Sunday, 30 July 2017

The Agony of Iraq

Iraq, its death seems an easier option; 
substituting the pain of life to the peaceful stillness of sleep.

Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE) was the most famous king of Babylon.  Under his reign, the city became one of the most powerful and influential in all of Mesopotamia, a centre of one of the most culturally and intellectually vibrant civilisations of the ancient world.  Hammurabi’s law codes are well known, he implemented policies that encouraged peace and prosperity. Engaged in great public works which included opulent temples and canals, and made diplomacy an integral part of his administration.  By 1755BCE, he had united all of Mesopotamia under the rule of Babylon which, at this time, was the largest city in the world.  Its power and glory made it the nucleus of Ancient Middle East attracted constant invasions by the Kings of Persia, survived the Persian wars and became the glittering Eastern capital of the largest empire the world had ever known - The Land of Two Rivers. It was Alexander the Great ultimate prize, called it Mesopotamia having secured its most magnificent treasury in the world. He saw to it that his marriage celebration to a local girl, Roxana, held on this paradise on earth.  Today Babylon along with his tomb lie in ruins 59 miles south-west of Baghdad.

Baghdad was no less influential during Islam Golden Age.  Under the rule of Abbasid Caliphate, last half of 8th century it became the seat of learning and culture and where Islam together with the Arabic language matured and came of age.  Following the rule of Harun Al-Rashid who died around 800, Baghdad underwent a series of civil wars and resumption of wars with the Byzantines. No sooner than it was under Seljuq military control (945 -1118) the 1250's saw Baghdad subjected to yet another invasion this time by the Mongols that ransacked the great city in a rampage of torture, and mass slaughter ending Baghdad Abbassid influences and with it the Islamic golden age.   Mamluk and Ottoman invasion soon followed until of course the break up of the Ottoman Empire by then Baghdad was reduced to mere vilayet status mandated and colonised, to Britain in 1922 under the Anglo-Iraqi treaty.     

This spiral of invasion and violence does not end there Baghdad's appetite for pain not yet satisfied. For over a century Iraq, a crumbling mess within, has imprisoned itself by that insatiable and instinctive desire for bloodshed and violence. Countries build walls to keep their enemies out, Iraq placed barbed wire walls to maintain the pain of vengeance, animosities and hostilities on the inside in the shape of civil wars, revolutions, and invasions.

British mandate was not an insurance policy for peace or modernity inside this troubled country.  The military discipline that spurred this incursion was short lived and proved expensive for the British Government.  Britain lacked the resources to redefine the country and its inhabitants after centuries of oppressive rule.  Sectarianism between the Shia and the Sunni population was granted its temporary respite to live in the shadows. Defeating this Imperialist Christian foreign influence was the primary objectives.  When the light finally about to shine it was too late, the 1958 revolution ensured Iraq was back in the long dark tunnel but this time completely blinded by the revolutionary zeal that finally ended British influence. The revolution was to mark a backlash to anything resembling modernity - it was a people's tragedy.  Coupe de'tat followed in succession and series of assassinations and purging that followed or preceded these incendiary devices was the natural order of things.   The Gulf war of 1990 capped an old type of turmoil but started a new more vicious terrorising war beginning with the American invasion of 2003.  Perhaps that was the last foreign damaging call, from then on was left for Iraqis to carry on with the dirty work of self-destruction, using religion as a weapon. Sectarianism came back with a vengeance.

Where to now, with Mosul in its last stages towards its final liberation after three years of ISIS rule, perhaps seeing the end of beheading, rape and pillage that marked their years in power over that historic world renowned city.  The shape of things to come is not that pretty because there is yet worse to come.  Since Mosul and neighbouring areas sit on an ocean of oil, the end of one type of violence very likely means the beginning of another, made more palpable since all participants and the regional powers are plagued with corruption and distrust.  Also in that arena of war, a lust for hegemony and influence use of treachery and backstabbing serve a greater purpose than alliances adding a local resonance that  'rival allies' is not an oxymoron. 

Finally, in July of this year, Iraq Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi standing among the ruins of Mosul proclaimed the inevitable conclusion; Mosul is now free while issuing restraining orders to keep the militias at bay, fear from vengeance and sectarianism.  In words of one soldier, "we killed them all [...] Daesh, men, women and children.  We killed everyone.  Strewn across the rubble hundreds of corpses lie half-buried in the collapsed brickwork the remainder of once historic buildings.  The stench of their decay in the 50c summer heat is more than one can stand.  Hideous sites of putrefying body parts sticking out from the rubble.  In the words of one Army major "we killed anything that moved [...] it was not the right thing to do at all. Most of the Daesh fighters surrendered.  They gave themselves up, and we just killed them." " The soldiers become inured to the landscape of death over which they now move around.  The brutality of protracted conflict and the barbarity of their enemy has taken its toll on the Iraqi armed forces.  There is little humanity left. That's how wars affect the lives of ‘ordinary’ people, both combatants and noncombatants. In addition to such fear-inducing new ISIS tactics of urban warfare, wherever they were, most soldiers had to contend with dirt, vermin, hunger, exhaustion and deadly diseases. The end of a war and its aftermath produce hardened soldiers used to killing and shedding blood, they become hard to control, and some would regret the end of the fighting and soldiers would continue to die from their injuries.   

As for the civilian population, liberation has come at significant cost.  What is left of their shattered lives, having experienced rape, pillage and destruction by ISIS members they now have to face a new ordeal.  The psychological trauma, seeing their houses destroyed their lives turned upside down will haunt them for the rest of their lives.  Fear and apprehension mark only their existence, life having escaped them long ago.  Roughly 20,000 homes have been destroyed including the old University Library, schools and hospitals.  A tortured city not unlike Dresden, Germany when the allied army carpet bombed that city in 1945.  Thousands killed, almost a million inhabitants have been displaced. People of all walks of life now imprisoned in a refugee camp without life savings, possession or anything they call their own. People, many of whom educated and affluent now forming part of a moribund society.   Human relief efforts can't come fast enough, witnesses speak of "here, no hope, no water, no food" in a city experiencing its apocalypse.   

The human catastrophe goes on as the political map is being re drawn.  Conflicts of civilisation, nationalism, culturalism, irredentism and secessionists, as well as tribalists, would be ingredients for the upcoming regional wars.  Iraq, Turkey, Iran, the Kurds, USA, Russia and last but not least ISIL in the shape of Jihadist resurgence and their backers, are core agents then there are the smaller factions followed by their affiliates, elbowing each other for a territorial slice or at least a share of the black gold. The tension caused among their objectives is alarming since Iraq continuous to be torn apart prolonging its agony; an ensuing sectarianism and religious strife.  The State rules without rules and the people are ignored when they should be placed in front and centre when the nation is crying out for peace. Fanning the flames of this tortured land are its guardians, feigning authority, pursuing their personal interests on standby at the edges ready to flesh out the titbits like vultures stripping the skeleton bare.

It was not supposed to be this way.

Nietzsche's first work was 'The Birth of Tragedy' there he argued that the Greeks were “keenly aware of the terrors and horrors of existence”.  In reply to what is the most desirable of all, “What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best for you is – to die soon”. Here lies Iraq was once known as Babylon, the greatest city on earth, its first mistake was to be born.   

Further reading:

Warning: Shocking report from the last days of the war.

Report of war crimes:

For further reading:

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