I was in the jail for the first time in 1963, when the Baath party came to power. I was a high school student that time. Jails were full; therefore we were imprisoned in a sport club. We were thrown in a training room for boxing. It was very cold there so we used to sleep on wooden boxing platforms; at least it was warmer there. Whenever I see wooden floors here in Latvia, it makes me to remember that place.
Living on the edge
Zanna M.A. Al-Rawandoozi, Director General of the Iraqi Municipal and Public Affairs Ministry’s department of human resources, is interviewed by journalist Aija Lulle.
Latvia has served as a source of expertise for Iraq, several projects have already been launched in areas of municipal work and culture heritage preservation. Representatives of Municipal and Public Affairs Ministry have arrived to learn about environmental issues here. Could you describe the main aims and gains of your visit in Latvia?
It is already the second time when specialists from Iraq cooperate with Latvia. The first group from our ministry came to Latvia last year and they were really happy about experience and knowledge they have got here. Knowledge and experience, which Latvia has accumulated during its transition period is really rich, you should be proud of that. To some extent Latvia had had similar background of problems, as Iraq was excluded from the rest of the world for 35 years. You can imagine what a big gap we have, comparing with development of other countries.
We want to learn the best from Latvia’s experience and to avoid possible difficulties and obstacles in our way of development. And Latvian colleagues have shown us both success and difficulties they came across during the transition period. We mainly focus on waste management, water supply and other environmental issues during our study trip in Latvia.
For me it is a first time in Latvia. Frankly speaking, I did not expect that Latvia could be so beautiful, quiet, and secure. We miss peace, we miss security and it makes our every day work even more difficult. Even if we have success in work, we cannot put it into media, because then we can be target for terrorists. When I go back to my country I cannot speak to TV and print media that I was in Latvia, I saw this and that and it was a really great experience. It is hard to make a broad public aware about our success, because then I could put my colleagues and myself as a target for terrorists.
So how then you can promote and multiply knowledge you obtained here?
Firstly, each of my colleagues will hold a seminar for other colleagues to share with experience and explain how Latvia deals with specific environment issues.
Secondly, we all together will prepare a paper about what we have learned here and how could it be applied to environmental problems in Iraq.
Thirdly, we all together will set up a training course for the ministry. Let’s be realistic: we are not able to train all the staff working for the ministry and to take them to Latvia. We have about 46,000 employees, if we count from the bottom to the top level management. Therefore we have to seriously work on training programs to multiply our knowledge.
There is a big problem I see in my ministry, namely, lack of opportunities of post graduate people to improve and broaden their knowledge. It is very difficult to get postgraduates to study abroad. I do not want these people to go to very advanced countries. There is about ten years of gap between Latvia and Iraq if we look in terms of economic development. It is the best way to learn from countries like yours. We are really thankful about what Latvia had already done for Iraq and we look forward to continue the cooperation.
How many female colleagues do you have at your ministry?
Gender mainstreaming is one of our priorities. The ministry was newly established after the war. We can achieve this goal through empowerment of women. 37% of our staff are women. We do training courses mainly in Amman, Jordan, or in Kurdish cities in Iraq, mainly in Arbil and Suleimaniya. We want to make women aware about women and children rights, we have signed international conventions on human rights, now we have to truly implement them.
After the war in early 1990ties many women were completely devoted to their families, they left their work, because they should take care about house and children. In addition, they had enormous economic difficulties; they had to do some work at home such as making pastries, snacks, making clothes and selling them. Salaries were very low, 3 dollars per month.
Wars have made demographic changes too: women are more than 50 %, many young men; men in working age were killed during wars.
Do you see ethic and religious cleavages in your everyday life?
It is very much exaggerated. Three people from our group are Shiah, one is Sunni, I am a Kurdish. There is no tension at least among intellectual people. True, you might find it among illiterate people, because one could manipulate with them more than with educated people. Ethnic and religious tension is mainly used just as an excuse of terrorists.
When a bridge railing collapsed on August 31 in northern Baghdad, 1005 people drown. They were mainly Shiah as they went to the Kadhimiya to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Moussa al-Khadhem. But it was in Sunni area, many Sunni were saving people.
You come from Kurdish part of Iraq. How did it influence your life?
When I reflect about my life I can say I had a very happy childhood. I was born in Kurdistan, city of Arbil. I spent my childhood in mountains. When I finished elementary school, I had to go for a high school in Baghdad.
I did my bachelors degree in English literature in Great Britain, then I studied for bachelor’s degree in administration and after that I went to Tokyo to study for my master’s degree in productivity. I passed exams and acquired a license as an international auditor in Total quality management. My education and an international license were the main reasons why I became a target of Iraqi intelligence service. They thought I am making publicity for what we understand now with term globalization. I had to keep in secret that I have this license. Just now as a Director General of the ministry I can freely implement all procedures and work what is needed for good environmental standards.
How do you remember the Saddam’s regime?
The most shocking, of course, was the massive killings of Kurdish people in 1988. It was the most terrible thing any government could do to its people. Innocent people were accused, killed, bombed with poisoned bombs. Poisoning of Halabja city people in Kurdistan was like the second Hiroshima or Nagasaki in the 20th century.
