Monday, December 12, 2005

Those Darn Jesuits . . . Baghdad College

The alumni of the Jesuit-run Baghdad College in Iraq are fiercely loyal even though the school ceased to exist decades ago. And three of them are the front-runners in the upcoming Iraqi elections. An interesting story in today's New York Times about the Jesuit legacy in Iraq.

Boys of Baghdad College Vie for Prime Minister

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 9 - The priests have long since departed, but the elite Jesuit high school called Baghdad College still looms over the swirling world of Iraqi politics.

The three Iraqi political leaders considered most likely to end up as prime minister after nationwide elections this week - Ayad Allawi, Ahmad Chalabi and Adel Abdul Mahdi - were schoolmates at the all-boys English-language school in the late 1950's, fortunate members of the Baghdad elite that governed Iraq until successive waves of revolution and terror swept it away.

Now, with most of Saddam Hussein's interlopers locked up and the Iraqis preparing to select a full-term Parliament, the boys of Baghdad College, now men in their 60's back from exile, are ready to assume their place on top of the social hierarchy that they and their families once assumed would be theirs forever.

The three men are now flag bearers for three very different visions of Iraq's future: Mr. Allawi for a secular state, Mr. Mahdi for an Islamic-style democracy, and Mr. Chalabi for a program that would purge Iraqi society of those associated with Mr. Hussein's rule. Hard feelings have erupted at times, in particular between Mr. Allawi and Mr. Chalabi, who struggled bitterly in the 1990's over the leadership of the Iraqi exile movement.

But what unites the three former schoolmates could prove more important than what sets them apart.

Clashing banners and personal ambitions aside, Mr. Allawi, Mr. Chalabi and Mr. Mahdi say they are ready to strike political deals that might involve tossing aside some ideological differences. Mr. Mahdi and Mr. Chalabi say they aim to form a "national unity" government with Iraq's main political leaders, presumably including Mr. Allawi.

Mr. Allawi, among others, says that is highly unlikely. Even so, the ties that go back to childhood and to the musty corridors of Baghdad College suggest that the hard clashes that lie ahead in this polarized land may yet be softened by three men who grew up together.

"Ahmad was a year ahead of me, and we used to go swimming together," Mr. Allawi said. "Adel and I were friends, our families knew each other. He was a good basketball player."

"Politically we are very different now," he said. "But those were nice days then."

read the rest here.


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