Sunday 16 December 2018

Iraq; A Stillborn Nation


Modern Iraq covers almost the same area as ancient Mesopotamia, which centred on the land between the Tigress and the Euphrates.  Mesopotamia, also referred to as the Fertile Crescent, was an important centre of early civilisation.  Iraq was the name of an Arab province that made up the southern half of the modern-day country. The today's Republic of Iraq, where Islam is the state religion and claims the beliefs of 97 per cent of the population, the majority of Iraqis identify with Arab culture. That is not necessarily true of the Kurdish, Turkmen or some Christian community occupying different provinces and who make up at least a fifth of almost forty million people.  Baghdad, was the name of a village that the Arabs chose to develop; it was founded in the 8th century and became the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate.  In the early twentieth century, the region was reformed and redrawn along geographical, political, economic and strategic lines. People's demography mattered very little, neither their ethnicity nor religious beliefs.  Kurds, Assyrian, Turkoman, Chaldean, Armenian, Yazidi, and Jewish Plumbed together de facto later became Iraqi citizens.

Sharif-Ali was chosen by Britain' Lawrence of Arabia fame to help in the Arab Revolt.
Ibn Saud,  recommended by Captain W. H. I. Shakespeare (known to Arabs as "Skaishpeer")
Would have a made a better choice.

The making of Iraq under the British Mandate in 1923, was a mistake that need not have happened, it stands contrary to an ideological blueprint for country formations at the time when it had no unified nation to call its own.  It was a collection of debris from the fallout of the Ottoman Empire early in the twentieth century.  Made up from a selection of Ottoman-inspired 'vilayets' or provinces, largely ignoring people's unique cultural and religious affiliations. Britain inherited land with a tapestry of people to whom they gave a hollow label. A combination of people living in different and alien provinces to be grouped together under an umbrella called Iraq who were utterly devoid of national identity.  It was an imperialistic adventure.  A highly camouflaged outlook of White man's burden, motivated by a high-minded desire of whites to uplift people of colour, that included Arabs, who were seen as too primitive to rule themselves.  That may have a ring of truth; when viewed through the light of chaos in today's the Middle East. As it happened, it was to Britain's interest to control and add to its burgeoning Empire.

It was a case of Realpolitik bastardised and strictly Machiavellian to suit the powerful; one for me and one for you and none for them.   As the seams of the Empire were beginning to fray, and in the face of religious backlash, Christian Britain felt it was time to relinquish or at least release the reigns for its domination of a mostly Muslim population.  In 1932 Iraq gained its independence, but that did not diminish people's bitter hostility towards the British or to one another. In fact, it marked the beginning of political and social turmoil leading to a dysfunctional state Iraq is today.  The modus operandi was 'unity in diversity' or 'unity in fragmentation', both on a flimsy veil of tolerance.
King Faisal I, son of Sharif-Ali.  A foreign import advocated the wearing of the
'Sidara' to bring unity.  It did not work.

This essay will underline the process on countrification that in design achieved a dislocated society or at best very little in harmonising the different ethnic groups and the fragmented tribes across the country to bind into one whole robust nation.  The lack of cohesiveness in society proved time and again intolerant of its shortcomings but ironically wishes to remain ignorant of its salvation.  Although different ideologies abound, they mostly concentrate on privilege and wealth accumulation and preferring to live on the right side of superstition; belief in the evil eye in preference to reason. A most comfortable way out from any sign of civil strife or political trouble has come to mean attaching the blame on external pressure and interference instead of reaching out to a demographic curriculum from within.   An inductive argument can help to give some insights on reasons and conclusions for such chronic disunity In the least, it will undoubtedly create chances in uniting the different religious and tribal division that has effectively left Iraq a State without a Nation.

