10,000 Years in Iraq
Notes to myself in search of further understanding about a region and its people.
by Dean Adams Curtis
IRAQ, 10,000 years ago
Wild wheat grows in abundance. Date palms cover vast stretches of marshland. Orchards of fruit-laden plants adorn the lush land sitting at the same latitude as the lower Mississippi River half an Earth away. What was the genesis of this bountiful place?
Going back a million years earlier for a brief moment of geological overview, the landscape to become Iraq is submerged dozens of feet beneath the Persian Gulf. The Gulf stretches much further north, tickling the underbelly of what will become Turkey. Then a mighty river, the Karun, in the land to become Iran, and a mighty river, now vanished, in land to become Saudi Arabia, form deltas across the Gulf from one another.
The deltas eventually merge into a sandbar that will become the country of Kuwait. North of the sandbar the Gulf is filled in with sediment. Water is sucked away by an ice age, and the land to become Iraq is born.
IRAQ, 9000 years ago
Human settlers boat down the Tigris and Euphrates from Armenia, Syria and Turkey. Others migrate in from Lebanon, Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia, populating the green paradise. They bring with them nude female figurines of clay, images of a Mother Earth goddess.
IRAQ, 8000 years ago
Between the Tigris and Euphrates live a peaceful people, women and men who know nothing of war or weapons, who share the responsibilities and joys of family, farm, and community. They bury their dead in ways symbolic of a pregnant belly, as they believe Mother Earth reincarnates their ancestors, returning them from the underworld via the miracle of childbirth.
Water from the Tigris and Euphrates is channeled through an array of canals the people have dug to irrigate their fields and orchards. They analyze the movements of the moon, planets and stars, and believe Mother Earth appears before them in the form of birds, snakes and butterflies. Children learn a lengthy song, telling of 360 uses for date trees, from which the people make everything from roof beams to wine.
IRAQ, 7000 years ago
The region is a bountiful food basket for the ancient world and will inspire the story of a Garden of Eden. The story is just one of many Old Testament stories which will have their genesis in this fertile crescent of land stretching from the top of the Persian Gulf, north by northwest to the Mediterranian.
Around the world, along the rivers of Europe, up the Nile in Egypt, down the Indus of Pakistan, in the great river valleys of China and Central America, magnificent millennia of peace have allowed humans to become ever more technically, artistically and spiritually developed. They leave the record of this development enshrined in nature-inspired figurines, or sculptures, depiciting human females with animals, as well as females who are also part animal.
IRAQ, 6000 years ago
Fierce rain saturates the land that will become Iraq for many weeks. Floodwaters sweep down from the mountains of Armenia, Turkey and Iran. Even arid Arabia sends water surging down a host of ravines from the mountains along her western coast.
Iraq is submerged once again. When the water level lowers to normal, eight feet of mud covers Eden. Before long, vegetation reclaims the land and humans return, telling their children of the great flood and of an ark which escaped inundation.
IRAQ, 5000 years ago
The warrior herding Indo-European culture expands down the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. It may well have originated in the southern part of what will become the Soviet Union, where horses have been domesticated, where a warrior sun god is worshipped. The Indo-European people have learned to use their horses as terrifying weapons platforms, from which warriors thrust swords of bronze. The swords are forged by cooking and mixing cooper (in use for several millenia by this time in its pure form) together with arsenic and other metals.
A World at peace is transforming to an Earth of wars. How did this process start? It seems to have started when the Indo-European's cattle and sheep herding landscape in southern Russia became overgrazed, causing them to search for greener pastures. The Indo-European migrations spread militarism from India to Old Europe. Refugees are everywhere seeking new homes. Citadels on hilltops are replacing villages down by tha riversides. Warrior gods are rising to the heavens above Mother Earth. The slaughter of the war millennia has begun.
IRAQ, 4000 years ago
Sumerians now live along the southern banks of the Tigris and Euphrates. They are some of the first humans to develop a written language, using a sharpened reed to make intricate multiple gouges in clay. Tablets reveal Sumerian interest in a broad range of subjects, from botany and zoology, to astronomy, medicine, and cultural anthropology. Among their many innovations are indoor plumbing, schools, libraries, tax reduction, legal and moral ideals.
