In the midst of all the hoopla about border control of the seven Middle East countries, among which Iraq, I want to repeat a column I wrote in September 2014 (well before Mr. Trump came on the scene). Much what I said in that column is relevant today. It occurred to me how important it was to shed light again on the “good Iraq.”
Frankly, I felt hurt that under Obama Iraq had been listed as one of the dangerous Middle East countries; and that as a consequence it became part of an immigration ban for 90 days by the Trump administration until effective immigration procedures could be assured.
Much has changed since I dealt with Iraq at the World Bank. Already during the period that I collaborated to implement a diversified project portfolio in Iraq from 2003-2009, Shiite and Sunni rifts hampered execution, and covert Iranian meddling became increasingly ostentatious. Then Sunni ISIS grew exponentially after the US allied forces left.
It broke the camel’s back. Iraq became a wholesome mess with unsavory characters threatening and terminating the life of many. Iraq’s relationship with the US changed from partial partner to full-fledged terror. I felt horrible for my good friends over there, with whom I had worked so closely to get things going in the right direction. It’s always the bad guys that spoil it for the good guys.
In 2003, after the US invasion of Iraq, the UN allotted US$450 million to the World Bank, to devise and help implement basic needs development projects (water supply, school construction, education, health facilities, administrative reforms, technical assistance and training, road rehabilitation and construction, environmental protection, etc.) This relatively small donor-led operation, subsequently enhanced by a US$500 million World Bank soft loan, lasted through 2010 when the funds were exhausted. It was a period where both the World Bank and Iraqis strived to rebuild and upgrade the country’s decades-long retardation to modernize the economy and administration. The operation started out in the most difficult circumstances of growing insurgency. Eventually, after the “surge” in 2007, it reached a stage where both sides began to see the fruits of the hard work. This was achieved through regular exchanges on project development and implementation, a mutual desire to learn how to do things better, how to succeed, and relay the lessons to local and national economic management.
When the US and allied military support disappeared in 2011, much of what had been achieved was destroyed again in the growing sectarian strife and the ISIS insurgency.
Let me repeat the blog of 2014. It shows what is possible in Iraq, in the right environment of mutual give and take by religious sects, and given a chance to succeed:
“Iraq The Beautiful – As an introduction, some photographs of Iraq sent by a close friend.
Baghdad Museum and Northern Iraq
More of northern Iraq
The Marshes, near Nasiriya, Iraq — Marsh Arab Village — Image by Nik Wheeler/CORBIS
Marshlands area in southern Iraq
Imagine you are a teacher with an economics degree, bagged with worldwide experience in economic development and project generation. You are tasked to teach a class of people not speaking your language, with a fractured background of religious strife, totalitarian rule, and years of outdated statist management with the mantra “if you don’t do it my way, there’s the door”, in a region that is entirely different from yours.
Imagine also that you can’t see your class and have to do everything by telephone and e-mail. Imagine further you are working with sometimes squabbling but very intelligent and technically capable Iraqi teams of diverse ethnicity. World Bank staff consisted mostly of capable Arab and Palestinian engineers, educationalists, health specialists, and economists, with similar diverse backgrounds and opinionated opinions about the invasion of Iraq. Imagine lastly that everything has to be done by yesterday.
That’s how I felt when I joined that team in 2005. But in spite of this list of near-paralyzing limitations, the team managed to identify, prepare and help execute a broad-based project portfolio of some 25 projects.
Underlying this effort was a strong push for capacity building and technical assistance. None of this could have been done without the support of (a) carefully selected Iraqi consultants who courageously inspected the project sites and assisted in strengthening the ministerial administrative capabilities of procurement of works, goods and supervision consultants, and (b) dedicated Iraqi counterpart teams in the ministries who were in charge of project implementation.
