again, as were our travel documents and passports. Then we had to go down onto the tarmac to identify our luggage before it was loaded onto the next flight. It was so odd, and a hassle for about 150 passengers, including families with children and infants screaming as we waited in a narrow corridor and then on the aeroplane at Malmo airport with hardly any ventilation, because the flight captain could not switch on the engine, and the doors remained open for over an hour.  With inadequate ventilation, and no rest facilities, it seemed like we were with the pariah Iraqi Airways, and the name of Iraq was hated by all the world community ever since its dodgy creation in 1922, cobbling together a few different ethnic and religious groups in a false marriage that was always doomed to failure. Until recently, Iraq was run by a minority of Sunni Arabs that comprised less than 20% of the population, leading a troublesome marriage for more than 90 years to please the Arabs who had 23 countries but thankfully never united.

Because of the intentionally established minority-led despotic regimes in the Middle East, Iraq would not and could not be democratic from the time of the Saudi tribal kings right up to Saddam’s regime.  It was obvious that the false start began with the Iraq’s initial creation and may never be settled unless the human rights of all Iraq’s sections and minorities are equally respected.

But the puzzle was: why all the harassment and disgraceful treatment by the Swedish airport authority towards these innocent families and children, many of whom have been UK citizens for decades? It was a blatant abuse of their human rights.

Besides this, the airport staff took away all liquid products which a few passengers had bought duty free at Slemani airport. That was daylight robbery.

This reminded me of my experience with the Swedish police when I was with a group of Kurds who worked and lived in Libya in 1982-1983. After we faced political harassment by the Libyan authorities, we demanded our confiscated passports and went to Sweden to seek asylum.   As soon as we arrived at Stockholm airport on 28th Feb, 1983, all the were men separated from their families and put in solitary confinement and treated like terrorists. Because we came from Libya, we were treated like criminals without any judicial procedures, and we were not given any chance to defend ourselves.  Our only crime was to seek asylum, like many others who did go to Sweden.

We were put in an eight-storey police building in the middle of Stockholm for about two weeks, each in a small room.  We were given hardly any food; we almost starved to death. By the time our asylum claim was refused and we were returned to Libya I had lost five kilos in weight.  Their treatment was not better than Saddam’s regime.  We were falsely led to believe that Sweden was the haven of democracy and human rights. We were not allowed to see our friends when we were in prison; we were given a few pieces of biscuit, and boiled peas with coffee: that was our food for two weeks. I thought I was going mad from starvation and lack of space and comfort.

One day a police officer came and asked me whether I would like to breath in some fresh air.  I was delighted to be given a chance to go out and up but, when I went up to the roof, I was put in a cage, where the temperature was  minus 20.   I was jumping up and down like a monkey from the freezing cold, and the Swedish police seemed to enjoy watching me from a closed window.  In the room where I was imprisoned, I saw a message written in Arabic on the wall by a Palestinian. It said, “I have been in this Hell for over six months”.  One day, I banged and punched the door, until someone came. A rude policeman came and said, “We cannot let all the Kurds in”.  That was a naked lie, not all the Kurds would head to that dark freezer of a country that is famous for the highest suicide rate in the world.  Thankfully, I ended up in the UK, the cradle of democracy and human rights.

At Malmo airport I asked one of the Swedish officials about their uncivilised treatment, and he said, “The UK government wants us to treat you like this.”  That was so odd. If you, Sweden, are a sovereign country, how can anyone impose any rules on you, I wondered.  However, in a Shi’ite despotic regime that politicises even their air travel, any hope for a federal republic and democracy in Iraq does not exist.   If, in the 21st century, tribal Arabs still barter with their female family members/loved ones, whose human rights are not respected, how can they apply and understand the principles of democracy and equality in a so-called federal republic of Iraq?

Yasin Mahmoud Aziz is from Halabja and lives in the UK.  He is the author of ‘Dum Dum Castle’ and two books in Kurdish and he is planning several more books. ‘A Few Days Life of Revolution in Halabja’ is due to be published later this year. Email:

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