King Ghazi, not a British sympathiser, loved speed, killed in road accident driving his flashy car,
along with his two girl companions.  The British were suspected of manufacturing the accident

Looking back at the sociological layering of Iraq it is evident that although the different cultures were quite distinct under the foreign Ottoman rule, nevertheless there was, by the Turks, an emphasis on the cohesion whether through pan-Islamisation or other in uniting these cultures.  It is therefore in the interest of this essay to establish reasons for disunity present when new borders created after WWI that had gravely come to underline sectarianism as manifested by the stream of savagery that has escalated in recent years. Given this opening summary, I stress, the coming of Iraq was a stillborn birth, its formation lacked the necessary cohesiveness within a demographic structure, and British political efforts at reconciliation were severely wanting.

Iraq: A State so wealthy that could have put the 'Gardens of Babylon' to shame.
An unlucky country!

It is interesting to note the reasons for such divisions.  Is it because as we will see below developments in communication and transportation; attempts at homogeneity that must have brought regions and towns closer together only to see cultures overlapping and prejudices exposed. Objection to them may have triggered a rift exposing cultural cleavages hitherto unknown.  Or was it culturally imbued by British imperialism, their emphasis on class structure overshadowed local customs inevitably caused class resentment?  Or was it during the period of Saddam Hussein's 35-year rule which had not only exposed and exaggerated the differences but used them as instruments for suppression, thus pushing them to the forefront of ideological thinking?

Prince Regent Abd-Al-Illah, (on the right) he was more English than the English. He loved his Saville Row suits and to cruise the Baghdad streets in his Rolls Royce with a string of mistresses attached.
Educated in a British School in Cairo where Omar Sharif (the actor) schooled at a later date.

On the other hand, it could also be an inherent characteristic within the people of the area, stems from insecurity to distrust one another.  This latter point on individual citizens, if it stands, makes it even more impossible to bring about a political compact which Iraq desperately needs to eradicate sectarian identities.  It is also possible these arbitrary ideas and rifts between the populations had always been a natural phenomenon that recent experiments in Democracy unleashed with such ferocity.  Level of animosities hitherto unknown but remained latent during the Ottoman period in the 1860s or during Saddam Hussein's authoritarian rule.

King Faisal II with Queen Elizabeth.  Assassinated on 14th July 1958 at the age of 23.
The year marked the coming of The Republic of Iraq.

It is therefore not surprising for the Ottomans to realise the area was difficult to govern because of the various distinctive cultural and ideological ideas embedded within the psyche of the populations.  The developments of roads and communication, a sign for progress was undertaken under financial strains aiming to bring some unity and some semblance of homogeneity.  The backlash, of course, as I have shown to have worked the opposite way.  The population then and now cannot accept a difference.
Nouri Al-Said, Iraq Prime Minister.  He was assassinated in 1958,
and the frenzied crowd dumped his mutilated body in the Tigress river to swim with the fishes

In the 1970s an educational campaign was launched to influence a national consciousness based on Iraq's history, including the pre-Islam era and the former glory of Mesopotamia and Babylon. The goal was to focus on a new cultural life for modern Iraq and to emphasise Iraq's uniqueness, especially in the Arab world. Archaeological museums were built in several cities, which held exhibitions and educational programs, especially for children so that they were made aware of the historical importance of their culture and nation. To promote this centre of attention on history, several ancient sites from the city of Babylon were reconstructed, such as the Ziggurat of Aqarquf, the ruins of Babylon, the temple of Ishtar, the southern Iraq fortress of Nebuchadnezzar, and the Greek amphitheatre. Unfortunately, such aesthetics failed to serve any purposeful outcome.

Rashid Ali Al-Ghelani, Prime Minister of Iraq in 1941, Nazi sympathiser seized control following a coupe despatching the British contingent along with this writer's father, Kamel Oufi to prison in Mosul. Released a month later which saw the annihilation of the Iraqi forces by the British. 