During the insurgency of 2005-2007, work continued, even though Shiite and Sunni participants were shooting at each other in some ministries, the Central Bank in Baghdad was bombed, and contractors and supervision consultants were threatened and even pursued on project sites. Some of the local consultants got wounded in Baghdad’s almost everyday bombing that caused long delays in just organizing one meeting at an implementing ministry on a given day that would take just a few minutes to arrange in Washington D.C. and an hour or two to finish.
The Iraqi counterpart teams met with the World Bank teams and consultants in Jordan and Lebanon (security reasons prohibited missions from meeting in Iraq) to discuss project progress, crosscutting issues, and necessary changes in design due to continuously changing circumstances. These conferences proved extremely useful, as they were the only real life contacts with Iraqi administrators as a group. It gave the Iraqis the opportunity to talk to their colleagues of other ministries and implementing agencies about common problems they faced and made them feel owners of their programs. You may notice the translation boot in the back.
Meetings with Iraqi counterparts in Lebanon and Jordan (Dead Sea) as security did not allow meetings in Baghdad.
Beirut and the Dead Sea shore
In 2007, a one man hero World Bank mission was set up in the Green Zone in Baghdad, and when security improved in 2009, it was extended to a formal resident office. Some missions took place in Baghdad and Erbil in the Kurdish area which was relatively safe.
The experience of meeting with the Iraqi counterparts, even if taking place mostly through simultaneous translation, convinced me personally that with a sustained effort over the longer term, it would be possible to turn well-educated but held-back Iraqi technocrats into modernized administrators, taking on modern rehabilitation and economic development.
The relative success of the projects, compared to sometimes overly complex design and over-estimated results, surprised many. Some projects, such as irrigation rehabilitation where farmers had a direct incentive to get better, succeeded remarkably well against all the odds and poor expectations.
But politics and religious strife took priority over rational thought. Soon we were back at square one and the spread of ISIL put everything in question. As a pilot enterprise, the hands-on effort in Iraq proved that it is possible to do it right if you give it a chance, but its future looks somber. It was a drop on a hot plate with an uncertain sustainability.
We are now at a point where the Middle East, including Iraq, has to decide how it solves its internal issues. Some Middle Eastern nations realize that ISIL is not the answer. But will they be able to stop the brutal reactionary insurgency?
Mesopotamia was rich in agriculture. Eve gave Adam the apple in Paradise in Iraq, but there was also a snake spoiling the fruits. Ominous foreboding for later Iraq? At one stage, Iraq’s Tigris and Euphrates rivers made it the grain storage of the Middle East, until oil drove the incentive to rigs, and the rivers became polluted because of environmental neglect and were drying up fast. Still, agriculture was and still is Iraq’s largest employer. Oil dependence drives out diversification as often happens in similarly endowed countries. Because of sectarian strife, politics, and tyranny, priorities get distorted, and the general population suffers.
Can a religiously divided Middle East overcome ISIL’s barbarian Sunni frame of mind? How can Iraq continue its economic development? Should we not let them fight it out among themselves? For centuries the UK, France, the Habsburgers and later the USA got their fingers burned in the Middle East. If there had not been oil, what would the Middle East have been now? But ISIS has killed in Europe and the US and operates among others from Iraq. The US and Europe cannot let that continue.
The US is not eager to get into a new war in the Middle East. The Trump Administration intends to erase ISIS, but what action can we expect?
Meanwhile, my Iraqi friends are left in the doldrums, knowing that we could have achieved a lot more if they’d been given a chance. That’s the sad realization.”
Southern and northern areas in Iraq
ISIS has occupied large slices of Iraq. The fight on Mosul is still going on. I watched Iraq reaching stabilization after six years of hard and idealistic efforts, and am saddened by the fate that many of my good Iraqi friends now suffer because of what cruel people do to them and that the US has to close its borders to make sure that those cruel people do not enter the US.
I hope the current administration finds a modus vivendi for Iraq.
