Tuesday, September 20, 2005


The ‘Iraq’ Business

Is Iraq an Artificial Construction?

[Time and again I come across statements that Iraq was a state ‘artificially’ constructed at the end of World War I by the occupying French and British out of the three separate Ottoman regions of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. These statements are frequently made by ‘experts’ on Iraq! I have come across such assertions only too often… I would like to elaborate on this, at least to have something to refer people to in the future!]

In a nutshell

Iraq’s habitation goes back at least to the end of the last ice age. As a single country, it has been in existence for about 4,400 years. In addition to the long history, the country has been defined by geography: The two rivers of Mesopotamia clearly define a geographically unified region surrounded by mountains on the east and desert on the west in which people have been freely mixing for several thousand years!

The two rivers in ancient Iraqi mythology

To the ancient Iraqis… it started, not with Creation, but with putting order into Creation… The following passages are from Enuma Elish , the Babylonian Myth of Creation:

[Long before the time of the new gods, and long before our human world... there was nothing in existence but chaos. This chaos was ruled by the old gods Apsu (fresh water) and Tiamat (the sea). So a new or younger generation of gods were created for the purpose of bringing order to chaos.

One of the young gods, Ea, the god of wisdom, slayed the old god Apsu. This made the goddess Tiamat angry at Ea and all of the other youthful gods. Tiamat, who was a dragon like goddess, successfully waged war against all of the younger generation Babylonian gods until finally, in the nick of time, Marduk was born. Marduk, son of Ea, was to be the strongest and wisest of all the gods. As such, he was chosen to deal with Tiamat once and for all…

Summoning all of the other young gods, Marduk went to war against Tiamat. Finally, in a one on one battle, Tiamat was no match for the great Marduk, Lord of the Four Quarters. Cornering Tiamat with the four winds at his command, Marduk caught Tiamat up in his net. When Tiamat opened her mouth to breath fire at him, Marduk let loose the Imhulla, "evil wind" or hurricane. The many winds of Marduk filled her up. The winds churning her up from within, rendered her defenseless. Then Marduk speared her with a lightning bolt.

Splitting Tiamat (the sea) in two, Marduk then raised half of her body to create the sky and with the other half created the earth. In the process of this splitting apart, Tiamat's eyes then became the sources of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

In the realm above (heaven) Marduk set Anu, the sky god, and in the realm below (earth) Marduk set Ea, the earth god. Between the two, Marduk set the air god, Enlil. Other gods were then given their places in the heavens and then the stars were formed in their likeness.

The Sun, the Moon, and stars were at that time given special courses to run, and the constellations were to mark the passage of time. Through the measuring of time by the revolutions of the planets, order was established for ancient humanity.]

[It is perhaps comforting to know that the present-day god Murdock is attempting a similarly mammoth task of putting order in this world through Fox News and other ‘winds’ at his command!]

The Tigris and the Euphrates; it was those twin rivers that gave us Mesopotamia. Geography defined Iraq, even before history, and created that region… not the French and the British.

The earliest days – dawn of civilization

It started with city states, more than 7000 years ago. For a few thousand years Iraq was the birthplace of quite a number of them. They reached a level of sophistication by the standards of the time, unequalled except by Egypt.

Those city-states were then a new experiment in mankind’s history that produced sophisticated government, writing and record-keeping, the first written laws and work management that allowed people be freed from food gathering and production for personal consumption and allowed many to specialize in crafts. This was the spark that ignited technological and other developments. The very concept of organized society (the first step towards civilization) was started in Iraq through the creation of those early city-states. It seems that these were triggered by two major factors: abundance of produce in the fertile plains of southern Iraq (which allowed farmers to produce food more than their families needed) and the collective effort needed by the nature of irrigation in that region.

Those city states came and went, flourished and dwindled, expanded and decayed for a few thousand years in different parts of Iraq.Most of the time they were in competition and combat with neighboring cities. One of them was called ‘Uruk’ – a splendid civilization that flourished around 3000 BC - which I believe gave its name to the country.

Unification into one country

Then Sargon came along… Sargon, king of one of those city-states called Akkad, was the man who unified Iraq for the first time around 2400 BC and then went on to create the first known empire in the history of mankind.

