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Iraq in History From Mesopotamia to the Present

History is not the chronicling of

the past,

It is about learning lessons for

the future.

Richard Nixon

THE history of modern Iraq as a separate entity began with the joining of three provinces from the Old Ottoman Empire following its defeat and dismemberment after the 1914-1918 war, but this country has a much older history which dates back to Mesopotamia were humanity started its march into history more than 5000 years ago. Man was able here to achieve some astonishing accomplishments, the invention of writing and the ability to control the water supply to the lands and start a real revolution in agriculture which allowed him to create a very advanced society and inaugurate man’s first civilization.

Mesopotamia, the land between the two rivers was given its name in the 5th century BC by Herodotus. It contains all of current Iraq, parts of southwestern Iran, southern turkey and northeastern Syria. But in the narrow sense it applies to the southern 180.000 square miles which was the womb and cradle of civilization.

Most of this area is nowadays dry barren and very hot but here the Sumerians were able to invent an extremely successful system of dikes, dams and canals

9 Iraq In History

which allowed them to make excellent use of the surplus water during times of flooding and produce agricultural products mainly grain which was used to feed an increasingly growing population with the surplus used in the service of the higher interests of the state.  This is where and how man’s civilization was born.

CIVILIZATION was born, cradled and nurtured in Mesopotamia, but this birth was not a sudden chance eruption out of vacuum, it was the culmination of a long period of evolution. Here was born some of the earliest philosophies, religions and myths of mankind.

Here were built great cities were very complicated political and legal systems evolved and extremely advanced science medicine and art all developed inside a strict code of morality and law, but their most important contribution was their invention of writing.

Writing is one of the greatest contributions of the Sumerians to humanity; history began with writing which gave us our first solid ideas about the story of man.

History began with writing. History began at Sumer.

THE Mesopotamian civilization lasted for three thousand years with a striking cultural unity. From UR its  first center it radiated over the entire near east and was kept alive in other major centers like Babylon, Assur, Nineveh all situated on or near the Tigris and Euphrates within the  boundaries of modern Iraq remaining fairly uniformly throughout  though repeatedly shaken by political convulsions and recurrent  incursions by its neighbors which led to its gradual decline and final disappearance alas  some of its cultural and scientific achievements were salvaged by the Greeks and  became part of recent western heritage, the rest either perished or were buried for centuries in the sand  awaiting the picks of archeologists.

10 from Mesopotamia to the present

FOR the next four centuries Iraq was caught  in the middle of  conflicts much stronger  states until the Ottoman Empire which was established in the late 13th century which was at its height in control of most of southeastern Europe and the middle east including Iraq and has at one time reached almost to the doorstep o of Vienna but as has always happened in history it after a period of great flowering has become enfeebled and ineffective from very serious internal problems and as a  result of its constant troubles with its neighbors. The final blow came as a result of its involvement in the first world war on the side of the Germans who lost and brought the ottoman empire down  with them .which resulted in the allocation of its components to  the victors, Iraq  went to Britain as a mandate  which allowed them to continue its occupation.

Now I am going to discuss in a hurry the events of the next 2oo years because apart from very short periods of peace and prosperity they were very turbulent centuries and because I want to concentrate on the very turbulent history of modern Iraq. These events started with the emergence of Greece as the center of civilization, but it had a little indirect influence on the situation in this part of the world except during the short reign of Alexander the Great which was followed later on by the emergence and dominance of Islam.

The Greek period was followed by the emergence and spread of Islam. Islam and the teachings of the prophet has performed a great miracle, they have weld bands of peasants and predatory warriors and brigands in Arabia into a compact nation which swept away ancient kingdoms and brought under  one dominion an area as large  as that of the roman empire at the peak of its power. The last phase of this period was the establishment of the Abbasid dynasty. The Abbassid rulers were very enlightened, they cared about their people and were interested in everything concerning their health and their

11 Iraq in history

prosperity. They loved science and learning and continually sought, patronized and encouraged talented and promising individuals who stood shoulder to shoulder with the previous giants of history a truly golden period which reached its climax in about a hundred years.

BAGHDAD became the center of an astonishing new phase in man’s march into civilization the standards of science art literature medicine and every other discipline reached very high.

The Moslems and the Arab not only translated and compiled the ancient treasures but  added a tremendous amount from their own ideas their work and their experiences for which they received a great deal of appreciation from their successors.

There was in Baghdad a library known as the house of wisdom in which there was countless Nos. of translated and original manuscripts. There were 60 first class hospitals in Baghdad.

BUT suddenly it was all over, all this light and glory was extinguished and destroyed in one of History’s most atrocious and cruel episodes at the hands of the Mongols.

IT was these maniacs who descended on Baghdad in 1258 AD, and went into a frenzied rampage of killing and destruction which lasted a week by the end of which tens of thousands of its best scholars doctors artists and scientists were dead, the literary and scientific treasures the accumulation of centuries were almost completely destroyed the great library was burned with its hundreds of thousands of priceless books thrown into the river.

All the old glory was mercilessly and senselessly swiftly consumed with fire and quenched in blood.

