A neurologist turned politician has been asked to lead Iraq’s efforts to contain the coronavirus, as the government contends with spiking death tolls and mounting criticism.
Muwaffaq Al Rubaie was appointed this week as secretary of the Higher Health and National Safety Committee to Combat the Novel Coronavirus, the country’s official news agency reported.
The committee, which reports to the the prime minister, was set up at the end of March. Among its members are the ministers of health, interior and education, as well as police and military commanders, government media officials and border security.
Iraqi academic Kathim Al Miqdadi criticised the committee for being security heavy and lacking any epidemiologists or scientists who could guide it into making empirical decisions.
"Many members have nothing to do with virus [science], or with crisis and disaster management," Mr Al Miqdadi wrote in the Al Mada daily newspaper in April, shortly after the committee was formed.
Mr Al Rubaie is a British-educated neurologist in his early seventies. He served as Iraq’s national security adviser in the 2000s, after the fall of Saddam.
He told Vice in 2018 that he personally pushed the button to hang Saddam, with the noose now on display at his office in Baghdad.
In late 2003, Mr Al Rubaie was one of four former Iraqi opposition members whom the US military allowed to see Saddam after he was captured.
He asked the Iraqi dictator why he executed Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer Al Sadr, Iraq’s most prominent Shiite theologian, in 1980.
Saddam replied by mocking Al Sadr’s name, which means the centre, as well as the chest, according to Ahmad Chalabi, the late Iraqi politician, who was among the four.
On Tuesday, the health ministry confirmed 94 more deaths from the coronavirus, bringing the death toll in Iraq to 2,567 among 62,275 officially recorded cases.
Officials have acknowledged a severe lack of equipment and medicine are behind its seeming inability to contain or deal with the virus, as well a lack of control over movement across its borders with Syria and Iran.
Independent specialists have pointed to corruption as another significant factor in the government’s failure to contain the coronavirus, saying it has contributed to low-quality or non-existent stockpiles.