Obituary: Muzzafar Al-Nawab, Iraq's eternal exile returns home one last time

Mohammed Saad , Thursday 26 May 2022

With the passing of Iraq's renowned communist poet Muzzafar al-Nawab, who faced jail time and exile in the 1960s, a rich chapter of Iraqi poetry has come to an end.

A mural depicting Iraqi poet Muzzafar al-Nawab is drawn by Iraqi artist Wijdan al-Majed (unseen) on
A mural depicting Iraqi poet Muzzafar al-Nawab is drawn by Iraqi artist Wijdan al-Majed (unseen) on a concrete structure in the capital Baghdad on April 26, 2022. AFP


Al-Nawab, who died on Friday in an Emirati hospital aged 88, was one of Iraq's most decorated poets.

After spending most of his life in exile then as an emigrant, al-Nawab, returned to his homeland on Saturday, one last time in his coffin, where he received a state funeral and was mourned by the country's president and prime minister.

He started his career in the 1950s and 1960s, and is often credited with integrating colloquial Iraqi Arabic into his works.

The late poet was known for breaking traditional forms, following his rebellious imagination to a wider horizon.

 A mural depicting Iraqi poet Muzzafar al-Nawab by Iraqi artist Wijdan al-Majed (unseen) on a concrete structure in the capital Baghdad, on May 20, 2022. AFP

His politics aligned with his poetry, inspiring his work as he aligned himself with the poor in defence of justice and freedoms in the face of occupation and dictatorships.

His stances landed him prison and eventually exile. His death outside of his country reflected his life, which led some of his fans to mourn the circumstances of his country, which led him to spend most of his life outside of it.

Mourners take carry the coffin of renowned Iraqi poet Muzzafar al-Nawab during his funeral procession near the Imam Ali shrine, in Iraq's central holy city of Najaf, on May 21, 2022.

Al-Nawab was born in Baghdad in 1934 to a family of aristocrats that governed one of India's northern states before they were banished to Iraq for their resistance to the British occupation.

Coming from a cultured music-loving family set the road for Al-Nawab to enter the world of poetry and rub shoulders with high brow writers and artists who visited his family's palace on the banks of Degla river regularly.

He started showing early signs of a poetic talent in the third grade and by the time he reached preparatory school he had been published in his school’s magazine.

His family had lost its wealth by the time he was in college pursuing his studies at Baghdad Faculty of Arts.

After the royal family was toppled in 1958, he started working in the Ministry of Education, a job that allowed him to stay in the realm of music and culture.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi (3-L) and Iraqi officials accompany the casket of the late Iraqi poet Muzzafar al-Nawab, carried by the honour guard upon its arrival at the Baghdad International Airport, on May 21, 2022. - AFP

After the 1963 coup in Iraq, the new authorities started hunting down communists and leftists, of which he was one. To escape jail he fled to Iran on his way to the Soviet Union, yet his misfortunes continued as Iranian intelligence arrested and tortured him before handing him over to Iraq.

Back in Iraq, he was sentenced to death before the sentence was reduced to life time in prison.

Yet, the free soul in him kept on fighting. Alongside fellow political prisoners, Al-Nawab dug a tunnel under his cell and escaped prison. He hid in Baghdad for nearly six month before heading to southern Iraq.

Things seemed to turn around when the authorities issued a pardon for the opposition in 1969, leading him to get his job back, but shortly after a new wave of arrests ensued and he was arrested again before being released.

After his release, he traveled to Beirut then Damascus, from there he moved between some Europe cities before settling in Damascus.

According to AFP, he last visited Iraq in 2011, when he was received with grand pomp by the presidency.

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