Incidentally, the story of Sargon’s early childhood bears a disturbing resemblance to that of Moses .
1. Sargon, the mighty king, king of Akkadê am I,
2. My mother was lowly; my father I did not know;
3. The brother of my father dwelt in the mountain.
4. My city is Azupiranu, which is situated on the bank of the Purattu [Euphrates],
5. My lowly mother conceived me, in secret she brought me forth.
6. She placed me in a basket of reeds, she closed my entrance with bitumen,
7. She cast me upon the rivers which did not overflow me.
8. The river carried me, it brought me to Akki, the irrigator.
9. Akki, the irrigator, in the goodness of his heart lifted me out,
10. Akki, the irrigator, as his own son brought me up;
11. Akki, the irrigator, as his gardener appointed me.
12. When I was a gardener the goddess Ishtar loved me,
13. And for four years I ruled the kingdom.
14. The black-headed peoples I ruled, I governed;
15. Mighty mountains with axes of bronze I destroyed (?).
16. I ascended the upper mountains;
17. I burst through the lower mountains.
18. The country of the sea I besieged three times;
19. Dilmun I captured. [Dilmun is believed to be present-day Bahrain]
20. Unto the great Dur-ilu I went up, I . . . . . . . . .
21 . . . . . . . . .

The last 4000 years…

Iraq then went on from unification to disintegration so many times! Civilization after civilization rose, produced magnificent achievements and then crumbled and succumbed to local or foreign invasions… and then rose again.

Anybody who mattered in the old, and the not-so-old, world came here. They were all either repelled or ultimately dissolved in this 7000 year old melting pot.

The Greeks were also here, represented by the outstanding Alexander the Great, who died in Iraq. They certainly viewed it as a single country: Mesopotamia – the land between the two rivers. People in the west still use their corruption of the names of those two rivers: the Tigris and the Euphrates, Dijla and Furat [Furattu].

Before, during and after the Islamic conquest in the 7th century, the word “Iraq” was used to refer to this country. It was known as a single country throughout. It was certainly referred to as such in numerous official documents and much poetry. The Arabic alternative description of Iraq: Bilad al Rafidain (country of the two rivers) is still in common use to this day in Iraq and throughout the Arab world.

Later, Baghdad became the capital of an enormous and a glamorous empire under the Abbasids. Iraq was still a single region throughout their reign.

When Baghdad crumbled to the attack of the Mongols in 1258, it did not rise again. Invader after invader came from the east and north.

For several centuries, Iraq was the favorite battleground between the Ottoman Turks and the Persian Iranians. The Turks prevailed.

The Turks divided Iraq into three regions for purely administrative purposes. They were the zones around the three major cities of Iraq Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. There was nothing ethnic and sectarian about that division. All three were mixed Arab/Kurd and Sunni/Shiite. Yes, the southern region was also mixed. It was only during the 19th century that the southern basin of Tigris converted en masse to Shiism.

Then, the ‘Experts’ came…

That was the state of Iraq when adventurers, company and empire representatives and tools and probes of the European conflicting interests ‘discovered’ it to the West. This is why they were not lying when they wrote that Iraq was three-state contraption. They did not lie, but they did not even know part of the whole story either. They were ignorant of all that long history. Thus was the myth of an ‘artificial’ country created.

Look at the map of Iraq: Only the borders on the west and south-west are straight lines; lines drawn in the sand.

The rest were lines defined by a very long history of long bloody conflicts. The northern and eastern borders were dictated by a history that was too long to ignore. But the French and British were at liberty to draw the western and the southern lines of the map of Iraq in the vast areas of sand. Little did they know that those areas of empty desert were riddled with a history of their own. Except for the early Sumerians, most of the other people who produced all those wonderful civilizations came across those deserts. There were no borders there… until the end of WWI. But that is a different story.

This is how the map of modern Iraq was drawn. And this is why many ‘experts’ honestly believe that modern Iraq was so constructed… ‘artificially’ from the three Ottoman provinces at the end of World War I.

They were only in error of ignoring about 7000 years of history.

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