By Christophe Michels, Managing Director of the Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC).
Engineer Rasmi Al Jabri passed away suddenly yesterday on a walk outside his home in Erbil. He will be missed by his family, his tribe and his many friends, colleagues and admirers.
Rasmi was born 1939 in the city of Qurnah in Southern Iraq, where the two great rivers meet and where, it is said, the Garden of Eden once stood. His long and beautiful life encompasses the rise and fall of Iraq in the 20th century and the struggle for Iraq following the war of 2003. Rasmi was a true patriot who cut across political, ethnic, and religious divisions, which all rather seemed strange and artificial to him. He was a man of exceptional integrity with wonderful humour. He loved being part of the community he happened to be in and spoke to all people around him treating them with equal respect, be they ministers, mullahs, taxi drivers or waiters.
Rasmi was constantly on the move in Iraq, in the Middle East, Europe, and Canada, but he never left his home country for long. This happened only once to complete his studies as chemical and petroleum engineer in Birmingham. He loved and admired the United Kingdom and he fully dedicated his last years to building ties between Iraq and the UK. His work with IBBC was purely voluntary and his achievements were so great that you could not have advertised for someone to do the same.
He started with IBBC as an early member representing his company the Basrah Engineering Group (BEG). After a few years he decided to hand BEG over to his associates and to fully engage with IBBC. He first joined our Executive Committee, and soon afterwards became our Iraq Representative to finally join the IBBC Board and become Deputy Chairman.
He worked tirelessly at resolving problems of our Members in Iraq, but his real delight was to organise large delegations of Iraqi businessmen from all regions of Iraq to attend events in London. This effort culminated in over 400 Iraqi businessmen coming to the UK thanks to his efforts last year alone. There is an argument to be made that these businessmen did little business during their visits but this missed the fundamental point that having them leave Iraq and visit the UK was a crucial achievement in itself. It opened a first door to the wider world for many of them and at the same time created a unique feeling of cohesion and patriotism between these large and diverse groups of Iraqis, who found themselves visiting a western country often for the first time.
For more than a year now Rasmi has been working closely with our Baghdad office manager Muhanad Al Khatab, particularly when it comes to the organisation of these Iraqi delegations. I know that Muhanad who had deep sympathies for Rasmi and resembles him in many ways will continue this important work in the years to come.
In July of last year Rasmi, Brigadier James Ellery and myself visited Ramadi following an invitation of our friend and former MP of Ramadi Jaber Al Jabri. When we arrived at Jaber’s residence we found the great reception hall filled with maybe 50 or 60 dignitaries representing the tribes and the political and academic elites of Anbar. For 2 hours Rasmi spoke to all present about IBBC, the United Kingdom and Iraq, and why we had come to visit, and he listened and responded to all the comments made and questions asked. It was a very lively discussion which Rasmi mastered completely on his own talking to these important people whom he had never met before. Our excursion to Ramadi was indeed successful with the Governor of Anbar visiting IBBC in the UK only a few months later.
The day of Rasmi’s demise I spoke with him as I did almost every day and told him that one of our Members was in advanced discussions with Anbar governorate to engage in a major infrastructure project. This news pleased him, but did not surprise him, after all was it not the logical thing to happen?
Sayyid Rasmi whom I have never seen wearing a black turban and who in bars and cafes amused himself and others by ordering a gin and tonic without gin, will be deeply missed. It was a true privilege and blessing to have known him so well.