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Iraq’s Monarchy Lies Forgotten

February 8, 1999

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ In a yellow brick mausoleum, under a marble tomb engraved with golden writing, lies the body of an Iraqi king _ rarely visited and barely remembered.

In a neighboring nation, another king lies in state _ but his death is being mourned by millions, and his legacy appears likely to endure for years.

It would be hard to find a more vivid example of irony than that of the two Hashemite cousins: the internationally popular King Hussein of Jordan, who died Sunday, and Iraq’s scarcely known last king, Faisal II, whose grave received its first visitors in a week on Sunday.

``We open the doors for people every day, but nobody wants to see what’s inside. I don’t think royalty matters much to people now,″ said Moheb Abdel Amir, the caretaker of the Royal Cemetery.

The turquoise-domed mausoleum’s arched gateway leads to a circular, white and black marbled floor. Two antechambers to the left and right contain the tombs of Faisal II, his father Ghazi, and grandfather, Faisal I, the first king of Iraq.

Hussein’s grandfather, Abdullah, and Faisal II’s grandfather were brothers who were installed kings of Jordan and Iraq by the British after World War I as a reward for the help their father, Sherif Hussein of Mecca, gave the British in the war.

It was this political chess move that locked the destinies of the two branches of the Hashemite family, the descendants of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed.

Jordan’s king proved to be a strong leader, steering the country to peace with Israel and friendship with the West. With the death of Jordan’s Hussein, his son, Abdullah, has taken over in what so far appears to be a smooth transition.

In Iraq, the Faisal lineage ended in 1958 when the monarchy was overthrown in an army coup. The present government, under President Saddam Hussein, has been in constant clashes with the Western powers since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Faisal II, unmarried, was shot in his palace garden at age 23. Some say his body was dragged across town before being buried outside the Royal Cemetery. With monarchy discredited under socialist governments, an entire generation grew up learning little about him or his family.

The royal family was given back its place in Iraq’s history in the 1980s as a goodwill gesture to Jordan’s Hussein for backing Saddam during his 1980-88 war with Iran.

A statue of King Faisal I was put up in a downtown square, where mobs had destroyed the original in the 1958 revolution. The Royal Cemetery, which was overrun with weeds, was rebuilt. Faisal II’s remains were moved inside.

As Amir, the caretaker, was finishing his afternoon prayers, a couple with a baby and their elderly aunt walked in to pray at the graves. They said they were driving past the mausoleum and decided to stop.

``They are history. History will stay for our sons and their sons. We have to show respect for history,″ said Salima Nasser, the aunt.

She and the others hadn’t heard about King Hussein’s death, which had been announced an hour earlier in Jordan.

When a reporter told them, they recited traditional Islamic prayers: ``May God have mercy on his soul. May God widen his grave. May He shine light on his grave.″

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