Iraqi enthusiasts search for relics of royal past

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A man holds up preserved specimens of Ten Iraqi Dinar banknotes, during a historical relic auction at the Moudallal cafe, Arabic for “pampered,” in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on March 3, 2018. (AFP)
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A man holds up a preserved specimen of a Ten Iraqi Dinar banknote issued in 1947 and bearing the image of Iraq’s former King Faisal II, during a historical relic auction at the Moudallal cafe, Arabic for “pampered,” in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on March 3, 2018. (AFP)
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A man holds up preserved specimens of Ten Iraqi Dinar banknotes, during a historical relic auction at the Moudallal cafe, Arabic for “pampered,” in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on March 3, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 18 March 2018
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Iraqi enthusiasts search for relics of royal past

BAGHDAD: At the heart of a Baghdad flea market, nostalgia for Iraq’s royal past is on full display as collectors and investors gather to buy relics from a bygone era.
Inside the Moudallal cafe, Arabic for “pampered,” a hundred men from across the country carefully follow the auction of momentos from the nearly four decades of monarchic rule that ended with a bloody coup in 1958.
“There is a feeling of nostalgia among the customers. Take the banknotes, their manufacture and quality were much better before, that’s why the prices go up,” says 52-year-old auctioneer Ali Hikmat.
With a booming voice, the towering man who has worked in the covered market since 1992 offers his goods up for to the highest bidder.
All sorts of keepsakes are up for grabs: banknotes, coins, stamps and decorations.
Most date back to Iraq’s royal era, but there are also a few items from the early days of the republic that followed after general Abdel Karim Kassem toppled the monarchy.
Nothing is on offer from the decades of dictatorship under Saddam Hussein.
For the Iraqis hunting out their own souvenir of the past, the period of royal rule represents a golden age for their country.
The founding of the Kingdom of Iraq under Faisal I — who fought alongside T.E Lawrence during World War I — marked the emergence of the modern state after the fall of the Ottoman empire.
The country gained independence in 1932 and the monarchy lasted until Faisal II was executed during the coup.
“Of course we are nostalgic for the royal period. All the main structures in this country were built during that period, be it bridges, dams and the rest,” says 53-year-old Ahmad Kamal, who owns a real estate agency in Baghdad.
“The royal era marks the beginning of the Iraqi state,” he says. “If we compare it to today, it was much better before.”
The comparison between the past and present is a potent one — as Iraq recovers from its latest round of devastation and bloodshed following the campaign against the Daesh group.
That violence is just the latest to roil the country that has been through war with Iran, the US-led invasion and a brutal sectarian conflict since the 1980s.
Saad Mohsen, a professor of modern history at the University of Baghdad, insists that back under the constitutional monarchy Iraq was “more democratic and cleaner than today.”
“We were far from the blood and fighting that we have come to know,” he says.
For clothing merchant Hussein Hakim, searching out souvenirs from previous epochs helps him to delve into Iraq’s rich heritage.
“The past fascinates me,” he says.
“I’m interested in the history of my country through the objects I collect from the Ottoman period up until the republic, but it’s the royal era that I prefer most,” the 43-year-old adds, proudly displaying two effigies of King Ghazi and King Faisal II.
The weekly auction in this small cafe is exceptional not only because of the sheer number of items on sale, but also because everything must be sold regardless of the price, allowing a lucky few to do snap up some bargains.
But the desire for all things connected with the era of royalty does not mean Iraqis are looking to bring back the monarch.
Sharif Ali Ben Hussein, who claims to be the legitimate heir to the Iraqi throne, has never managed to get elected to parliament.
In the wake of the 2003 US invasion, he returned to Baghdad after 45 years in exile but his claim that “a clear majority” of people wanted the monarchy back failed to gain traction.
For Adel Karim Sabri, who runs the magazine “My Hobby” specializing in stamps and old bank notes, “the past is always more beautiful because it is made of memories.”
And for many of those shopping at this market of memories, scouring for relics appears to have more to do with financial gain tha historical interest.
“They buy because they have money and it’s a good investment,” the 76-year-old says.


Disney axes director James Gunn over offensive tweets

Updated 21 July 2018
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Disney axes director James Gunn over offensive tweets

  • Gunn has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump and has drawn the ire of conservative critics, who went back through his timeline and dug up the tweets
  • Gunn, who has deleted his account, described himself as a “very, very different” person than when he wrote the tweets, now focusing on love rather than anger

SAN DIEGO: “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise director James Gunn has been axed from the third movie over a series of offensive messages posted on Twitter several years ago.
The tweets, mainly from 2008 and 2011, joked about taboo topics such as rape and pedophilia.
Disney, which owns the franchise as the parent company of Marvel Studios, sent AFP a statement confirming the studio was parting ways with one of its biggest stars.
“The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James’ Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values, and we have severed our business relationship with him,” said Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios.
Gunn has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump and has drawn the ire of conservative critics, who went back through his timeline and dug up the tweets.
Jack Posobiec of The Daily Caller and right-wing commentator Mike Cernovich are among those who unearthed the messages.
“Many people who have followed my career know when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo,” Gunn wrote on Twitter after the offensive tweets resurfaced late Thursday.
“As I have discussed publicly many times, as I’ve developed as a person, so has my work and my humor.”
Gunn, who has deleted his account, described himself as a “very, very different” person than when he wrote the tweets, now focusing on love rather than anger.
“My days saying something just because it’s shocking and trying to get a reaction are over,” he added.
Gunn directed both “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, and was planning to head to San Diego’s huge annual Comic-Con fan convention this week with a secret film project that he had teased on Instagram.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is due out in 2020.