Detective Team

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In this house We do dirt tracks We do push starts We do hot laps We do racing poster

ARCHIE Roosevelt, the grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt and a pioneer Arabist at the Central Intelligence Agency, writes in his memoir, For Lust of Knowing, “Baghdad held so many fascinations it was difficult to tear myself away, but an entire country had yet to be explored and understood.” It is the period of the Second World War he is writing of, and as Roosevelt himself points out, Baghdad was then a backwater of a backwater: a supply base for the British in neighboring Iran, who were holding back the Germans and, after a fashion, the Soviets there. His activities were less a function of the need for intelligence on Iraq’s peoples than of his own fascination with Iraq. David Newton, another “top-of-the-curve” Horan contemporary, and the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq from 1984 through 1988, brought a similar enthusiasm to his job.

“If you have a strong historical knowledge of a place,” Newton told me, “you see it through different eyes. And if you really know Baghdad, you can still get a sense of the Ottoman city. It’s hard–sort of like reconstructing Homo erectus. But I love the souks. I’m a romantic at heart. During my time in Baghdad, I used to give small groups of embassy personnel guided tours around the city. One of the appeals of Iraq is that it’s so distinctive. Once you’re there, you can’t be anywhere else. It’s a reality that’s not quite Persian, or Turkish, or even Arabian.”

Like Eagleton before him, Newton had a romantic interest in Iraq that, it must be said, in no way blinded him to its horrors. These two men were always willing to talk to the few journalists who happened to show up in Baghdad to write about the regime’s brutalities. When I first met Newton, in the Iraqi capital in August of 1986, another foreigner–Ian Richter, a British businessman–had just been arrested by the Iraqis on trumped-up charges.