I was 5 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. At that time Nazi Germany had already occupied whole continental Europe, including Holland, for a year and a half. I didn’t hear about Pearl Harbor until US soldiers liberated us in 1945 and told us about it. I didn’t envisage the horror of Pearl Harbor and the national significance of December 7 until I saw the pictures in musea when I arrived in the US in 1974. The vivid memories of seeing bombs exploding on Schiphol airport in May 1940 when I was 4 1/2 were the ones that had primarily occupied my mind.
At liberation, we also heard the awful stories of the Battle of the Java Sea in 1942, when Allied ships, including several American, British, Australian and Dutch warships (which were berthed at the Marine base at Surabaja in the Dutch Indies) fought a Japanese invasion under the command of Dutch Rear Admiral Karel Doorman. The Dutch Government in exile in London was one of the first to join the US after Pearl Harbor and declare war on Japan. Japan, short of natural resources, immediately set out to expand its realm in Asia by overpowering Singapore and Malaysia, and Borneo and Celebes of the Dutch Indies, to secure itself of abundant oil supplies. Next was the largest island, Java, of the Dutch Indies, which it approached from the island of Bali it had already occupied.
The allied fleet endeavored to stop the Japanese from invading Java, but the Japanese ships were much better armed with heavier cannons and super torpedos that had a reach of 25 miles. Its air force was superior. The more powerful Japanese fleet, which proved much better trained in sea battle at night, destroyed many of the allied ships. Two Dutch light cruisers, De Ruyter, Karel Doorman’s flagship, and the Java, were sunk and Karel Doorman perished with his ship. Several other Dutch warships sank, including the destroyers De Kortenaer and Witte de With. More than a 2300 sailors, including over 900 Dutch sailors, lost their lives.
Dutch Archive pictures
Thousands of Dutch families, who lived in the Dutch Indies, were imprisoned in Japanese concentration camps, where many were tortured and died. The Dutch never regained full control over the Dutch Indies, and the Japanese invasion meant the end of its colonial power. After the war, a bloody and cruel independence war erupted in the Dutch Indies, which ended in 1949 when Indonesia became independent. Thousands of Indonesians fled to Holland when the independence war started and were lodged with Dutch families to recover and find a new life. A father with three sons stayed with us.
Pearl Harbor and the Battle of the Java Sea show some serious common lessons: In both cases, the enemy was much better prepared and armed. In Holland, this led to building a much stronger fleet after the war. Then, under cover of a powerful ally, the US, efforts to keep up a fierce military power slowed down, a pattern followed by many European countries. The lessons learned were soon forgotten.
Fast forward to 2016. While it is said that the American military is the best in the world, the political will to keep up its strength has repeatedly been undermined by several American administrations: Presidents Carter, Clinton, and Obama emphasized social programs over military strength. 9/11 constituted the second attack on American soil. More than 2400 sailors were killed at Pearl Harbor and close to 3000 people lost their lives during 9/11. The latter was a terrorist attack, but many say it could have been prevented had America been better prepared and kept its eyes open.
A new type of war was added to our human inclination to destroy each other. It took a long time to recognize that there is no real difference between “formal war” and “informal war”: both intend to destroy Western Civilization and its religious and philosophical democratic principles. The expansion of radical Islamic fascism signifies the same threat as German Nazism and Japanese Imperialism did, as do the threats of dictatorial regimes like Russia, China, and Iran.
Come 2017; the world is no better place. The Chinese military is spending trillions on military strength and expansion of its territory by building military islands in the China Sea, helped by the greed of the American market buying its goods and borrowing its money to cover its national debt. Russia invades the Crimea and controls eastern Ukraine, without a significant Western response. Iran undermines the Middle East through proxy wars and support of terrorism, causing tremendous civilian suffering in Syria.
