The Sheikh of Baghdad: Tales of Celebrity and Terror from Pro Wrestling's General Adnan
By Ross Bernstein
Pages: 224 (Paperback)
About The Book
Unbelievable. That is, in a word, perhaps the most appropriate word to best describe life story of professional wrestler Adnan Alkaissy. Alkaissy´s incredible journey begins in Iraq, where as a young boy he grew up the son of a prominent religions seik in the 1940s and 50s. A childhood friend of future dictator Saddam Hussein, Alkaissy went on to become a very successful prep wrestler and soccer player in Baghdad. As a top-flight athlete, Alkaissy was recruited by a secret U.S. agency operating in the Middle East and given a scholarship to play football at the University of Houston. Despite the fact that he had never played American football before, Alkaissy came to America to make the most of his unprecedented opportunity. He eventually transferred to Oklahoma State University, however, where he emerged as an All-American wrestler. From there, Alkaissy got into professional wrestling as an Indian character named "Chief Billy White Wolf." After traveling the world as a pro grappler for several years, Alkaissy returned home to Iraq as a modern day hero of sorts. Meanwhile, Saddam was rising to power in the ruling Baath Party at the time and had big plans for his old friend. With that, Saddam summoned Adnan to his palace and told him that he wanted him to wrestle for Iraq and make him proud. Adnan, who was only home for a visit to see his family, respectfully declined the generous offer. But when Saddam told him it was not an offer, but an order, he realized that his life would never be the same. So, under Saddam´s watchful eye, Alkaissy began promoting his own wrestling matches in Iraq - importing professional grapplers from around the world to compete against him. Literally hundreds of thousands of crazed fans poured into local soccer stadiums to see Adnan emerge as the Middle East Heavyweight Champion of the World, and before long a superstar was born. Adnan was rewarded with his own palace, a fleet of Mercedes complete with chauffeurs, and money beyond his wildest dreams. He was even named as the Director of Youth at the Ministry of Youth, a very coveted and prominent government position. Soon, there were thousands of adoring fans sleeping outside his home at night just hoping to catch a glimpse of their new hero. It was utter insanity. What Adnan didn´t realize, however, was that Saddam was using his old friend as a clever ruse to entertain and occupy the masses while he began his own murderous regime of torture and terror throughout the Middle East. Eight long years later, Alkaissy was fearful of being killed. So, he left everything behind and escaped in the dark of night, leaving his friends and family behind forever. With nowhere to turn to, he came back to America, where he would start over as a professional wrestler - only this time, instead of being an adored national hero, he would be transformed into a villainous Arabian madman named "The Sheikh." Alkaissy would spend the next several decades making a new life for himself. Then, in 1990, a career ending knee injury forced him to retire and become a ringside "manager" instead of a headlining villain. That same year, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and the Gulf War began, he was lured back into the limelight as a new character called "General Adnan," which was created by the head of the vaunted World Wrestling Federation, Vince McMahon. McMahon saw dollar signs with Adnan, who would now dress up like Saddam and enter sold-out arenas across the country as a real-life enemy of the state. With a wife and kids and a home in Minnesota, Alkaissy was torn between cashing in and doing the right thing amidst the backdrop of his two homelands going to war. The events that ensued were simply incredible. This is a true story about a man´s journey across two continents which has finally come full-circle. In many ways it is an unbelievable rags-to-riches-to-rags story about wrestling as a metaphor for life. It is also a story that can now finally be told only because Saddam Hussein is at long last in U.S. custody awaiting trial, and poses no threat to Alkaissy´s family which still resides in Iraq. This is also a story about an Iraqi-American wanting to make a difference in this post 9-11 world and hopefully provide a small ray of hope in the quest for peace in the tumultuous Middle East. While the book is a very odd juxtaposition of two very different worlds, albeit so is Adnan´s life story. On one hand there are hilarious tales of what life was like both in and out of the squared circle of professional wrestling. On the other are stories of heart ache and despair about a man whose country is once again trying to find itself. Mixed in are truly amazing stories which will make you laugh and make you cry. It is also about a man´s desire to obtain a sense of closure while telling his personal accounts about a separate life lived many years ago. Finally, it is a story about a man, now in his mid-60s, who wants nothing more than to go home to a free and democratic Iraq, where he can finally introduce his new family to his old one.