In comparison to this terrible tragedy, now we are in far better situation. It is insecure in Baghdad, it is dangerous, but now we can breathe freely! There is no Saddam, there is no his oppressive regime. To some extent I can say that I am happy now in Iraq. People are waiting for the Saddam’s trial. They want to hear what he will say. I do not want to say I wanted revenge. No. I want to leave the past and move on.
What happened in your life when Saddam became a president of Iraq?
He immediately started cleaning of top level of management in ministries and other institutions, accusing those who, as he thought, were against him.
I was politically accused by Saddam’s regime, I was trialed, I was afraid from intelligence services that they can do something bad to my daughter. 1980 I sent her to my brother to study in Sorbonne; she got married in France and still lives there.
Why were you accused by Saddam’s regime?
In 1979 I was a head of the department of Information and dissemination at the National research centre. Saddam’s people from intelligence services called me and said that I have to join the Baath party. I answered that I have a Kurdish background and I cannot ignore my nationality. They said: “You will not be the first Kurdish in the party. Either you join or we will kick you out of work”. My husband is a lawyer; he said they just couldn’t simply fire me, if I am not a member of the party. Therefore I bravely said: “You cannot kick me out without accusation”.
They deported me to the South of Iraq and put me to work for a cement factory to do low skilled work. There was an investigation against me; they said you cannot be neutral. You are either with us or against us. After four months I was released. I said: “If you want me to leave my work, I will do as you want”. I left for three weeks, but they needed my degree and my knowledge.
By the way, I was in the jail for the first time in 1963, when the Baath party came to power. I was a high school student that time. All my family was detained. Jails were full; therefore we were imprisoned in a sport club. We were arrested for forty days and nights. We were thrown in a training room for boxing. It was very cold there so we used to sleep on wooden boxing platforms; at least it was warmer there. Whenever I see wooden floors here in Latvia, it makes me to remember that place.
I did not want to leave the country; I do not want to live abroad. When I was studying in different countries, I was very homesick, something was missing all the time -- my family, friends, and I was simply missing the feeling of my motherland. I see now that my daughter and my brother are suffering. They want to come back, but they cannot. My brother is married to an Austrian, my daughter to a Kurdish man. He is from Iran and he is also a politician.
So he might be fond of idea of the Great Kurdistan?
Oh, yes, he is.
I belong to this country. I am a free person and these are my rights to think about the future of Kurdistan. But I see that it is not a right time. Great, united Kurdistan is a dream of many Kurdish people. But it will not happen in the second and, probably, not even during the fourth generation from now.
Have you ever met Saddam in your life?
Twice. The first time was when he was visiting our office at the National research centre. He came in with his guards. We were like statues, he was asking about the centre, but nobody could answer a word.
The second time was in my garden. I have big one in suburb of Baghdad. So I was working there and I heard that somebody is coming. Suddenly a man was staying in front of me and he asked: “Do you accept visitors?” They were staying in my garden for 10 to 15 minutes and then they just left. It was Saddam, his guards and relatives. Saddam’s cousin had bought a new house next to mine. They came to see possible routes around his new house.
How do you describe the situation in Iraq now? Do you agree that civil war actually is taking place in Baghdad?
No. It is a war between terrorists and Americans. Iraqi nation is a sacrifice of it. I think the biggest mistake what Americans did was opening of borders. We have a very long borderline, now terrorists can quite easily enter in the country.
Are you afraid that young and bright people would move abroad and will not come back?
Actually, it is a big danger for the human development in Iraq. Many doctors, engineers, other bright professionals from different fields have already moved abroad. Though I do believe that they are waiting for better time and they will come back. We have to stabilize and develop the country and we definitely have to encourage Iraqi people to come back. We need them.
Do you think that media cover current situation Iraq properly?
Under Saddam’s regime, press belonged to the Baath party; censorship was ubiquitous. Now we formally have free and diverse press. There are about 180 dailies in Iraq. How qualitative they are, it is another issue.
I watch BBC, because it mainly gives naked facts. Yes, there is some pepper on one or another side, but not that much as in local press.
International channels mainly follow to violence, bombs, but everyday life of mainstream society is rather neglected. People are going to jobs, getting married, kids go to schools. And they do it in a shadow of death; fear and sorrow is present all the time.
I am also very concerned about psychological trauma this war put on Iraqi children. Most of our children now are scared, I see it in so many ways and it deeply saddens me. Children do not want to go and play in a garden or on a street; they better stay inside and do something on the Internet. And even at home we cannot feel safe; because nobody knows from which side a bomb could come. It is like living on the edge.
For adults it is different. If we are in a meeting in the ministry and we hear bombs, even not a minute we stop our negotiations, we keep on our meeting. (Smiling) Because we have to build a better future for Iraq.
This publication is made within the framework of the UNDP Latvia and Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs joint project “Strengthening Institutional Capacity in Development Cooperation to strengthen the cooperation structure of the Latvian government”.