King Gilgamesh, hero of epic poems, ruler of one of the Sumerian cities, calls together a war congress, the first two-house legislative body in recorded history. It is made up of a senate of elders and an assembly of young male citizens bearing arms.
He asks the congress to choose between peace at the cost of appeasement and capitulation to a rival king, or war and independence. The conservative elders of the senate declare for peace at all costs. King Gilgamesh doesn't find their answer to his liking, so he takes the matter before the armed assembly, which votes for war and freedom.
Shortly after the vote, the city comes under siege by the troops of the rival king. The rulers of the two regions meet and resolve their differences without a fight.
Sumerians share the fertile land with nomadic Semites, drawn to lush Eden from the deserts of Arabia. The Sumerians and their Semite allies are often at war with their Iranian neighbors, the Elamites, from the city of Susa.
Water of the southern Euphrates laps against the walls of a pyramid-like structure. Formerly dedicated to the moon goddess in an earlier millenia, the ziggurat now honors the moon god Sin. Already ancient, it looks curiously like the monumental structures just now beginning to be built in this era by peoples as far away as the Olmecs of Mexico, ancestors of the Aztecs. It dominates the skyline in the Sumerian city of Ur, west of the modern day Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.
Abraham, a Semite and citizen of Ur, listens to news of an imminent invasion by the Edamites. He, his wife Sarah, their friends and relations decide to leave their two-story courtyard homes and begin their search for a new home.
First they travel north up the Euphrates, then move down through Syria and Lebanon to a land occupied by Philistines, sea-faring traders, whose main coastal city is Gaza. They also control a fortress on higher ground. After the fortress is captured by the Semites it becomes known as Ur-salemmu, then Jerusalem. Romans who later conquer the region will designate the Philistine land...Palestina.
The children of Sarah and Abraham take a variety of paths. Some mother and father the tribes of Israel. Others move south into the Arabian Desert, completing a circle, as it was in this region their Semite ancestors once lived before migrating to Mesopotamia. They begin the Bedouin culture. The Muslim religion will later evolve from this culture and will believe Ibrahim to be a Friend of God.
IRAQ, 3000 years ago
Assyrian kings rule. These guys are the first people on Earth to put a permanent army under the control of a bureaucracy. Their military-industrial-complex is necessary, as they must deal with perpetual revolts in their occupied territories, which stretch from Egypt, Palestine and Israel, through Iran and Pakistan.
King Ninus, master of Ninevah on the upper Tigris, a city of monumental architecture, has just added Armenia to his list of vanquished territories and is fighting to conquer India. On King Ninus' campaign is Semiramis, heralded in Babylonian myth as the daughter of the bird goddess, cared for since birth by doves. King Ninus' war party also includes 1,700,000-foot soldiers, 200,000 horsemen, and 10,000 chariots.
They lay siege to a fortress, where an Indian king and his army stubbornly resist defeat. Semiramis, using her powers, finds a way for King Ninus' troops to enter the fortress. King Ninus falls in love with her. She becomes his queen. When the king dies, Semiramis builds a new capital beside the lower Euphrates, around which she builds a wall wide enough to accommodate six chariots abreast. The city is named Babylon.
Chaldeans from southern Tigris and Euphrates lands, descendants of Semites, Sumerians and Iranians, have learned much about war during their occupation by Assyrians. They revolt against the northerners, as do the Egyptians and others, destroying the brutal empire.
Free from Assyrian rule, Chaldean King Nebuchadnezzar rebuilds Babylon. He turns it into the center of a new empire. Among the many peoples and places Nebuchadnezzar's lightning quick mounted legions attack and vanquish, are the Hebrew kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Jerusalem is destroyed. Its citizens are again enslaved.
The Hebrew Book of the Covenant, containing the laws of Moses and the people of Israel, is nearly a twin of Chaldean King Hammurabi's code of human conduct for Babylonians, both having evolved from the Sumerians.
