Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Abd al-Khaliq al-Mukhtar

For years, most news out of Iraq has centered on violence and politics. Today, a different kind of somber news dominated headlines in Iraq. An immensely popular actor, Abd al-Khaliq al-Mukhtar, made his return to Baghdad after a lengthy absence.

Born in Baghdad in 1960, al-Mukhtar would go on to be one of Iraq's greatest actors. He graduated with a bachelors degree in theater from Baghdad University's Academy of Fine Arts in 1982. He attained a masters there in 1989 after service as a reserve officer in the Iran-Iraq War that left him severely wounded. The wounds would haunt him for the rest of his life.

He worked in theater and television, earning accolades and influential positions in the Baghdad art scene. Perhaps the peak of his popularity came when he portrayed former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Said in a television series. Al-Said was an influential politician during the British-installed monarchy and lost his life in the 1958 Revolution. In the wake of the 2003 invasion, his portrayal of al-Said struck a chord with the Iraqi people.

Al-Mukhtar's wounds and the severe bleeding that followed permanently damaged his kidneys, sapping his ability to pursue his work in recent years. He required constant medical attention and some of this treatment may have led to a fatal infection. In his last days, al-Mukhtar held out hope that he would be able to travel to Amman for kidney replacement surgery. He told Abd al-Jabbar al-Atabi of Elaph that he longed to return to Baghdad and breathe the air that would heal his body and his soul.

But al-Mukhtar succumbed to his ailments on Sunday, 8 February, in Damascus. His body did return to an emotional welcome in Baghdad on Tuesday, where fans and fellow artists choked the streets and carried his coffin to the National Theater before the procession went on to his final resting place.

For once, Baghdad mourned not a victim, but a national hero.

Photo from Elaph. Elaph in Arabic on the funeral procession in Baghdad. Elaph in Arabic on his death. NY Times blog on the same.

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