It’s exactly four years, since we lost one of the greatest Iraqis, the football legend Ammo Baba, a champion and winner as both a player and coach.
He was the inside right forward for the Royal Guards, who King Faisal cheered on at the Scouts Ground in the mid-Fifties, the forward of Iraq’s national side that was honoured by Abdul-Karim Qasim and Abdul-Rahman Al-Arif, and the coach that was greeted at the Republican Palace by former Iraqi president and tyrant Saddam Hussein. Ammo Baba was a man that brought smiles and happiness to the lives of millions.
Born Emmanuel Baba Dawud, in Baghdad in the Kota Camp on the British RAF base Hinaidi, the young Emmanuel was always destined for greatness, at the age of 15 he somehow found himself selected for the Iraqi national school football team even though he had left his studies.
By the age of 20, the name of Ammo Baba (“Uncle Father”), the affectionate nickname given to him by his school team coach Ismail Mohammed, was on everyone’s lips in Baghdad, becoming one of Iraq’s most prolific goalscorers at both local and international level, with a near perfect 100% goal-scoring ratio from 1955 to 1960. As a player, he could adapt to any position, and played in defence, midfield and attack in his playing career.
A national championship winning coach at the age of 23 at Nadi Athori, made even more impressive when you think it was done with an Assyrian only club policy, and in 1967, Ammo was coaching two teams in the Iraqi league! He guided Iraq to three Gulf Cups in 1979, 1984 and 1988, an Asian Games title in 1982 and qualified for the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games.
We need more Ammo Babas – Not Ali Babas
After the fall of Saddam Hussein, ten years ago, my uncle quipped that after the demise of the president and when millions of his portraits were being torn down, what Iraq really needed were even more portraits.
That was what we got, a decade of poignant motionless-images (much like the people themselves, one-dimensional) of uninspiring figures, Sayed Muqtada Al-Sadr, Saleh Al-Mutlaq, Tariq Al-Hashimi, Sayed Ammar “Uday” Al-Hakim, Hoshyar Zebari, Nechirvan Barzani, Dr. Ibrahim Al-Jafari, Barham Salih, Jalal Talabani, Masoud Barzani, and Nouri Al-Maliki.
But will they face the test of time, can anyone remember the names of or even recognise figures such as Taha Al-Hashimi, Jalal Baban or Ani Baqr Sidiqi.
Yes, neither could I, they like the former mentioned, were ruling Iraq more than 50 years ago and people at the time followed them but where are they now?
People with the humanity of Ammo Baba, they will live forever.
It’s funny that in a majority Muslim country, where the (far-right) Islamic conservatives of both sects, politicised and militarised profess national unity (only when they want) and call to lift up high the name of our ‘great’ nation and its people – by the gun, it is football and music that has united the masses, not politics or religion.
In 2007, when Iraq was at its worst, with its political impasse, daily suicide bombings, armed militias carrying Kalashnikovs running around the country, killing and kidnapping in the name of religion and that weathered-use of the meaningless/redundant word of “Al-Watan”, the only watani Iraqis have is the national grid, which it sees little of daily.
It’s ironic that one of the men that brought (freedom to) Iraq to this, former British Prime Minister توني Blair, converted from the Anglican Church to the Roman Catholic church.
He converted to Catholicism, but did the British people care?
Hundreds of years ago, Blair may have been hung at the Tyburn for his religious faiths, however on the day of his conversion, there were no cries from mobs lined up on the streets of Marble Arch to see the neck of the former PM snap. For the British people, it was just another day.
In Iraq, if one Iraqi citizen or public figure even thinks of changing from one Muslim sect to another, the reaction would be similar to crowds in 17th century London, baying for the blood of people facing the gallows.
At a time when Iraq was/still is (delete when appropriate) shattering in front of people’s eyes, it was Asood Al-Rafidain and Shada Hassoun that linked the Iraqi people together and brought smiles on their faces.
Portraits, pictures, or slogans are the last thing Iraq need.
The youth of today need people to look up to, real life role models, not reality TV stars who disappear after their fifteen minutes of ‘fame’ or self-important politicians surrounded by their supporters/well-paid entourage, flying around the world, that talk of a future in Iraq, but educate their children abroad.
Unity is the key, but in Iraq everyone believes they are in the right and the rest are wrong. Tolerance of the views of others, is absent in New Iraq, or even The Other Iraq. Freedom has come at a price, ‘they’ say it is either ‘our’ way or no other way.
We, Iraqis, need inspirational figures like the late Ammo Baba, a man that fought and struggled through life, not for fame or fortune, but for the love of his craft, football and his people.
Time changes everything, lets hope it will not be time wasted, for another wasted generation.
In Ammo Baba, we remember that there is hope and that we should never give up on it. Long live Ammo Baba.
“A young Iraqi orphan missing her mother, so she drew her and fell asleep inside her”