Going up in the world: New Iraq PM was former BBC lift engineer

Broadcaster says Haider al-Abadi was in charge of company which serviced its elevators

Incoming Iraqi prime ministerHaider al-Abadi  was once  in charge of servicing BBC’s lifts, the British broadcaster has said. Photograph: Ali Abbas/EPA

Incoming Iraqi prime ministerHaider al-Abadi was once in charge of servicing BBC’s lifts, the British broadcaster has said. Photograph: Ali Abbas/EPA

Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 16:24

He may have taken a step up in the world this week but Iraq’s incoming prime minister was once known for his downs as well as his ups, as the man in charge of servicing BBC’s lifts, the British broadcaster has said.

Haider al-Abadi was this week appointed to replace outgoing prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.

In a profile of Mr Abadi, the BBC news website said the electrical engineer was for several years “in charge of the company servicing the lifts at the BBC’s Bush House, then the home of the World Service, and was known by several journalists there.”

Former BBC Arabic journalist Hamid Alkifaey has recalled meeting the future prime minister during his time as a lift engineer.

“He used to come to oversee the work and see how it progresses,” Hamid Alkifaey told BBC World Service’s The Fifth Floor today.

Mr Alkifaey said he saw him “quite often” possibly “once or twice a month”.

“But I paid attention because I know him, have known him for 27 years, but others didn’t pay attention because they didn’t know him,” he said. He noted that Mr Abadi had been a leading figure of the Iraqi community in London.

Despite access, Mr Abadi never called into the BBC Arabic section, Mr Alkifaey said.

Mr Alkifaey told BBC Radio that he once asked Mr Abadi “How come you have been here all these years ( the first time I saw him at Bush House was 1999 and he said he has been there for 20 years), I said how come you haven’t come to the 4th floor to the Arabic service?”.

Mr Avadi had replied, according to Mr Alkifaey said “ I am here to do a different job I never went to the Arabic service because I don’t want to mix the two together. I am here as a professional doing a different job.”

The journalist said he “did a good job as a lift engineer and he will do a good job as a prime minister,”

Mr Abadi had moved to the UK in the late 1970s to undertake a doctorate in Manchester University. He had previously studied electrical engineering in Baghdad.

His family had come into conflict with Saddam Hussein’s regime. Mr Abadi became an outspoken Saddam critic and Dawa activist. In 1982 the Baath regime executed two of his brothers, and imprisoned a third for ten years. It cancelled his Iraqi passport in 1983. His father died in exile and was buried in London.

Mr Abadi is not the only world leader to come from humble roots. India’s current prime minister Narendra Modi once ran a tea stall near a bus terminus, former British prime minister John Major left school at the age of 16 with three O levels and was once passed over for the job as bus conductor , former deputy British prime minister John Prescott was once a steward and waiter on the merchant navy while former Brazilian president Lula da Silva was once a shoe shine boy and street seller.

According to a biography which was posted on his Facebook page, Mr Abadi worked in the UK as an “expert in the technology of rapid transit” which was the subject of his doctoral thesis. In London, he ran his own small design and technology firm and in 1997 received a grant from the UK’s trade and industry ministry for technology innovation. Mr Abadi also hosted a London cafe popular with Iraqi exiles.

Mr Abadi returned to Iraq in 2003, where he became a key adviser to Maliki in Iraq’s first post-invasion elected government. He held a series of senior posts, including minister of communications and, most recently, deputy speaker of parliament. Following months of political deadlock, the moderate Dawa faction supported Mr Abadi’s nomination as prime minister on Monday.

Additional reporting Guardian News & Media