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1990: 'Cold-blooded murder'
The Iraqi authorities executed Observer journalist Farzad Bazoft for spying on 15 March 1990.

He had been investigating an explosion at the military complex al-Iksandria, 30 miles (48 km) south of Baghdad.

His friend and colleague Adel Darwish - a correspondent for the Independent newspaper - remembers the failed attempts to secure his release.

I first meet Farzad Bazoft in about 1986. He was a very charming, nice man - a bit naive but he was young.

He was very much accepted by the Iraqis and the UK Government. As an Iranian-born Briton he had access to Iranian opposition figures - it was still the early years of the Iranian Revolution.

Iraqi intelligence

A number of Iranian defectors used to speak to Farzad and give him exclusives about the nastiness of the Islamic regime in Iran.

From Britain and America's point of view the villains of the piece were the Iranian Mullah and the Ayatollah Khomeini.

He was very well connected in Iraq. He introduced me to the Iraqi ambassador here in 1987.

In 1988 I had an exclusive which I wanted to file from Baghdad. Iraq was a very secretive, Stalinist police state and after [office] hours I could not get the telex man to open the telex room to file my story.

He obviously had to clear it with the Mukhabarat Iraqi intelligence service.

Chemical weapons

Farzad made one phone call and a man actually came down and opened the telex room in the hotel - the Sheraton in Baghdad. I was quite amazed how he managed to do that.

He arrived the day I left Iraq and the story [of the explosion at the al-Iksandria weapons factory] appeared the next day.

Farzad wanted to prove that it was a chemical weapons factory, so he went there without his minders.

He drove there with a friend of his - British nurse Daphne Parish - and picked up some soil samples which was used as evidence against him in court later on.

Betrayal of trust

Someone in the Ministry of Information must have known that they would be severely reprimanded or perhaps shot by Saddam because they were friends with Farzad.

So they might have said, "We can compensate for that if we expose him as a spy and say we caught him."

The culture is different in that part of the world. If you went there as a neutral journalist and they didn't like one of your stories they wouldn't let you in again.

But if you went there as a friend, as one of them, they saw it as betraying their trust, and then they treated you as a spy.

I think the Iraqis also wanted to make an example of him

There were a number of journalists who were perceived as friends. Farzad made a mistake by accepting freebies from the Iraqis. He was there as a "guest of the Iraqi government" - and that is something we journalists should be really aware of.

I think the Iraqis also wanted to make an example of him.

British journalists started a massive campaign to the point where the Foreign Office and the establishment were quite unhappy.

At first we covered the story neutrally, then we tried to use our contacts in the Arab world. This didn't work so we started to pressurise the foreign office.

No answers

What I really find puzzling is this: here were two British citizens arrested about 18 or 19 September 1989. The same day there were eight or nine British MPs in Baghdad. Later on I found out none of them had raised the issue of these two British citizens.

I might be wrong - but had it been done in the early days before there was too much public knowledge maybe he could have been released.

Before Christmas there was a delegation in the UK led by the number two in the Iraqi foreign ministry and the number two in the Iraqi ministry of trade.

They came to London for a few days and they were granted a line of credit by the DTI of hundreds of millions of pounds.

Doomed

We tried to find out if before they offered the line of credit they had raised the issue of the arrests. And we could not get a straight answer.

I believe the Iraqis tried to make a deal with Farzad, saying if he confessed to spying for Israel it would help their diplomatic offences against Israelis, and Saddam would pardon him.

Foolishly he believed them and went on television to make a confession.

I think from that moment on he was actually doomed.

Later on Daphne Parish told me when she met him briefly in prison and pretended to hug him in order to feel his body she noticed a burn on his wrist. She said to him, "Why did you go on television to confess?" And he said, "Electric shocks".

The trial was a kangaroo court. The rhetoric was so high Saddam himself gave a speech to the Baath party and said, "The British Prime Minister wants her reporter back: she will have him back... in a box."

It was a cold-blooded murder.

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Farzad Bazoft
Farzad Bazoft was accused by the Iraqis of spying for Israel


Adel Darwish in 2004
Adel Darwish campaigned for the Observer journalist's release
In Context
Adel Darwish lives in London. He is an author, journalist, broadcaster and political commentator and expert on Middle East affairs.
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