Iraqi leftist poet Muthaffar al-Nawab dies aged 88  

A member of the Iraqi communist party, al-Nawab wrote poetry against capitalism and imperialism. He had lived widely across the Arab world after leaving Iraq in the 1960s due to persistent political persecution against communists 

May 23, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Muthaffar al-Nawab death
(Photo: INA)

Iconic Iraqi poet Muthaffar al-Nawab (88) died in a hospital in Sharjah in the UAE on Friday, May 20, after a prolonged illness. Iraqi President Barham Salih, political activists, and artists were among the many that mourned Al-Nawab’s death. He was buried in Najaf as per his wishes after an official ceremony on Saturday at the Writer’s Union headquarters in the capital Baghdad. According to local reports, the ceremony was attended by Iraq’s Prime Minister, Moustafa al-Kadhimi, but those attending began to chant anti-government slogans and he was forced to leave.


Al-Nawab came from an aristocratic Indian family that was forced to live in exile in Iraq by the British. As such, he was born in Baghdad in 1934. He became a member of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) while studying. After graduating from University of Baghdad, he started teaching and following the 1958 revolution, led by several groups including the ICP, which overthrew the monarchy in Iraq, he was given a government position and appointed Technical Inspector.

Al-Nawab was fired from his position for his activism after a coup in 1963 which established an authoritarian nationalist government that persecuted communists. He was arrested by the Shah’s police in Iran when he was trying to escape to the Soviet Union and handed back to Iraqi authorities. 

He was awarded the death sentence for his activism and his critical poems by the new Iraqi government. His death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment, however, al-Nawab along with some other inmates soon escaped the prison by digging a tunnel. After living in hiding for months, he resurfaced following a general amnesty. 

Al-Nawab left Iraq after another round of persecution of opponents started in the late 1960s and lived in different countries in the region. He spent a significant phase of his life in Syria. He had been living in the UAE for almost a decade for medical treatment before he passed away. 

Al-Nawab wrote poetry full of colloquial Arabic which denounced capitalism and exploitation, sought justice for the poor, and promoted struggles against imperialism and colonialism. His poems about the Palestinian struggle are most celebrated for their criticism of Arab leaders who compromised with the Israeli occupation. He was very critical of “corrupt” and “authoritarian” governments across the Arab World in his poetry.  

Al-Nawab’s poems were part of the popular slogans during 2019 protests. In its official statement, the ICP remembered him as a “poet of people, struggle and uprising.”