Two decades after the death of Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon falls under the rule of Iranian King Cyrus, who meets no opposition when his troops enter the city. Cyrus releases all Jewish slaves, perhaps because they share a common belief in only one male god, as decreed by the Iranian prophet Zoroastra, also known as Zarathustra.
IRAQ, 2000 years ago
The once great city of Ur is now a decaying mound, home to jackals and owls. The Euphrates, which once kissed the city's walls, has shifted course and now flows ten miles to the east. Zoroastrian decrees by Iranian governors have forbidden the worship of goddesses and gods upon the summit of Ur's pyramids.
Greek ruler Alexander the Great liberates Babylon from the Iranians and is greeted as a hero. He calls the area Mesopotamia, the Greek word for "the land between the rivers." He respects the local god and plans to make the city the southern seat of his empire, but dies from malaria before he gets a chance. After Alexander, other kings and generals conquer Babylon and rule Mesopotamia. First come the Turks, followed by the Romans, who are driven out by another Iranian invasion.
Over in Mecca, Muhammad proclaims himself prophet of the Nation of Islam, a religion God has revealed to him. Scholars will later point out the many close resemblances between Muhammed's Islamic theology and those of Hebrews and Christians. By mid-millennium when Muhammed dies the majority of people in Arabia have surrendered to God and become Muslims. Next up, a jihad is underway, aimed at converting Iraq. The holy war succeeds. Iraq joins the Nation of Islam.
Step forward in time. The legions of Ali, Islamic governor of Iraq, are locked in combat on the Plain of Siffin, near the largest bend of the Euphrates, fighting the warriors of the Islamic governor of Syria. Both Ali and the Syrian think themselves perfect candidates for the job of "caliph," an Arabic word meaning "successor" to Muhammad. Ali's troops are winning, but, during the height of battle, he opts for negotiation.
Shocked, a group of Ali's orthodox Muslim warriors, sure he is morally wrong to break off the fight, desert his army. They cite Muslim law opposing negotiation with rebels, saying it substitutes the judgement of men for the judgement of God, which would be revealed by the outcome of battle.
The arbitrators conducting the negotiations give the caliph title to the Syrian. Realizing he will have to fight on, Ali tries to convince the men who had deserted to join him again. When they refuse, Ali massacres them, causing his remaining army to desert. Many nights later, as Ali prays, an assassin murders him to avenge the death of his comrades.
Deep falls the cold desert night. The prophet Muhammed's second cousin Husayn, son of Ali, stares into a fire. He is camped with 200 of his fellow revolutionaries around him. They are on the run from a 4000 man army, after refusing to pledge allegiance and pay taxes to Syria. Husayn wonders how to reunite Muslims, who have now split into two groups, those who pledge loyalty to God and Ali, called Shiites, and those who follow God and the new Syrian caliph, called Sunnis.
Husayn shudders with a deadly chill and moves closer to the fire. It is his last thought before he and his men are killed by a torrent of Sunni arrows. In our modern times, Saddam Hussien will claim to be a direct descendant of Husayn, Ali, and Muhammad. Husayn and his father Ali are buried in neighboring towns, Karbala and Najaf, between the Tigris and Euphrates. Both sites become Shiite holy places equal to Mecca.
For the next hundred years, the region is bloodied by fighting between competing Shiite and Sunni factions, creating an atmosphere of mistrust between the two sects that will survive into the twenty-first century. Babylon lies in ruins by the time Sunnis finally establish control of Iraq. They make Baghdad the seat of their government. An era of justice and prosperity dawns. Soon, however, another Iranian invasion sweeps into the land, plunging it into a century of decay.
IRAQ, 1000 years ago
Ruled by a series of Sunni "caliphs" based in Baghdad, Mesopotamia becomes the center of a giant Islamic Empire. The "caliphate" grows to stretch from Spain, through Turkey and Iran, to India. Once again the region makes strides in philosophy, science and literature, in spite of periodic civil wars with Shiites unhappy with Sunni domination. Dikes and canals along the Tigris and Euphrates are repaired. Swamps are drained, malaria eliminated.
