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Saddam's Legacy Or Interventionism Gone Wrong?

Saddam's Legacy Or Interventionism Gone Wrong?

By Firas Al-Atraqchi

Iraq is likely to remain in the headlines and front pages of international media for quite some time; the war is far from over.

Experts who so boldly predict what Iraqis are feeling right now or make assumptions concerning the 'democratic needs of a future Iraq quite simply have no inkling of their subject matter.

Iraq has had a 7,000-year history that has been marked with incredible scientific, cultural, literary, and judicial achievement. It was the Sumerians who invented the wheel, the Babylonians who divided the circle into 360 degrees, and the Abbasids who pushed medical science to be the forerunner of today's public health system.

Iraq produced the world's first literary epic, the Epic of Gilgamesh, which examined the great flood, aspects of metaphysics, life and death. The first electric battery was invented in Iraq some 4,000 years ago. The hanging gardens of Babylon were one of the wonders of the ancient world, and cuneiform was the first system of writing.

Indeed, Iraq's history is rich in achievement.

However, Iraq's history is also one of ruthlessness, war, civil war, treachery, hypocrisy, inhumanity, torture, depravation, conquest, rebellion, and martyrdom. The Assyrians, Sumerians, and Babylonians were not only scientific innovators but also expert killers. They butchered one another, laid ruin to Egypt and Judea, fought wars with Persia, until Persia struck back and burned them to the ground. The latter was almost repeated in the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war.

The wheel, that bastion of human development, was not invented for human prosperity, but rather to allow chariots to move and kill. That is the ancient history of Iraq.

Iraq's modern history is no different. Bloody revolution upon bloody revolution upon senseless wars exemplify the modern Iraqi ethos. Yes, the Iraqi people are an industrious lot. Yes, they are educated and hardworking and can become a regional economic power. However, they are also a people who are quite skilled in turning on one another, betraying neighbours, sacking villages, and hanging people from lamp posts.

Iraq in the immediate post-Saddam era is witnessing lawlessness unheard of in modern history. To compare Iraq's chaotic upheaval to the period immediately after the collapse of the Berlin wall (as U.S. Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld did last week) smacks of historical ignorance. The German people did not go about looting ministries, raping one another, forming armed militias to protect hospitals from roaming looters, or start fires in museums of national cultural value.

TV footage and interviews with normal Iraqi professionals are quite alarming in what they reveal of Iraqi sentiment; some have openly claimed that had Saddam been in power none of the lawlessness would have ever occurred. Others, who could not bear to show their faces and instead turned away from the camera, said that if Saddam were to return he would slaughter all those who were now defiling everything that Iraq had built in the past 35 years. Yet even others have actually baffled the critic and 'expert' by calling on Saddam to return.

In more recent times, many who see cheering youth greeting U.S. soldiers are quick to point out that most are just cheering for the victor. Hamza Hendawi of the Associated Press reports that there are many who believe times were better under Saddam. "Many people just cheer for those who are victorious," a farmer called Mahmoud Shalal, a 30-year-old father of six, told Hendawi. "He doubted the sincerity of the scenes of jubilation that greeted U.S. forces in central Baghdad, saying 'It was a case of 'kiss the hand if you cannot twist the arm," Hendawi writes.

Iraq's future may lie in its past.

In 1917, General F. S. Maude, commander of the British forces who captured Baghdad from the Ottoman Turks told the Arabs: "Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators. Your wealth has been stripped of you by unjust men. ... The people of Baghdad shall flourish under institutions which are in consonance with their sacred laws. ... The Arab race may rise once more to greatness!" Nevertheless, the British invaded Iraq and by 1941, were greeted with fierce resistance from the people who believed the British were out to occupy it. British RAF strafed Iraqi military and civilians alike (a 1917-1920 rebellion by Shiite tribes was quelled by the RAF who used poison gas to kill thousands of Iraqis) and marched towards Baghdad. A foreign monarchy was put in control of a disgruntled Iraq.

Such was the hatred for British involvement in Iraq and for its puppet monarch that a 1958 revolution, led by General Abdul Karim Kassem, saw the most reviled butchery in Iraqi history. Iraqis marched in the streets calling for the death of the entire royal family. In the ensuing madness of a maniacal Kassem, thousands were killed and hung from lampposts as a sign and lesson for future generations. Nouri as-Said, a royal adviser and prime minister who openly supported British and U.S. involvement in Iraqi politics, was shot and killed, tied behind a truck, dragged through Baghdad streets for two days, and finally hung for everyone to see.

There is no escaping the fact that the modern history of Iraq is one baptized in blood, chronicling the chaos and socio-political upheaval of foreign intervention.

The above history of Iraq by no means attempts to digest every coup, rebellion, act of anarchy and dissension in the past 90 years. However, it is noteworthy; Iraq's history could repeat itself.

Perhaps it already is.

On February 27, 2003 U.S. President George Bush told the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank "We will seek to protect Iraq's natural resources from sabotage by a dying regime, and ensure those resources are used for the benefit of the owners - the Iraqi people...A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform this vital region by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions".

The parallels between General Maude's speech and Bush's recent oratory are remarkable. Uncanny, perhaps diabolically coincidental. History has recorded what happened in the wake of British involvement. What lessons, if any, should be drawn by the Bush administration?

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa warned several months ago an invasion of Iraq would "open the gates of hell".

The warning should be heeded. Except for Lebanon, no other country in the region has seen as bloody a modern history as Iraq.

Will the bloodshed continue?


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