In his long and distinguished career as an Iraqi police officer, Mohammed Aziz worked for his country’s last king, issued an arrest warrant for a young Saddam Hussein, survived two stints in jail, and wrote several books on criminology.
He also trained at New Scotland Yard and fell in love with an English girl, whom he planned to marry. Today, nearly 50 years after they lost touch in the turmoil following the 1958 coup in Iraq, Aziz is keen to find out what happened to her.
Aziz, now 81, was sent to Britain in 1955, handpicked for training by Iraq’s King Faisal II. It was while he was attending police college in Coventry that he met Gloria, and laughs as he remembers dancing to rock ’’ roll with her.
Describing the events of four decades ago with an impressive recall of English, Aziz remembers how Gloria took him to meet her mother. She approved of the young couple’s plans to get married and Gloria’s father, who was working in Japan, granted them his permission in a letter.
When Aziz had finished his training, he returned to Iraq and kept in touch with Gloria by letter. In 1958, however, in a bloody revolution supported by the Ba’ath party, King Faisal was murdered and the monarchy toppled.
Because he was closely associated with the monarchy, Aziz was thrown into jail. Terrified that he would be branded a traitor, he destroyed his personal effects, including Gloria’s letters. Because he was sent to prison, he believes that Gloria assumed he had been killed in the bloodletting. He later heard that she had married another man.
“I would love to know what happened to her,” Aziz told The Daily Telegraph.
Although Aziz later worked in Istanbul, where he met and married a Turkish woman and had two sons, he never lost his affection for Britain. He last visited in 1978, when he took his wife for cancer treatment in a hospital in west London.
Last week he greeted us enthusiastically. “I like the English,” he said. “I wish we had English soldiers here. The Americans seem like nice boys, but they can’t speak the language properly.”
An old black and white photograph showing him standing on the steps of Scotland Yard with his British colleagues takes pride of place in his collection of pictures.
His papers also include a copy of the arrest warrant for Saddam, dated July 23, 1966, that was signed by Aziz, by then promoted to police colonel. At the time Saddam, a 29-year-old Ba’ath party activist, had escaped from his prison guards.
Two years later, the Ba’ath party came to power in another coup and Aziz was thrown in jail in retribution, if only for three months. “Saddam knew very well who I was, but my record was clean and I have to say that I was treated very well in prison,” Aziz recalled.
Over the next 45 years, through decades of turmoil, Aziz — a white-bearded Kurd — proved to be an adept survivor, given Saddam’s penchant for vengeance against those who crossed him.
He was forced to take early retirement as a detective, but was promptly summoned back by former colleagues to lecture on criminology at the police academy. He was still teaching at the college twice a week until the start of the war.
Now, like many older Iraqis who recall the pre-1958 era, he is pinning his hopes for a return of stability and peace on a restoration of the monarchy.
Last week, Aziz became a political activist for the first time in his life when he signed up for membership of the Movement for a Constitutional Monarchy, following the return to Baghdad of Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, pretender to the Iraqi throne.
His son, Yousef, had taken him to Sharif Ali’s headquarters near the Tigris to sign up as a member. “Just think, for the first time in my life, I’ve joined a political movement,” he said. “There’s always time to do something new.”