12 From Mesopotamia to the present

FOR the next four centuries Iraq was caught in the middle of conflicts between the much stronger states surrounding it until the Ottoman Empire which was established in the late 13th century and was at its height in in 16th century in control of most of southeastern Europe and the middle east including Iraq and has at one time reached almost to the doorstep of Vienna but as has always happened in history it after a period of great flowering has become enfeebled and ineffective from very serious internal problems and as a  result of its constant troubles with its neighbors and its  many other enemies. The final blow came as a result of its involvement in the first world war on the side of the Germans who lost and brought the ottoman empire down with them which resulted in its dismemberment and the division of its spoils amongst the victors Iraq went to Britain under the guise of a league of nations mandate which allowed them to continue its occupation.

Britain invaded Iraq at the beginning of the first world war which they justified  as a necessity to protect their oil interests In Iran and their access to the gulf’s shipping lanes to the far east especially India. Many Iraqis welcomed the British in the beginning with open hands who vowed to end five centuries of ottoman rule which has grown very corrupt and economically stifling

“our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies but as liberators proclaimed General Stanley Maude the commander of the British forces as his troops marched into Baghdad in 1917”.

The Ottoman Empire was a dynastic state centered in what is now turkey, it was  founded at the end of the 13th century, and at its height in the  mid-1500s  it controlled a vast  area in Europe, north Africa and the middle east  with three  proveniences [villayats] south of turkey which make up nowadays Iraq, but the Ottomans have allied themselves during that conflict  with the Germans who lost the war and dragged their allies with them when the empire was

13 Iraq in history

dismembered and its colonies distributed amongst the victors, mainly the British and the French, the three separate provinces [villayats] went to the British who joined them together and fashioned modern Iraq. Which was an astonishingly diverse entity and impossible to govern.

The mandate was a kind of trusteeship a very clever disguise to maintain the British colonial rule which allowed them to control the most important aspects of the state, so under the mandate they proclaimed the country a monarchy and crowned Feisal one of the sons of the Shareef of Mecca king in 1921, this was followed by giving the Iraqis a constitution and a parliament but Britain was the real power.

Britain’s stay in Iraq was not a picnic it has been marred by nationalist fervor, ethnic uprisings, tribal conflicts treacherous warfare and deadly oppression which finally led to kicking the British out of the country at the hands of a small group of middle ranking middle class officers under the command of Brigadier Abdul Kareem Qassem who led a military coup in the early hours of 14th July 1958 with Colonel Abdul Salam Aref as his second in command

QASSEM dissolved the monarchy and the constitution and declared the country a republic and organized a three man ceremonial committee on the top with real power in his hands as prime minister. Britain’s experiment in nation building in Iraq failed, but the fall of the monarchy did not bring better stability or progress, in fact the decade which followed the demise of the monarchy was extremely turbulent and bloody. The problems started with very ugly quarrel with his second in command which ended by banishing the colonel to Germany as an ambassador.

WHAT followed was five years of incredible instability. Qassem was relying on the communists and their supporters who clashed viciously with the other

14 From Mesopotamia to the Present

major faction in the country, the nationalists a clash which caused a great loss of life and very severe polarization of the country.

AMONGST the nationalists was the budding and recently created Ba’ath party.

But the Bathissts were playing their own game and succeeded on the 8th of February 1963 in toppling Qassem after t which  they unleashed an unprecedented reign of terror against their  adversaries  which was a real blood bath but they were new to government, young and inexperienced so they were immediately  engaged in internecine  squabbles and competition for power and influence all of which created a great revulsion against their rule which was utilized by colonel Aref who was finally able to topple them on September of the same year, dismantled their organization and sent them into the wilderness after only six months and started the Aref regime. The Aref regime began with the Colonel who was later on killed in a helicopter crash in April 1966; he was replaced by his brother Abdul-Rahman.

The Aref regime was a bit more humane but ineffective and pretty useless.

Now someone was waiting in the corridors of power, a Youngman who was trained during his stay in Cairo, he had reorganized the party according to his own personal and tribal principles arranged a blood less transfer of power from the hands of the second Aref on the 17th of July 1968 to himself, all power in his hands and the collective leadership the party rule and the president were nothing but a convenient façade behind which  he ruled unchallenged until he was finally deposed after the Americans invaded the country in 2003.

The man was 31 years old his name was, Saddam Hussein.

Saddam was born in Tikrit on the 28th of April 1937, in a very poor family, his father  has died few months before his birth and that his mother  was already re-married to his uncle, During his early years he  sojourned between his

15 Iraq in History

maternal uncle’s house in Ttikrit and  his stepfather’s, the uncle was a junior army officer who has spent the last few years of the Second World War in a British prison because of  his very strong Nazi sympathies and active involvement in a coup attempt against the British in 1941 which was backed by the fascist regime in Germany.