The weeks after 9/11 with jets patrolling the skies aided by nearby refueling airplanes gave me that depressing feeling from WW II that we were at war again, and unfortunately we are. Osama’s escape from Afghanistan felt like Hitler’s escape from several coups against him. The indefatigable US Ops finally caught him, but when they did, the harm was already done: Sunni Radicalism had spread throughout the Middle East, Africa, and even the Far East.
I sat on the fence about the US invasion of Iraq. I could understand it from a defensive point of view: Sadam used similar bluff as Hitler did, he had invaded Kuwait beforehand, he built nuclear facilities and was working on replacements after the Israelis bombed the first one. He continually launched scuds at Israel and did use poisonous gas on the Kurds. Sadam smartly removed everything concerning weapons of mass destruction to where it came from and used the gullible self-destructing US and world media to accuse the US. Although the US invasion was badly implemented, after the surge things began to shape up in Iraq. At the World Bank, we noticed a slow but steady increase in a willingness to restore a badly retarded administration to modern normalcy. Despite internal religious strife, administrators became more responsive to stable government. Northern Iraq regained calm and even became prosperous again. When the reconstruction effort ended, I had good hopes that it might take off (see my blogs “Iraq: A Hands-on Effort to Rational Thought,” (9/13/2014); “Iraq: From Western Dream to Fragile State”; (8/23/2014), and “Don’t Cry For Me, Iraq.” (8/11/2014).
Credit: Fox News
The change in American policy under Obama destroyed all that with one swipe. Al-Zarkawi, the Sunni anti-Shiite leader from Jordan, had begun a fierce fight against the American occupation. Although US Ops were able to exterminate him, his force remained active underground. If invading Iraq may be considered a mistake, leaving it abruptly meant compounding that mistake. When the US military left Iraq, Sunny radicals quickly regrouped and despite their internal differences, created ISIS. The rest is history.
As a WWII kid, I hate war with a vengeance, but also know there will always be enemies as there will always be bullies in school. We have to be prepared to be strong enough to scare them off and defeat them. If we don’t, they’ll take us to the cleaners. Administrations like the Obama-ones open us up to being overpowered like Nazi Germany and Japan’s then Imperialism did to the Western World.
I am sleeping a bit better after the recent national elections. There is much hope things will change.
Credit: Canada Journal – News of the World
In my opinion, the political left of the US has done enormous damage to the fighting spirit and courage of this country. America may be divided (God knows why. Such a great place to live!) but as a foreign guest in the US, I pray they never come back to power. I don’t complain about placing competent generals to head security and military positions. Their decisiveness will keep me from lying awake at night about the future of my American kids and grandkids. We have to stay vigilant to protect our way of life and that of others that share it. Signs in Europe indicate that things are changing there as well.
And if you don’t like my saying these changes are good changes, that’s too bad. Let the other side of the American divide have a chance to show their resolve to make America better and “Great Again.”
Iraq The Beautiful – As an introduction and at the very end, some photographs of Iraq sent by a close friend.
Baghdad Museum and Northern Iraq
More of northern Iraq
Marshlands area in southern Iraq
Imagine you are a teacher with an economics degree, bagged with world-wide experience in economic development and project generation, and you are tasked to teach a class of people not speaking your language, with a fractured background of religious strife, totalitarian rule, and years of outdated statist management of “if you don’t do it my way, there’s the door”, in a region that is totally different from yours.
Imagine also that you can’t see your class and have to do everything by remote and telephone. Imagine further you are working with a sometimes squabbling but very intelligent and technically capable home team of diverse ethnicity, many of them Arab speaking from the Middle East, with opiniated opinions about the Iraq invasion, Palestine and Israel, and Bush. Imagine lastly that everything has to be done by yesterday.
That’s how I felt when I was tasked to join that team in 2005. But in spite of this list of paralyzing limitations, the team managed to identify, prepare and help execute a project portfolio of a US$450 million equivalent UN donor fund, established after the Iraq invasion of 2003 and later extended by a soft World Bank loan of US$500 million. This included projects for water supply and sanitation, irrigation rehabilitation, school construction and rehabilitation, health and hospital rehabilitation, electricity reconstruction, road and telecommunications repair, energy development assistance, private sector development, household/poverty reduction and pension reform, and others, all in all a portfolio of some 25 projects.
