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Jun 3, 2004 7:40 pm

A Landholding Family with Merchant Roots

Dr. Adnan al-Pachachi is a highly respected Iraqi statesman who chose to return to Iraq to rebuild the country even though he could quite as effortlessly have lived the rest of his life in easy retirement in London. But the Pachachis go back a long way in Iraq; perhaps the spur to Dr. Adnan’s return was precisely the family’s compelling history in the country. In March, I was lucky enough to meet with him in Baghdad. To the rapt attention of the other guests at the table, including my father and sister, he chose to spend a major part of the evening detailing his family’s roots in Iraq.

The Pachachis were big merchants with enormous clout in the Ottoman era. One member of the family, Nu’man Al-Pachachi (who went by the honorific, “Chalabi” or big merchant) became the rais al-tujjar or chief of the merchants under the Mamluk administration in Baghdad in the early nineteenth century. As recounted in an earlier post, the Mamluks were Georgian slaves, originally of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and later on, of other provincial governors in the wider Ottoman realm. Disposing of Imperial favor, and inspired by a form of proto-nationalist feeling, the Mamluks quickly became the law of the land in the Iraqi provinces of Baghdad and Basra. When the Ottomans finally sent troops to overthrow the last Mamluk Pasha (or governor) of Baghdad, Dawud, in 1831, it was precisely the Mamluk’s ability to generate local solidarity with the large families of Baghdad – the Pachachis, Alusis and Jamils- that bought them time against the Ottoman offensive.

In the early twentieth century, the Pachachis lived in the Baghdad quarter of Ammar Sab’ Abkar, which was a large plot of land that was watered by kurud, or water channels. Next to them was the property of the British Resident, later Ambassador in Iraq. The family had used their financial acumen to buy property and become landowners. But they were landowners who also patronized learning, especially religious learning. One of the most important mosques in Baghdad was owned and administered by a Pachachi who also was a patron of reformist Islamist sheikhs such as those from the Alusi family

Finally, in the twentieth century, the Pachachis completed the transformation from merchants to landowners and then to politicians. They became a political family par excellence, producing Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and Ministers of Petroleum. Dr. Adnan is therefore from a long and illustrious line of Iraqi power brokers. In an interesting twist, he confirmed that the Pachachis were originally from a section of the Shammar tribe, the same tribe from which shaikh Ghazi al-Yawar hails. The latter, of course, became President of Iraq after Dr. Adnan’s graceful exit. I am inclined to think that it is precisely because of this shared history that whatever disagreements exist between the two men will blow over. Just like everything else in Iraq, this is but a family quarrel that will subside in the manner of a summer squall.

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Hala Fattah - 6/4/2004

Hi Jonathan,
I think your question can be answered in two ways : first, many of the exiles that returned were collectively bussed in (or 'planed in) by the Americans, and second, they are NOT all liberal types. There are statistics that say that 4 million Iraqis left because of Saddam. If thats true, it still doesn't come close to adding up all the other exiles that left prior to Saddam's rule, i.e from 1958 to 1968. To use your analogy, Iraq has been bled dry of its talent for a very long time.
But to get back to your question. The reason why you hear of so many exiles taking up positions in the new Iraq is that a) the Americans only know those people, and those people only know themselves and b)with the exception of a few and commendable journalists, the media only covers the returnees because the latter have access to the media! I've been told that many people on the Governing Council spent their time courting the media.
Second, there are a number of reactionary, religious zealots that have returned to Iraq as well.God help us all if those people edge into power.

Jonathan Dresner - 6/4/2004

I've been trying, and I can't think of another historical example of long-term expatriates coming back to productive, leadership, positions in significant numbers, the way you've described it happening in Iraq.

In medical terms, it's like an organ graft from something put into cold storage for a while while the body was abused and ill....

In cultural and political terms, the cosmopolitan and liberal community that Saddam Hussein's rule nearly stamped out is being reborn ex nihilo from this transplanted stock. Intersting to see how it will work.

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