YOUNG children start formal education at age 6, the uncle had  a son [Adnan] who was  starting  primary school . Adnan was able to convince his cousin to attend with him which he managed with difficulty. The next phase is the secondary and because such level of schooling  was not available in Tikrit the whole uncle’s family moved to Baghdad to allow  their son to continue his studies and few months later their guest followed them.  to secondary school in Baghdad

SADDAM’s secondary school “Al-Karkh’  was a very active political center of the newly created Ba’ath, an activity into which he immersed himself at the expense of his studies in which he was again very disinterested  and showed very  clearly in his mediocre performance and his difficulties in getting through  the years. He was not was not greatly impressed by Nasser’s brand of Arabism  he thought it was naïve and excessively romantic, but he was greatly impressed by the Ba’ath with its strong emphasis on discipline, its organizational skills and the aura of secrecy surrounding it, all of which greatly appealed to him. He joined the party in 1957.

Once in power Saddam methodically created a state of terror where thousands of citizens have been made to disappear and where the wives and daughters of  govt.  Officials were raped by secret policemen to extort loyalty from the official or their colleagues.

The more one learns about the Iraqi dictator the clearer it becomes that he epitomizes sheer malice.  Here after all here is  a man who has imposed a

16 From Mesopotamia to the Present

violent totalitarian regime on his own people, he has  imprisoned tortured shot and bombed thousands of  Iraqis . He has launched wars of aggression against his neighbors and he spent billions on WMDs.

He is a tyrant an aggressor and a threat to civilization.

I would like to emphasize from the start that Saddam Hussein’s 35 years in power were a real tragedy and a non-ending nightmare.

Few months after seizing power in 1979 and on the 22 September 1980 he invaded Iran, the conflict that followed lasted eight years claiming the lives of at least a million people including the thousands of Kurds and Iranians who died from his chemical weapons and maiming twice that number And when it was all over Saddam has accomplished nothing despite billions of dollars spent the battle lines separating the two armies has barely budged.

But two years later after the last shots were fired against Iran he sent his forces rolling south towards Kuwait on August 2 1990. But this adventure would not go unchallenged it was condemned by many world leaders and the UN Security Council would vote to impose various resolutions against Iraq, and finally on Nov. 29 it would vote to authorize the use force against his aggression.

Armed with the UN resolution a coalition of forces from more than 30 countries large and small and led by the united states launched operation desert storm on the 17th Jan. 1991 to evict Saddam from Kuwait, it was a forty days of aerial bombardment which was a real massacre which was followed by few days on the ground, the only units which were spared the destruction were the republican guards. And when everybody was expecting the Americans would proceed to Baghdad and finish with Saddam president Bush ordered a cease fire.

17 Iraq in History

For the time being Saddam was saved , but the next 12 years were a real calamity for the people, he was very fiercely bringing down the two uprisings which have started in south and the north of the country after his humiliating expulsion from Kuwait, and  during the following years he was back  to his usual gimmicks and machinations at a time when the Iraqi people were reeling under the very harsh and crippling international sanctions which were  supposed to punish the regime but were in fact murdering the people .

To make things worse the US’S government looked like they didn’t know what to do with him their response to Saddam when he was still bent on conquest and the acquisition WMDs was a combination of incomplete military operations and diplomatic accommodation until 9/11

The  US Government’s response to the threats posed by  Saddam  were totally inadequate , rather than press for a genuine regime change  the first bush halted the war against him prematurely and turned a blind eye as he slaughtered the uprising whom had encouraged to rise, the Clinton's administration avoided the moral and strategic challenge presented by Saddam they opted for a weak policy of containment punctuated now and then with few pin pricks by cruise missiles until the arrival of the second Bush.

George W Bush was very clearly and from the very start of his administration bent on something more aggressive, in the words of his first treasury secretary president Bush was very clearly obsessed by Saddam but he was unable to make up his mind until 9.11 from then on it was not to him a question of what but of when.

After September eleven President Bush was convinced on some tenuous evidence that Saddam has been very definitely involved in the terrible atrocity and he had to go.

During the first hours of the 19th of march 2003 president bush was  broadcasting to the world the news that he has ordered the American military  to start executing  operation Iraqi Freedom  which was to remove Saddam Hussein from power  because of his possible links to Ossama Bin Laden and the huge threat his huge arsenal of WMDS was posing to the world and the US in particular and to free the Iraqis from his tyranny and to help the Iraqi people on the greatly needed reconstruction of their country.

The military operation lasted for 19 days at the end of Saddam was toppled and the Americans were sitting in his palace.

Saddam fled his presidential palace and he was not found inspire of the persistent efforts by the Americans to catch him but he was finally caught 6 months later on the 14th December in what was described as a rat’s hole in a neglected farm near his home town, later on he was tried because of his brutal retaliation to the attempt on his life in the Dujail in July 1982 3, he was found guilty was convicted and was finally hanged on the eve of the new year 2006.

Saddam Hussein’s 35 years in power were a real tragedy and a non-ending nightmare. Saddam was a tyrant and an aggressor and a threat to civilization.  He was   corrupt cruel and vindictive, he ruled by his fist and his gun he cared about no one except himself, his long reign brought nothing but pain blood and misery to the Iraqis that is why a lot of them including myself welcomed the Americans who brought him down in 2003 and promised to help us in the reconstruction of our country but we were to be very disappointed.

The situation in Iraq now is worse than it was under Saddam. It is chaotic and a real mess and great deal falls on the shoulders of Paul Bremer.