Underlying this effort was a strong push for capacity building and technical assistance. None of this could have been done the way it was done without the support of (a) carefully selected Iraqi consultants who courageously inspected the project sites and assisted in strengthening the basic ministerial administrative capabilities of procurement of works, goods and supervision consultants, and (b) dedicated Iraqi counterpart teams in the ministries that were in charge of project implementation.
During the insurgency of 2005-2007, work continued, even though Shiite and Sunni participants were shooting at each other in some ministries, the Central Bank in Baghdad was bombed, and contractors and supervision consultants were threatened and even pursued on project sites. Some of the local consultants got wounded in Baghdad’s almost everyday bombing that caused long delays in just organizing one meeting at an implementing ministry on a given day that would take just a few minutes to arrange in Washington D.C. and an hour or two to complete.
The Iraqi counterpart teams met with the World Bank teams and consultants in Jordan and Lebanon to discuss project progress, crosscutting issues, and necessary changes in design due to continuously changing circumstances. These conferences proved extremely useful, as they were the only real life contacts with Iraqi administrators as a group. It gave the Iraqis the opportunity to talk to their colleagues of other ministries and implementing agencies about common problems they faced in executing their programs and added much to their ownership of their programs. You may notice the translation boot in the back.
Meetings with Iraqi counterparts were held in Lebanon and Jordan (Dead Sea) as security did not allow meetings in Baghdad.
Beirut and the Dead Sea shore
Only in 2007 was a one man hero mission set up in the Green Zone in Baghdad, and when security improved in 2009, it was extended to a formal resident office. Some missions took place in Baghdad and Erbil in the Kurdish area which was relatively safe.
The experience of meeting with the Iraqi counterparts, even if taking place mostly through simultaneous translation, convinced me personally that with a sustained effort over the longer term, it would be possible to turn relatively well-educated technocrats into modernized administrators, taking on complex rehabilitation and further economic development.
The relative success of the projects compared to sometimes overly complex design and expected results in a battling environment surprised many. Some projects, such as irrigation rehabilitation where farmers had a direct incentive to get better, succeeded remarkably well against all expectations.
But politics and religious strife took priority over rational thought. Soon we were back at square one and the invasion of ISIL has put everything in question. As a pilot enterprise, the hands-on effort in Iraq proved that it is possible to do it right if you give it a chance, but its future looks somber. It was a drop on a hot plate with an endangered sustainability.
We are now at a point where the Middle East, including Iraq, has to decide how it solves it internal issues. Some Middle Eastern nations realize that ISIL is not the answer. But will they be able to stop the brutal reactionary tsunami?
Mesopotamia was rich in agriculture. Eve gave Adam the apple but there was also a snake spoiling the fruits. Bad foreboding for later Iraq? At one stage, Iraq’s Tigris and Euphrates rivers made it the grain storage of the Middle East, until oil drove the incentive to rigs, and the rivers became polluted because of neglect and were drying up fast. Still, agriculture was and still is Iraq’s largest employer. Oil dependence drives out diversification as often happens in similarly endowed countries. Combined with sectarian strife, politics and tyranny, priorities get distorted and the general population suffers.
Can a religiously divided Middle East eliminate ISIL’s barbarian Sunni regime and continue Iraq’ s economic development? Should we not let them fight it out among themselves? For centuries the UK, France, Spain, the Habsburgers and later the USA got their fingers burned in the Middle East. If there had not been oil, what would the Middle East have been now?
The USA is not very eager to get into a new war in the Middle East. The recent speech by the White House contained some buzz words but what action can we expect? Europe entered into brutal wars in 1914 and 1940. The United States got dragged into them kicking and screaming. In World War I, after much foot-dragging of Woodrow Wilson, because the Germans torpedoed the Cunard line’s flagship Lusitania near England in 1915, in which over a thousand people died, among which at least a hundred Americans.
