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Sunday, 27 October, 2002, 16:06 GMT
Profile: Saddam's 'Mr Smooth' - Naji Sabri
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri (L) with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
Sabri is considered a suave diplomat
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri is known as a smooth political operator who has raised his country's profile in the Islamic world and beyond.

But few would have forecast his current success in 1980, when his diplomatic career came to a grinding halt as his once-powerful family fell from grace.

A type that appeals to Westerners

The former English literature don at Baghdad University was recalled from his post at the Iraqi embassy in London after two brothers were jailed back home on conspiracy charges and tortured.

One, previously the Foreign Ministry director-general, died in prison. The other survived and was freed after six years.

Renaissance man

For 10 years, Sabri kept a low profile running an English-language newspaper and an arts journal in Baghdad. He translated three books from English into Arabic, including British writer Michael Holroyd's biography on George Bernard Shaw.

Sabri has engineered an extraordinary change in Iraq's fortunes abroad

The Times - London
By the time of the Gulf War, he had regained the trust of the regime and was deputy minister at the Information Ministry. He became an advisor to Saddam Hussein in 1995, before being made ambassador to Austria in 1998.

Described by commentators as "smooth and sophisticated", "suave" and "a type that appeals to Westerners", he is said to have relished his renewed contact with the West.

While in Vienna, Sabri cultivated ties with the right-wing Freedom Party, becoming close to its controversial leader, Joerg Haider, who subsequently paid a number of visits to Baghdad.

He is also thought to have close ties with Saddam's younger son, Qusay, now considered the Iraqi leader's heir apparent.

However, relations with Saddam's elder son, Uday, are said to be strained after the newspaper owned by Uday, Babil, reportedly criticised his handling of relations with Russia and Syria after he became foreign minister.

PR maestro

Sabri was promoted in April 2001, after his predecessor was deemed to have failed to forge stronger ties with Arab states. The promotion apparently paid off handsomely.

According to a report in London's The Times, Sabri "has engineered an extraordinary change in Iraq's fortunes abroad" and "patched up relations with most of the Arab world".

Baghdad is also making headway in improving ties with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey, largely due to Sabri's efforts. He has also visited Moscow recently, praising Russia's stand against Washington's proposals for military strikes and regime change.

With a doctorate in linguistics and translation, his eloquence in English has proved a powerful tool in the war of words between Baghdad and Washington.

Sabri described a US draft resolution on Iraqi disarmament as "an insult to the United Nations and the international community".

Speaking on Qatar's al-Jazeera television, he accused Washington of launching "an attack on the venerability of the UN".

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.


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03 Oct 02 | Americas
03 Oct 02 | Media reports
04 Oct 02 | Middle East
11 Oct 02 | Media reports
28 Sep 02 | Media reports
11 Oct 02 | Middle East
17 Oct 02 | Media reports
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