Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tribute to Munim Al Samarraie


I was away for a few days and as I opened my e-mail box I saw plenty of correspondence about the martyr Munim Al-Samarrae, started first by our friend Karim Al-Shamma, who paid him a tribute, and right he did! I really want to thank Karim for raising this issue, as it has been long overdue. If any one needs to talk about Munim it should be me, as he was my dearest and best friend. Both of us graduated from Birmingham University, and he was one year my senior. Back in Iraq we started our separate ways in different administrations of the Ministry of Oil and within about three years we came together within the Administration for Distribution of Gas. From then on we remained together except for a short period when he left to work for SCOP while I was at Daura refinery. Since this vital refinery was suffering, at the time, from mismanagement and even maintenance neglect, Munim, being a brilliant engineer and a fine manager, was appointed, to my delight, as president of the refinery in 1970 (or maybe 1971), and then after, perhaps, a couple of years was promoted to DG of the Oil Refineries Administration.

In 1975 I left to the US for a Ph.D. in petroleum economics and soon afterwards Munim was promoted to the post of Under Secretary of the Ministry of Oil, a post which he very much deserved. After my graduation in 1980 I went back to Iraq and, upon Munim's recommendation, I joined the Ministry of Oil as Head of the Energy Studies Department in the so-called, at that time, the General Administration for Public Relations, a department almost solely concerned with OPEC and the oil market. Of course, at that time, every Iraqi joining any government office had to fill a questionnaire of detailed personal information about the family, relatives, anyone in prison, anyone executed, etc, etc. I had to give false information in that questionnaire, as my nephew (from my brother's side), a medical doctor, was executed, and another nephew ( from my sister's side), in final year College of Dentistry, was also executed, in addition to some other relatives of mine and my wife's who were in detention or prison, and Munim knew that.

From the moment we saw each other, after my return from the US in the Summer of 1980, Munim and I confided to each other our hatred and utter objection to Saddam's bloody and harshly oppressive regime, and as the war with Iran broke out a few weeks later, Munim was even madder than I was because of his daily knowledge and often on-the-spot contact with the vast destruction of the oil infrastructure. Together we knew that this senseless and utterly futile war would be the beginning of the demise of Iraq, especially if continued for a long time. As time passed and the war became even uglier, despair and depression started gradually creeping to both of us. At one time I saw a bare spot on the back of Munim's head and when I asked what was it he said his hair started falling and he pulled some of it off his head just to show me how easily it could come off. We were a group of friends, and we used to have parties on Thursday nights and in public holidays, and we used to go out and meet other friends. Almost everywhere we went, Munim was outspoken in talking about the war destruction that befell Iraq and the oil industry and was condemning those who were the cause of that tragedy and attacking the repression and dictatorship we (Iraqis) were living under. Although I was doing the same, he was less careful than I was despite my asking him, frequently, to cool down - he simply trusted everybody!

On one day at work, while I was holding a meeting with some employees in my room, the Ministry's security officer came and handed each of us a pr-printed sheet with some blanks left out for employees to fill and then sign. The sheet contained a call to volunteer for the sacrifice of one's self in Saddam's Qadisiyah. I was feeling sceptical but to my astonishment I saw the others quickly signing it and giving it back to the officer. It was Thursday, and I told the officer I will fill it out and bring it back on Saturday. On that evening I saw Munim and showed him the sheet and told him I was not going to sign it. The act of signing this audacious sheet was just adding insult to my injury! He said it would be a mistake not to sign it, because that would uncover you and you will be giving yourself away to them. Sign it, he added (with a tone smacking of an order). I did and gave it back to the officer, but I decided at instant I gave it to that hateful officer to leave Iraq at any cost, a thought which never crossed my mind before!

