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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Portrait of a Nation: the Dubai adventurer with an unusual approach to achieving world peace

Captain Fareed Lafta holds eight Guinness World Records and is a Goodwill Ambassador for the Iraqi Red Crescent

Fareed Lafta skydives over the Pyramids in Egypt this year. Courtesy Fareed Lafta
Fareed Lafta skydives over the Pyramids in Egypt this year. Courtesy Fareed Lafta

Fareed Lafta’s life sounds like it has sprung from the pages of a book.

The Dubai resident, 40, is a trained cosmonaut, pilot, avid skydiver, parachutist and scuba diver. He has more than eight Guinness World Records to his name and the Iraq-born adventurer has now set his sights on another mammoth task: promoting peace worldwide.

Raised in Baghdad, Capt Lafta and his family left for Dubai after the second Gulf War broke out in 2003. Having studied aviation at the US Aviation academy, Capt Lafta is now pursuing a master’s degree in Sports Management in Sydney, Australia, all while managing a family business in Dubai.

He says his love for adventure started at a very young age, when, aged 5, he would climb cupboards around the house and jump from them.

“My mother used to get mad at me,” says Capt Lafta. “My parents thought I was possessed.”

If not possessed, he was obsessed and, in 2008, the former Iraqi weight-lifting champion broke his first record after flying to the peak of Mount Everest and skydiving from a height of 9 kilometres.

His antics drew the attention of the Arab Union for Astronomy and Space Sciences and he was selected for training to become the first Iraqi in space.

He has yet to make it to the stars, but he did co-pilot a MiG 29 to the edge of space.

His mother, to whom he credits his success, died a few years ago, leaving him distraught but nonetheless determined to pursue risky adventures.

“My mother is my guardian angel. I am very proud of her. May she rest in peace.”

Two years after earning his first world record, Capt Lafta achieved his second. Amid the subfreezing temperatures of the North Pole, he skydived almost 1km from a helicopter to a Russian icebreaker ship sailing through the Arctic Ocean.

His love for his homeland is at the centre of every challenge he undertakes. In 2012, he flew the largest Iraqi flag while parachuting over Chicago. A year later, he orchestrated the creation of the world’s largest Dove of Peace Symbol measuring 450 square metres and made up of 1.2 million red, white, green and black buttons to represent the Iraqi flag at Burj Plaza in Downtown Dubai.

He invited school pupils and university students to help him place the buttons. More than 100 volunteers took part.

“Peace is not made by politicians or celebrities or me, or even Angelina Jolie,” he says with a chuckle. “It can only be achieved through the communal efforts of society.”

Though his stunts may appear to be part of a search for personal fame, Capt Lafta’s lesser known achievements reveal their true purpose. He hopes to emerge as an example to children that cross-cultural peace can be achieved beyond political means.

In 2015, he organised the largest Arabic reading lesson with 3,000 pupils taking part in Baghdad.

"The lesson deemed rewarding," he said. "The lecturer Ali Al Tamimi consolidated the students reading skills with grammar and Arabic phonetics tips."

The same year, Mohammed Al Sudani, Iraq’s Minister of Labour and Social Affairs and President of the Children Welfare Committee, appointed Capt Lafta as a Children Ambassador. The nomination was in response to his worth with Iraqi non-government organisations to launch Al Basma (The Smile) campaign that regularly distributes donations to displaced Iraqi children and orphans.

Since then he has worked with Iraqi musicians to create music videos where the core message is bringing hope to children.

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Read more:

Skydiver aims to make Iraq soar

Dubai balloon duo to rise above Iraq's woes for orphans

Dubai resident to create world's largest symbol of peace out of buttons

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“I want to bring a smile to Iraqi children, especially children of fallen Iraqis, and tell them that we can defeat terrorism by promoting love and peace. It is with love that my mother used to solve problems and I shall carry on her legacy,” he told The National.

With eyes back on the stars, and in collaboration with the Iraqi Aviation Army, Capt Lafta broke another Guinness World Record by heading back to Baghdad and executing a helicopter formation flight over the city for 30 minutes.

On a clear blue sky, the pilot led 30 helicopters to fly in formation over the Iraqi capital. To achieve this feat, the pilots trained for more than a year "but the result was well worth it," he says.

Last year, Capt Lafta’s charitable work with children culminated at Dubai International Aid and Development Conference and Exhibition where he was named Goodwill Ambassador of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society.

With so many achievements under his belt and so many ambitions for the future, The National asks him what is next?

But the adventurer remains coy: “I shall declare it when it’s completed.”