Roula Khalaf

The worst jobs in politics today

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (left) and US Secretary of State John Kerry are among those with thankless political jobs, according to the writer. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (left) and US Secretary of State John Kerry are among those with thankless political jobs, according to the writer. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

I couldn't ignore the e-mail inviting me to meet the person "with the worst job in global politics". He wasn't a world leader or a central bank governor. His name is Mohammed Mahdi al-Bayati and he's the minister for human rights in Iraq. What could be more challenging than that?

He has to deal on a daily basis with horrific abuses against his people, ranging from killings to beheadings, from enslavement to torture. The government he works for can't rely on a properly trained army, military capabilities or good neighbours. And while the minister's experience in the field may be first-hand - he was in opposition to a political opponent of Saddam Hussein and many members of his family had been arrested and tortured - his staff and the security forces fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) need training in human rights, and he was in London to ask for help.

I meet him at a Park Lane hotel and he tells me about the atrocities committed by the ISIS militants: the swathes of villages devastated, the churches destroyed, and the more than 3,000 women prisoners from the Yazidi sect taken hostage. "Some of the women were sold for cash, some are being bought by people who give them back to their families, some were made slaves to ISIS leaders."

The discussion takes an even more worrying turn, however, when we talk about why his country is facing this predicament. He absolves the former government of abuses against Iraq's Sunni minority, which is widely acknowledged to be one of the factors that allowed ISIS to thrive, and also dismisses the number of human rights violations committed by Shi'ite militias as "tiny". I leave the hotel thinking that he will still have the most awful job in the world a year from now.

I've been consulting colleagues in the past week about other examples of thankless political jobs. Here's the list, including a few that are politically relevant, even if not strictly political:

  • Mr Walter Gwenigale, Liberia's health minister, ousted last month, probably to his relief. His country has had the highest death toll from Ebola and he's been the target of mounting criticism.
  • Mr Ron Patrick, head of recruitment for the US Central Intelligence Agency. This was never an easy job, but the scale of torture revealed in last week's Senate report now makes it much harder. Imagine the grilling he will be receiving from applicants.
  • Lord Hill, Britain's European Union (EU) commissioner for financial services. He has to protect the City of London and promote euro-zone integration when the UK is increasingly unpopular in Brussels, and might even be plotting its EU exit.
  • Mr Jonathan Blackman, Argentina's lawyer in the long-running saga with hedge funds. The partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton has fought Argentina's corner as it defaulted on debt to hold-out creditors - and has had to contend with occasional surprises from his own client.
  • Mr Kim Jong Un's hairstylist, a job done at great personal risk. The razor sides and high-top style became an export sensation this year after (unconfirmed) reports that North Korean men were ordered to adopt it.
  • Mr Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan. He spent weeks quarrelling with a rival over the dubious results of the June presidential election and it took Mr John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, to broker a deal that secured him the top job. He may soon regret his victory.
  • Mr Kerry. Hugely powerful job but relentlessly frustrating, particularly over the past year, during which his months-long pursuit of Middle East peace collapsed, as did his peace plans for Syria. Not to mention that the biggest global diplomatic crisis, over Russia's intervention in Ukraine, is at a dead end while Iraq has imploded.
  • Mr Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special envoy for Syria. His "peace facilitation" job, to which he was appointed in July, is likely to prove as unachievable as the efforts of his predecessors Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi.
  • Mystery French scooter driver. Again, not a political appointment but President Francois Hollande's security guard was a key man in the French leader's alleged nocturnal visits to his lover, an actor. The job involved long hours, furtive driving and the arms of the leader of France around his waist.