Harun, the caliph made famous in the book "Arabian Nights," dies after a life dedicated to intellectual and cultural pursuits, leaving his son's Amin and Mamun to fight for control. The Iraqi people support Amin. Iranians support the caliph's son Mamun. With the Iranian military help, Mamun wins his father's title, but in the process, begins the end of the Baghdad-based Islamic Empire. Mamun refuses to shift the Islamic Empire's capital to a town in Iran, and by this refusal, causes his Iranian allies to break from him. Their insurrection is followed by successful revolutions in Spain, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.
Closer to Baghdad, a black slave some call Ali the Abominable, leads other slaves in revolt. They establish a state stretching across southern Iraq and southwest Iran. The new rulers make slaves of their old masters, until the rebel nation is crushed 15 years later. There follows a long period, during which the fading empire's Turkish and Iranian subjects violently rotate control. As a result of this infighting, the region falls prey to Genghis Khan's grandson.
After several hundred years of war, the Mongol "khans" (world conquerors) are forced from power by Turkish sultans of the Ottoman Empire, followers of Sunni, with help from Iraq's Sunni minority. The Turkish sultans see their southern neighbor as a buffer against the spread of Iran's Shiites.
Unfortunately for Turkish plans, the Iranians fight them for control of Iraq. A hundred years of Turkish/Iranian bloodshed finally establishes a winner, the Sunni Turks from Istanbul. They're allowed no moment of rest. Under the command of a variety of leaders, Iraq's people rebel. Bedouin raids are unstoppable. Corrupt Turkish "pashas " (governors) administer the region. By the turn of the 20th century, the Turks are on the verge of losing their vast domain, they just don't know it yet.
IRAQ, 100 years ago
Germany, Great Britain and Russia have diplomats in Baghdad, competing to expand their influence in Mesopotamia, which Turkey still controls. Germany, which enjoys a long close relationship with the Turks, obtains the right to extend the Berlin-to-Baghdad railroad on down to Basra. Britain worries that if Germany isn't checked, the German Kaiser will interfere with her majesty's trade routes to India, which pass through the region.
The British government is at the time competing with Russia for Iranian oil. They grant the Czar half of Iran, in return for help keeping Germany at bay in Iraq. Their pact results in the cancellation of Germany's railroad.
British marines occupy the shores of the Persian Gulf, or as Iraqis call it the Arabian Gulf. They come ashore in an area the Turkish Ottomans consider to be part of Iraq's Basra province, though the Turks have never been able to fully pacify the locals. The Brits pump oil and further block German expansion with help from their puppet Kuwaiti ruler named Aziz.
In 1913, British officials conclude a treaty with the Turkish Ottoman Empire, fixing the boundary of Kuwait to favor their oil interests and limiting Iraq to one, easily-strangled entrance to the Gulf.
World War I breaks out. Since the Turkish Ottoman Empire is allied with Germany, the British Navy immediately sends marines up the Shaat Al Arab, as the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates is called. They capture Basra, gaining authority over southern Iraq.
The British also sign a pact with the powerful sharif of Mecca, named Husayn. They pledge to endorse him at the end of the war, if he will lead Islamic forces against the Germans and their allies.
Husayn and his son Prince Faisal, the future King of Saudi Arabia, fight their way north, leading Arab revolts in Palestine, Jordan, and Syria. Check out "Lawrence of Arabia" for more details. With Husayn's help, the British then take control of Baghdad and the whole of Iraq becomes their oyster.
After the war, The League of Nations, forerunner of the U.N., gives the British control of Palestine and Iraq. The French get Syria, where Prince Faisal has assumed the throne, but they end up booting him out of the country. There are many in Iraq who don't much like the idea of British rule. They print pamphlets, pointing out the Islamic law forbidding Muslims from allowing themselves to be dominated by non-Muslims. Revolutionary leaders call for a jihad.
Iraqis in towns up and down the Tigris and Euphrates, rise up in revolt. The country once again falls into chaos. British citizens grow tired of the bloodshed and cost of the Iraqi occupation. They demand that their country's commitment to the region be reduced.
Accordingly, the Brits create a new Iraqi monarchy under Prince Faisal, who needs a job. In exchange for reducing their involvement in the country, the British demand a twenty-year treaty giving them a wide variety of rights in Iraq. Two years later, a newly elected assembly ratifies the treaty, after overcoming strong opposition to it. At the same time, the assembly also passes the Organic Law, declaring Iraq to be a sovereign state with a representative system of government.
