After speaking at an event on Saturday and getting a good dose of Iraqi debate protocol, I was not only happy to leave in one piece, I had the pleasure of having dinner with a good friend and two of his friends who had left Iraq only recently. As we were discussing the event over Iraqi food, we got talking about which secondary schools we attended in Baghdad, and it turned out that one of the fellows was in fact my classmate 12 years ago, and the other one had gone to university and had become very good friends with one of my closest friends from secondary school.
We spent the rest of the evening talking about what a small world it is and getting a little emotional about it… well mainly me! And while I was very happy to have met them, I was feeling a certain amount of despair the next day.
Between us, we had attended the best secondary schools in Baghdad which were reserved for the highest achievers at primary school, and we realised, as we were talking about all of the friends we had in common, none of them had stayed in Baghdad. All had gone on to become Doctors, Dentists, Engineers and other professions on which development of a society is dependant, none had been able to weather the storm that has ravaged Iraq in recent years.
I remember that straight after the war, there was a sense of hope and enthusiasm amongst Iraqis here in London and all over the world longing to return and play a part in the revival of their country, to the extent that the Foreign Office had looked at ways to stop Iraqi professionals returning so abruptly and leaving a gap in the UK according to some reports.
That hope soon diminished and the events that followed led to that class of professionals and intellectuals that were inside Iraq to leave it. And while the politicians squabble over an extra seat or two in parliament and try to convince us that they are the only ones that can drag Iraq out of the mess it is in and that the future is bleak without them, is it not the case that it is the return of those professionals and the reinstatement of a prosperous Iraqi middle class which is just as important?