Iraqgate led to downfall of Finnish Prime Minister
Business feelers ended in tragedy in 2004
By Heli Suominen
"Unasked for, and unexpected". The comment reminds Finns of how the Finnish Iraqgate affair forced Prime Minister Anneli Jäätteenmäki to resign in the summer of 2003. It is unlikely that the war in Iraq would have shaken the domestic politics of any country that did not send forces to Iraq as much as it affected those of Finland.
Jäätteenmäki used secret Iraq documents that had been leaked from the President’s Office as a weapon in the elections. After some vague explanations of how the faxed documents came into her possession, the pressure on the Prime Minister became too great, and she resigned.
The history of the war in Iraq has been linked with recent Finnish history in many ways. The threat of the war and the beginning of hostilities in the spring of 2003 raised an exceptionally large popular movement.
Tens of thousands of Finns took part in peace marches. The Finnish government opposed the attack that had taken place without the authorisation of the UN Security Council.
In 2004 many had thought that peace was coming. However, a trip to Baghdad by a group of Finnish businessmen in March of that year ended in tragedy. Seppo Haapanen and Jorma Törönen were shot dead in the back seats of a car on a Baghdad motorway.
"We never even found out if it was just a coincidence, or if something else was involved", says Kari Norkonmaa, project chief at Technology Industries of Finland. Now Baghdad is so dangerous that no trips there are being planned.
Reporting to Finland on feelings in the city was Marita Ertomaa al-Yitayim, who took care of the Finnish Embassy there. Finally Ertomaa returned to Finland in the spring of 2006.
On the other hand, insecurity also provides opportunities for companies. One company seeking to reap these rewards was Job Zone, which is owned by Jyrki T. Mäkelä, headquartered in Iraqi Kurdistan, which went to the area last autumn.
"I understood immediately [after the fall of Saddam] that there would be massive reconstruction there. It is an ideal environment for business", Mäkelä says.
The company organises office space and security services for companies. Mäkelä says that the company has "about five" Finns working in Iraq. Mäkelä’s company does not operate in Baghdad - "yet".
Only one Finn is known to live in the Iraqi capital. He is Ilkka Uusitalo, head of the representation of the European Commission. Uusitalo and other diplomats, as well as foreign journalists live a "bunker life" inside thick walls. Uusitalo lives in the heavily guarded "green zone". The diplomat travels to other parts of Baghdad wearing bullet proof vests and a helmet.
Finns have had an indirect role in the work of the Iraqi police who face the dangers of Baghdad on a daily basis. That role is shrinking now.
Last year ten Finnish police officers served as teachers at a centre for training Iraqi police in Jordan. Now the financing of the project remains open, and there are only two Finns left at the centre.
"The training is far too short - eight weeks. But it is much better than nothing. We try to give the basic skills to keep the new police officers alive", ponders Mika Raatikainen, who has taught at the school.
He heard often about young police officers who had been killed in Iraq. Nine members of one course were shot already before they got to their jobs.
"If you think about it too much, you lose your sleep."
The approximately 3,000 Iraqi citizens who live in Finland listen to the news from Iraq with special concern. The number of Iraqis in Finland has remained almost unchanged since the beginning of the war, while Sweden has taken in thousands of Iraqi refugees.
Asaad Al-Taee, the governor of Najaf Province, has lived as a refugee in Finland, and he also has Finnish citizenship.
Al-Taee notes that although Baghdad is a deadly place, Najaf is more peaceful.
It is for that reason that he decided to return to his home country in 2005.
The governor is bursting with new plans. He says that he was inspired in Finland to improve the position of women and to help the less fortunate. Now he hopes that Finnish companies will become interested in putting Iraq back on its feet.
"Welcome to Najaf. We will arrange security for you", the governor promises.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 18.3.2007
Previously in HS International Edition:
Shi´ite province handed over to Iraqi control - governor of Najaf a Finnish citizen (21.12.2006)
Prosecutor not to appeal Iraqgate verdict (25.3.2004)
Two Finnish businessmen shot dead in back seat of car on Baghdad motorway (23.3.2004)
Business delegation members leave Iraq after fatal shooting (24.3.2004)
Jäätteenmäki says SDP hounded her out of office (6.10.2003)
Dramatic resignation ends brief Prime Ministerial career of Anneli Jäätteenmäki (19.6.2003)
Centre Party leader: Finland has been added to U.S. coalition (7.3.2003)
HELI SUOMINEN / Helsingin Sanomat