It’s a heartbreak that I never visited Baghdad, the capital of civilization, especially as I’ve heard my grandfather, Abdulaziz Aldakhil, may he rest in peace, tell us about Buraydah in the center of Najd before cars were invented, and how it was and still is the largest camel market in the world.
My grandfather and his father’s trade was selling back-then the most important means of transportation, the “ship of the desert,” i.e. the camel, as the case was with a large number of people in Najd. These people were dubbed the “Agailat Community” because they tied their camels. The term actually comes from the word “agal”, the cord which Arabs wear on top of the shemagh. Once they arrived to their destination, they took off their agal and used it to tie their camels, like we park our cars today in shaded areas.
It’s rare to find a Saudi who does not have a memory in Iraq or with the Iraqis as water from the Tigris and the Euphrates was an attraction and the shade of Basra’s palms extended to our cities and deserts through Az ZubayrTurki Aldakhil
When speaking about Iraq, my father and uncles talk fondly of it and its people. Some paternal cousins are still there ever since our grandfathers began immigrating there around 200 years ago.
The rupture of Saudi ties with the Iraqis and vice versa became a reality ever since Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in the 1990s. This rupture, which lasted until recently, lasted for a quarter of a century, or a bit more.
As much as this rupture pains me, I console myself with the thousands of those exiled from Iraq from all sects and ethnicities, who feel a great deal of pain for not being where they grew up and for being away from their family and friends.
I’ve seen Iraqis who are financially well-off in Europe and America, but once I talk to them about Iraq, they get very emotional and teary eyed. How wouldn’t they, for as it’s said: “No matter how many homes on earth are familiar to a man, his longing is always to his first home.”
Memories in Iraq
It’s rare to find a Saudi who does not have a memory in Iraq or with the Iraqis as water from the Tigris and the Euphrates was an attraction and the shade of Basra’s palms extended to our cities and deserts through Az Zubayr. There are those who lived there and spent the prime of their youth, and those who were born there and who became grandfathers. Suq Al-Shuyukh in Nasiriyah has its significance for the people of Najd. Who among the Saudis does not enjoy the singing of Hudairi Abu Aziz or Dakhil Hassan? Once songs emerged in Baghdad, they became common amongst us. All the Saudis who studied in Iraq’s universities in the 1960s and before that and after it speak like the older people spoke of their knowledge in Abbasid Baghdad.
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The crisis which Iraq went through, from wars to the siege, concerns the Saudi who lived there and carried good memories. Tribes extended and became intertwined despite the different sects, such as the tribes of Shammar, Al Shaalan, Al Jabbour and Tayy. Some people’s memories have been tainted by the hate deepened by intolerant political Islam preachers but the memory of literature lives on and one example is Mohammed Saeed Al-Habboubi, the Iraqi jurist who hails from Najaf, who said: “Your homeland is Najd, and the admirer is Iraqi, so except for wishful thinking, there will not be an encounter.”
One of the main reasons Founder and King Abdulaziz Al-Saud pursued “the Brotherhood of those who obeyed Allah” was their frequent invasions of Iraq and the last of this was at the beginning of the 1920s. Afterwards, the historical meeting between the kings of Saudi Arabia and Iraq took place, and the relations were flawless until the second Gulf War.
Our grandfather, the journalist from Qassim, Suleiman Al-Saleh Aldakhil went to Baghdad to study and discover Iraq’s rich world until he became one of the Baghdadis. The journalist and intellectual carried his fondness of the people of Iraq in his heart and suitcase, as he was taught by Baghdad’s intellectual Mahmoud Shokry al-Alusi and he knew Hibatuddin Shahrestani, Al-Najafi and Al-Kazimi. These relations may seem strange to those who bear hate in their hearts today. Anyone who browses Al-Najaf’s Al-Ilm magazine (1910-1912) can see there was cooperation with Suleiman as his name is seen on this magazine where he promoted his daily Al-Riyadh. The magazine was printed with Al-Riyadh, which he issued in Baghdad in 1910.
Iraqi scholars were welcomed at King Saud University after they were expelled for political reasons from the University of Baghdad. When a political Islam symbol tried to incite against them, King Faisal bin Abdulaziz received them to reassure them so they don’t feel worried and to make them feel they were home. Their Saudi students still remember them by honoring their names. These days have ended but the photo of linguist Mohammed Mahdi al-Makhzoumi decorates the Arabic faculty’s forefront at the university. Following that warm meeting, psychologist Nouri Jaafar named his daughter Njoud and his grandson Faisal. Iraq’s strength is strength for its neighbors, its pride is their pride as it is the home and the family.
Political quakes pass through and our countries cross the turning points of history but the neighbor remains, and have you seen a country that chooses its neighbors?! It’s a fate, and neighboring Iraq with its people, soil and water has been the beautiful fate.
Al-Habboubi said with the sentiment of a fond man: “Except for wishful thinking, there will be no encounter;” however, we say: We wished and the encounter happened, and we will not allow the haters to renew rupture. Al-Habboubi, may he rest in peace, also said: “Your homeland is Najd and the admirer is Iraqi,” may he allow us to say: “Your Iraq is Najd and the Saudi is Iraqi.”
This article is also available in Arabic.
Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.