The area called Iraq has suffered a cruel history under the relentless watchful eye of tyranny. The span of centuries after the Mongol invasion, that destroyed Baghdad in 1258 and Turkish conquest and rule that soon followed, coupled with lawlessness in the region left the inhabitants vulnerable and insecure.  The insecurity of the Shia community was bad enough until efforts of Pan-Islamisation in the nineteenth century, trialled after centuries of oppression eased their plight.  In this context, it was even worse for the Jews and Christians and other minorities identified as second class citizens.  Throughout the Ottoman period, they were deemed subordinate defined by a mode of dress to tell them apart. Then and now suffering a string of violations, hardly ever enjoyed a sense of belonging.  The Ottomans did exercise freedom of religion, the mode of which not far off those tinpot gulf states that flag wave the same today, only to see their constitution is enshrined by Sharia laws.  Freedom was and is no more than what it says on the tin.    Such levels of mistrust created over the centuries stretched their insecurity beyond reason.

The whole population fared no better under the British with Nouri Al Said as Prime Minister nor during the thirty-five-year rule of Saddam Hussein.  Throughout the period since independence, the Iraqi government have been guarded against subversive activities by spying on its people.  Such actions were taken to an extreme under Saddam Hussein.  The oppressive regimes over the centuries have left the Iraqi people with vulnerability, so ingrained their empathy today hardly reaches beyond the filial core.  Thus with such a frame of mind, it is hard to imagine if there can be a unity among the citizens to weave into the fabric of a nation any time soon.  

Abu-Ghraib Prison showing suffering Iraqi detainees. Human Rights violations at the hands
of American forces 

On the grand scheme of things, nothing much matters to Iraqi people today except looking after your own. In consequence, Iraq is housed by people not by society made up of individuals each an island ocean apart from one another. Instinct is their only guide, they are driven by their own inertia fuelled by desire rather than by causes. A land where help for one another and philanthropy is mainly left to aliens.  It could be their instinctive repulsion of one another more potent than the nearness brought about by communication; tried over a century ago to encourage if not guarantee cohesion.  Years of oppression, denials and marginalisation have taken their toll.  For such people abandoning hope comes easy and delving on wishful nostalgia is easier still.

A naked Iraqi detainee at the Abu Ghraib prison is tethered by a leash to prison guard Army Pfc. Lynndie Rana England. In 2012, following her release, after only three years in prison, she stated that she did not regret her actions. 
           "They're trying to kill us, and you want me to apologise to them?  It's like saying sorry to the enemy."

However, from such a rock-bottom level of negativity, progress needs to evolve.  Now it is an opportunity to reach out for reconciliation, to extend the reach of loyalty beyond family, self-interest and avarice.  The country is endowed with a rich heritage around which to build on a Nation with a common culture.  The rivers of Babylon from the distant foothills of Turkey, share a rich history with their people they go back together thousands of years sharing innovations and achievements.  Also true, the multi-ethnic society that grew around them are brutally and culturally divergent averse to accepting a difference but, time reaches a point, however, when they have to meet.

The Poverty is existing in Iraq mainly due to the failing infrastructure a
result of chronic political instability.
A failed nation is lacking in honesty and empathy of its people towards
one another. 

Similarly, the Tigers and the Euphrates eventual confluence at Al-Shat Al Arab, so one would hope the differences have ebbed and would converge as trust grows.  For its survival as a Nation-State, Iraq depends on unity, faith and accommodation.  The Greeks named the land Mesopotamia, the area of two rivers, and left them separated but the flow of time should erode the mistrust.  And staying with this metaphor, Iraq people should learn to cultivate the rich and fertile sediment to create the nation fit enough to claim Babylon's greatness as a significant chapter in their great history.

Ishtar Gate, Pergamon Museum, Berlin. From Babylon,
the ancient Mesopotamian city in what is today Iraq. 

Idealist, I maybe, but that is an outlook hardly ever failed to be the first step to reality.  So, time for new Politics of National Identity to flag up, to proudly clawback, 'Gate of the Gods'; Babylon, the source of civilisation that they can rightly claim as theirs.  Time to reconnect to the country's history and time for Nation Branding.  

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