Fayette County

Iraqi ambassador visits horse farm

It takes a lot to rattle an ambassador, especially when the country he represents is Iraq.

So Samir Sumaida'ie, Iraq's ambassador to the United States, had a fine time during a whirlwind visit to Lexington, arriving after dark Thursday at a horse farm crystalized by the ice storm.

He came to Walnut Hall Ltd. to attend A Night of Literary Feasts, a fund-raiser for the Lexington Public Library Foundation. He was the guest of Meg Jewett and Alan Leavitt, who opened their home to more than 40 people who paid $500 each to dine with several authors from around the world.

The ambassador probably didn't realize the circa 1852 mansion had lost electricity and was being powered by a big generator. He seemed to think the dim lights were just part of the historic ambience.

"It's the way I'll always remember it," he said of his first visit to Kentucky.

"I love horses. I can't claim to know very much about them," he said. "But I have a sister and a niece who are crazy about horses. My father always was a great horse-lover. But I never had the opportunity to indulge."

The authors included Qanta Ahmed, who wrote In the Land of Invisible Women about Saudi Arabia, and Hooman Majd, who wrote The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, about modern Iran.

Jewett wanted to capitalize on the Mideast theme, so U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Hopkinsville helped arrange the ambassador's visit.

Before everyone sat down to dinner, the ambassador climbed the grand staircase and talked about Iraq, which this weekend will hold major local elections.

"Under Saddam, there was no hope," he said, adding that Iraq's rebirth is now possible. He acknowledged there have been many mistakes since 2003, by both Iraqis and Americans.

"I always remember a quote from Winston Churchill, who once said, 'Americans always end up doing the right thing after exhausting the alternatives,'" he said, getting a good laugh from the crowd. "And they almost did it in Iraq. But we have pulled through."

He said everyone wants American troops out of Iraq, "but not too quickly. We just want to make sure we can stand on our own feet."