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Differing emotional states
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon is a no holes barred memoir of life in Iraq under Saddam. BEJAY BROWNE meets its author
“Whenever I needed him to help me to be able to help others, he gave his support. On a personal level, I found him to be a completely different from the person you read about.” So says retired Iraqi physician Ismaiel Aldean of Saddam Hussein, an insight into whom is given in his riveting book The Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
The book outlines the lifestyle of a doctor under the rule of Saddam. Aldean quickly draws the reader in, covering aspects from his early years and education in Iraq, to falling in love with his Irish wife.
“I was a practicing specialist in Iraq and then I became involved in the Iran-Iraq war. As doctors, we had two weeks working on the front line and two weeks back with our families - this happened every month for a total of eight years,” says Aldean, now living in Coral Bay, Paphos.
Aldean, a likeable man with an aura of inner calm, qualified at the Baghdad Medical School before completing his surgical training in the United Kingdom. It was during this period he met his wife Mary. The pair returned to Iraq and lived there for 12 years.
Back in his homeland, Aldean built his own hospital and treated the injured during the war. Working as a leading surgeon on the front line, he admits he had to deal with numerous horrifying injuries and witnessed the human tragedy of war. “I wrote about some of the extraordinary injuries I encountered and the human suffering in the war, as well as in peace time, which was under the dictatorship of the regime in Iraq.”
Due to his position in society as a respected surgeon, Aldean often met with top political leaders, including Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The doctor says he met with Saddam on at least three separate occasions, which gave him a rare opportunity to gain some insight into the man and not the public face of the dictator.
“I hope the readers will understand that Saddam the man is a completely different personality than that of the leader. I believe that is one of the strengths and the attractions of my book, I didn’t write about Saddam Hussein as a leader in Iraq, I wrote about my experience with him and other peoples lives that involved him.”
Aldean says his experiences with the dictator showed a more human side to the Iraqi leader and his concern for people’s lives.
The doctor highlights the unknown side of the dictator’s personality and believes that the positive impression he left with the leader was the reason he made it out of Iraq alive.
Following a tip off from a top government official in 1990, Aldean and his family managed to escape from Iraq, but were left completely in the dark as to why they were being told to leave. “We were on the last plane out and I didn’t really know why we were leaving, we were told nothing. We were escorted onto the aircraft. It wasn’t until we landed in the UK and I saw media reports that Iraq had invaded Kuwait that I realised the seriousness of the situation.”
Unperturbed and determined to build a new life for his family, Aldean worked at Trafford General Hospital in Manchester for 13 years before retiring in 2010.
Aldean bought a home in Paphos in 2001 and now spends six months of the year here. “I love Cyprus and I love the Cypriot people. Their way of life is very close to my background and my culture.”
He adds, “My experiences have taught me that people who give selfless love to others are able to pull through some extraordinary situations and health problems, especially during the war or during torturing under the regime of Saddam Hussein. These experiences make you a different person.”
Of his book, Aldean says, “most of the people who read it go though different emotional states. Many people find they are overcome with emotion when they are reading some of individual stories I have written about. These experiences show us how lucky we are to live in a country such as Cyprus or any other that is non dictatorship led. It makes us appreciate life and it also reminds us that selfless love can drive your life in a superb way and pull you through a lot of difficulties.”
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon is available online at Amazon and a limited number of copies at Hearns bookshop in Coral Bay Paphos