Nadhim Zahawi appointed UK Education Secretary

Baghdad-born 54-year-old was responsible for Britain's vaccine delivery

Nadhim Zahawi was born in Baghdad to an Iraqi-Kurd family. AFP
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Nadhim Zahawi has been appointed as UK Education Secretary, reward for his work as vaccines minister.

The 54-year-old, born in Baghdad, Iraq's capital, was last November given responsibility for the UK’s coronavirus vaccination campaign.

He replaces Gavin Williamson, who was sacked after criticism of his handling of school closures, exams and university admissions during the pandemic.

Among other changes in Prime Minister Boris Johnson's reshuffle, Liz Truss replaced Dominic Raab as Foreign Secretary.

Also a business minister, Mr Zahawi was a public face of the government’s vaccination plans.

Born into an Iraqi-Kurd family, Mr Zahawi and his relatives fled Saddam Hussein’s regime for the UK when he was 9. He was educated at a private school in south-west London before studying chemical engineering at University College London.

In the 1990s, Mr Zahawi worked as an aide to former Conservative politician Jeffrey Archer, supporting the latter’s campaign to help Kurds oppressed by the Saddam regime.

In August 2014, Mr Zahawi went to Iraq to visit refugee camps for those affected by the rapid advance of ISIS in the northern half of the country.

“The worst day of my life was in 1991, when we met the Kurdish refugees who had fled Saddam Hussein's attacks, and this was equal to that,” he told the Independent in 2014.

“I met a Yazidi man who was slightly younger than I am with his two children. I instinctively said, 'Where is your wife?' He said, 'I had to leave my wife behind because she was giving birth the moment ISIL entered the village. She said, 'Take the two children and save their lives. Don't worry. I'll do what I've got to do.'

“Tears started rolling down his cheeks, I didn't know what say to him. It's impossible to try to comprehend that level of pain for any family.”

He also helped to organise a 2015 visit to Iraqi Kurdistan by then mayor of London Mr Johnson.

Mr Zahawi was among those caught up by former president Donald Trump's decision to stop travellers from several Middle Eastern countries from entering the US.

Despite holding British citizenship, Mr Zahawi was barred because he was born in Iraq.

A supporter of Brexit, he is also a successful businessman and is believed to be one of the wealthiest members of the House of Commons.

In 2000, he co-founded YouGov, a market research firm that now has operations in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific.

He stepped down as chief executive in 2010 upon his election as MP for Stratford-on-Avon and has previously served as a junior education minister.

Updated: September 15, 2021, 5:12 PM
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