A few months later, my daughter's health started deteriorating for no apparent reason, and after several medical check ups and laboratory tests it was found that she had childhood diabetes. This meant that her body stopped making insulin, and she had to take daily insulin shots for the rest of her life - she was only twelve. I told my wife maybe that was an added reason why we should leave Iraq, since a war-ravaged country - where electricity supply was intermittent and medical supplies were not guaranteed - would not be hospitable for sick adults, let alone sick children. She took the children on the Summer of 1982 and left for England, waiting for me there. It was October 1982 when I had a chance to go to Vienna, with a colleague of mine, representing Iraq in one of OPEC's conferences. On the night of my leaving the country, just a few hours before my flight, Munim came to my house, accompanied by his wife (Pauline). He was my neighbour. He looked concerned. He said Muhmmad-Ali you are not coming back, are you! I remained silent. He said, listen to me, my feeling about the regime is the same as yours and both of us are subject to the same suffering, and I wish I do the same, but really you should make it legal; I will send you to OAPEC; better still I will send you to OPEC, for a high-ranking job, but please come back. I said to him, a better solution would be for you to leave, you ought to take your wife and children and leave; your employment chances abroad are much better than mine. He said to me the situation is this: I am a hostage, my family is a hostage, I will do a lot of harm to many people if I leave Iraq, I just cannot do that. So, will you come back!! I said yes. I lied, and he knew I lied - he could read my eyes.

Yes they executed Munim, for a ready-made but sham accusation, bribery! What a tasteless joke! Munim lived a poor man and died a poor man. He was most patriotic, most honest, and most incorruptible. He was a true democrat and a strong believer in human rights. His only sin was that he was against the regime, and that was a medal of honour for him and for all Iraqis who were martyred for the same reasons. I strongly support the idea that sometime down the road, when life inside Iraq goes back to normal, the Ministry of Oil should make an oil and gas museum. In this museum a big room should be dedicated for all those oil and gas Iraqis who got martyred for one reason or another, from the beginning of the Iraqi oil industry till this day; and the late Munim Al-Samarrae should have a statue in that room.

In march 2003 I was invited by the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council to join the Iraqi expatriates to go to Iraq and help in the reconstruction process of the battered Iraqi oil industry. One of the first things I did was to visit Munim's house. I saw that it was unlawfully occupied by a family, and they were preparing to leave the house. After a couple of months from my arrival I felt truly disappointed as a result of my dissatisfaction with the American team on the one hand and the grave mistakes the Americans have committed, which led, among other things, to a rapid deterioration of the security situation inside Iraq and their failure to restore basic services to the Iraqi people on the other hand. In the Summer of that year I attended a workshop in the Oil Cultural Centre (used to be called "The Oil Club" in my days) for the preparation of a "Restoration Plan" for the Iraqi oil industry, much of which was damaged, looted and sabotaged. Incidentally this plan, which promised the restoration of the pre-invasion oil production capacity of 2.8 million barrels per day by April 2004, was never completed, and Iraq's oil production till this day hovers around 2 million b/d. I wondered for a short while around the rubbles of the centre, which was looted and damaged. I entered the area of the swimming pool. The area was desolate and the pool was filled with rocks, rubbish and dry sludge. For a moment I went over twenty years back in time and remembered the clean and inviting pool filled with fresh water and surrounded by freshly-trimmed green grass and beautiful shrubs. I imagined Munim and myself swimming in the pool, along with other friends, as we used to do during summer days. I felt very depressed and started crying loudly like a child. An Iraqi translator overheard me and rushed towards me: what is wrong Dr. Zainy, are you OK? I wiped my tears and felt I needed to tell someone my story, and he started crying too.

I could not bear the dreadful situation in Iraq any longer. I submitted my resignation and left to London after the passage of four months in Baghdad. But before leaving I felt I had to go and visit Munim's house for a second time. No one was there and the iron gate was chained. I didn't think that any of Munim's family would have the stomach to come and live in this house. It was a windy and dusty day and I was feeling very depressed. I remembered our jolly days together during the late sixties and early seventies (of last century). I, somehow, felt envious of Munim because he was dead and resting in peace , and I wished I was dead too, and not alive in the gloominess of these days and seeing the degeneration of Iraq to this dreadful level. I started rolling the balls of my eyes to hold back my tears and quickly left.

I am a strong believer in God and in God's system of reward and punishment. I believe that one day, after my death, I will see Munim in Heaven, for he was a good man - a truly good man!!!

May God bless Munim's soul and bless you all,
Muhammad-Ali Zainy

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