Disemplaning at Baghdad Airport a few years ago, I was met by a guide and interpreter who really did look like a retired torturer. Conducting me smoothly to my hotel ('Are you a member of the drinking classes? I think the Armenian brandy might tickle your fancy'), he laboured to dispel the image of the unsmiling xenophobic Iraqi which the rest of Baghdad society was at such pains to reinforce. I didn't know whether to bless or curse my luck when he leaned forward, patted my kneecap and fluted: 'I believe that we shall be such friends. I have two consuming interests - Adolf Hitler and Oscar Wilde.' Only hours later, or so it seemed to my disordered fancy, we were sitting in a villa that had once housed the Nazi embassy, while he played a tape of The Importance of Being Earnest. He himself took the part of Algernon, while the role of Lady Bracknell was hogged by a very distinguished British foreign correspondent of what might be called the old school. A large sepia photograph of the Führer frowned from a mantel. Later in the week, we were absorbing a pre-lunch cocktail when my new chum said casually: 'Would you care to pass the afternoon with Abu Nidal?'
LRB 13 September 1990 | PDF Download