Khalil Jalil, AFP
Last updated: 7 October, 2012

Iraqis look back into a royal past

Iraqis are now able to open a window onto the past showing a country that was once ruled by royalty during a period of relative calm in its turbulent history.

Cars — including one sent by Adolf Hitler — carriages and photos of the Iraqi royal family are displayed in a courtyard and a building on Baghdad’s historic Mutanabi Street, the first time they have all been shown together.

“This exhibition brings back to our minds a beautiful period of time where life was calm,” said Shakir Kemer, a visitor to the exhibition who was born in 1937 and was one the first bus drivers in Baghdad.

Hundreds of visitors have been admiring the two cars on display, including the silver 1936 Mercedes convertible Hitler presented to King Ghazi, the second king of Iraq.

It is one of just three cars of its kind made: Hitler himself had one, and the third belonged to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

A Rolls Royce that was a gift to King Ghazi is also on display, as are two carriages made in Britain and gifted by the British royal family to Faisal II, the last king of Iraq.

“This exhibition gives visitors glimpses of an important phase in the modern history of Iraq that lasted for almost 40 years,” said Adil al-Ardawi, an Iraqi historian.

He said that the royal family was unjustly treated, and that “this exhibition uncovers all the details of the lifestyle of this family in its simplicity and modesty… as the photos show.”

Iraq’s monarchy met a bloody end on July 14, 1958, when Brigadier General Abdul Karim Qassem led a coup in which most members of the royal family were executed along with other high-ranking government officials.

Dictator Saddam Hussein came to power 21 years later, leading Iraq into a bloody eight-year war with Iran, then a disastrous 1990 invasion of Kuwait that ended when his forces were pushed out the following year.

Iraq was hit by sanctions over the invasion, causing widespread privation.

Saddam was overthrown in a 2003 US-led invasion, but the country suffered a wave of bombings and death squad killings in the following years.

The exhibition features hundreds of photographs showing details from the lives of the royal family, notably King Faisal II.

Among the items on show are a wooden cabinet topped by a royal crown, which holds a set of silver and glass cups decorated with depictions of royal family members.

Small statues of King Faisal I and Faisal II are also displayed, as are drawings of airplanes and cars made by Faisal II when he was still a child.

“The day King Faisal II was crowned king of Iraq, I remember that he came to our neighbourhood (in north Baghdad) and he was in one of the two cars shown here, and I remember well that he was giving us money,” said one visitor who did not give his name.

The king “is still in my mind. He was a simple and modest person who loved people and talked to them,” the visitor said.

“Iraqis are always nostalgic for the past, because of the conditions now — not the recent past, but the distant past of the royalty in Iraq,” said Ali al-Tulaibawi, a professor at Baghdad University.

“The presence of a king who looks after the rights of the people and forms a parliament was a new beginning in the lives of Iraqis, but after the death of the king and the establishment of the republic, Iraq did not see anything but wars and catastrophe.”