Along with several Christian ministers in a new Iraqi cabinet, the first minister of finance is Jewish. Other minorities, however, have a difficult time accepting the new government. Fervently independent Kurds have been told during the war that they can have their own state, to be located in northern Iraq and southern Turkey, and to be called Kurdistan. The Turkish balk at the idea. Kurdish independence fighters begin a series of rebellions aimed at establishing the state they have been promised. British troops help Iraq bring the Kurdish population under control.
Assyrians, now predominantly Christians, having fought with the British against Kurdish rebels, worry about reprisals. They too want their own state, a demand the British and Iraqi governments refuse. They grab weapons stored away after WWI...and revolt.
Iraq sends a Kurdish general to defeat them. The general allows his men to massacre 300 Assyrians, including women and children. King Faisal is horrified by news of the massacre, but does little and dies soon afterward. His son, then his grandson, takes over the helm of state.
World War II breaks out. Iraq is angry with Britain for letting Jews from around The World migrate to Palestine, where they are calling for establishment of a modern Jewish state and using terrorist tactics to scare Palestinian inhabitants from their land.
Germany courts Iraq, but the relationship is never consummated. Britain insists Iraq live up to treaty obligations and severs diplomatic ties with the fascist Axis, but they can't get the Iraqis to allow British troops to land.
Not to worry, the Brits land troops anyway, beat back Iraq's army, plus a few German fighter planes. Then, firmly in control of Baghdad once again, the British engineer Iraq's declaration of war against Germany.
Following WWII, the U.N. divides Palestine into two states, one for the Palestinian Arabs, the other for Jews. On May 15, 1948, all the Arab nations declare war on the new Jewish State. Iraq sends 10,000 men to the front.
When the Arab-Israeli War ends, 120,000 Iraqi Jews move to Israel. Before dawn, ten years later, the British installed monarchy of Iraq is overthrown by a coup, called the 1958 Revolution.
The young king, grandson of Prince Faisal, is killed along with other members of the royal family. The premier who serves with the young king is executed, after trying to escape disguised as a veiled woman.
The aim of the revolutionaries, led by General Karim Qasim, is to establish a free and democratic Iraq, united in spirit with the Arab world, committed to a foreign policy of nonalignment, and resisting foreign ideologies whether communist, American, British, or fascist. In spite of this aim, Qasim becomes increasingly pro-Soviet.
He spends most of his time in office fighting Kurdish rebels, who successfully establish Kurdistan, then withstand missile, tank and napalm attacks by government forces. Qasim is nearly assassinated in 1959 by young army officer named Saddam Husayn (which is how his name was once spelled) who escapes after the failed attempt.
Meanwhile, the Iranians next door, have democratically elected their first president, a man named Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh. Knowing that oil revenues could feed, house, educate and otherwise care for his entire population, Dr. Mossadegh nationalizes the wells owned by British Petroleum. The British send gunboats up the Persian Gulf and think seriously about attacking, even though Mossadegh plans to give them 25% of Iran's petrodollars until they are paid back for their investment.
Instead of invading, the British slap down a punishing economic embargo which cripples Iran and weakens Mossadegh, who is then overthrown in a CIA engineered coup. America installs the ruthless Shaw of Iran in power, setting the stage for the future Islamic Revolution.
U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles tells Congress, speaking of the actions taken by he and his brother Allen, who runs the CIA: "Non communist forces, encouraged by our aid, took measures to insure that Iran would turn toward the free world."
Back in Iraq, General Arif and members of the Baath Party, who are dedicated to Arab unity, freedom and socialism, overthrow General Qasim. General Arif wants Iraq to move closer to Nassar of Egypt, but members of his party favor alliance with Syria, which has just broken off a honeymoon with Nassar. Arif cleans house, killing members of his party who oppose him.
Saddam Husayn rises to power when he and his close friend General Bakr engineer an initially bloodless coup, followed by numerous brutal purges, which leave Saddam in control of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council.