Americans were furious but at first Woodrow Wilson did not act. Germany halted torpedoing passenger liners temporarily, but in 1917 Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm approved to resume its u-boat war on the seas, cutting off commercial trade between the USA and Great-Britain, which compelled Woodrow Wilson to finally join forces with its European Allies and defeat Germany.
In World War II, it was the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and Hitler’s declaration of war to the US a few days later that forced the USA to join, although a year earlier President Roosevelt had said: “I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again: your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.” (source History.co.uk). Sounds familiar?
The issue is that the USA is the only fully free democratic political and military power (still…) standing tall on a hill, to where all suppressed and desperate people want to come, and that extremist religious ideologues want to destroy.
Does the USA need another 9/11 to get convinced that it must help out a moderate Middle East to solve its quagmire? Who else could? Iceland? Then, except the Gulf War in 1990, albeit with a coalition force of more than 30 countries, the USA has not won a war it started itself.. In Korea, Truman stopped McArthur halfway to victory; Janet Fonda cum suae lost the Vietnam war for the USA; President Obama withdrew from Afghanistan and Iraq before the achievements were stabilized. If you start a war only victory counts. Has anybody any confidence left in US management?
Barring another major attack on its mainland, the best thing a US leadership can do is to keep the borders shut tight (which it is able to do), become fully energy independent (which it is able to do), strengthen the military just in case instead of weakening it (which it is able to do), make sure it defends Israel and its NATO allies (which it is able to do) and get its financial house in order (which it is able to do), and stop throwing money at ill-defined nation building, preserving a fish specimen in lieu of irrigating agricultural land (which it can do, too) and stop indebting itself further with inefficient social or health programs and environmental tyranny of doubtful reward. And instead of letting everybody and its brother cross its southern border, it should allow persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East to come to the USA immediately.
Meanwhile, my Iraqi friends are left in the doldrums, knowing that we could have achieved a lot more if given the chance. That’s the sad realization.
Southern and northern areas in Iraq
Looking at Iraq’s history, it’s amazing what difference one hundred years make in a span of 6000 years. Going back to Sumer, the region of city-states in ancient Mesopotamia, may be asking too much, but 1920, when the three Ottoman Empire Mesopotamian provinces, Mosul, Baghdad and Basra, became part of the British “Protectorate”, may be a good starting point. The following is drawn from various sources (Wikipedia, British, French,US journals, personal knowledge).
The Ottomans ruled their Caliphate from Turkish Constantinople for 600 years! The word “Ottoman” is a historical Anglicisation of the name of Osman I, the founder of the Empire in 1299 and of the ruling House of Osman (Oghuz Turks, also known as the Ottoman dynasty). Osman’s name in turn was derived from the Persian form of the name ʿUṯmān (Source: Wikipedia). The Sultan represented the Caliphate.
The Ottomans considered the Mesopotamian territories “backwater”. In 1918, the League of Nations handed them to Britain after the demise of the Ottoman empire, which had sided with the Germans during World War I, with the intention the territories should eventually become independent.
But Mesopotamia consisted of a manifold spectrum of religious sects and tribal sheiks, which became a fundamental problem for the British from the outset to mold Iraq into a functioning state.
All what followed since then until todate, just shows how little the populace of the “West” and the “Middle East” understand each other and how little the various sects in Iraq could collaborate. Every single stage in the evolving history reads like a horror thriller and is the basis for the Iraqi situation today. In hindsight, making a country out of Iraq with artificial borders crossing through sects and different peoples and their tribes (Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds) and various religions conflicting with a majority islamic population (Assyrians, Yazidis, Christians, Jews) never was a viable undertaking.
The British Empire, before it started dwindling down, founded monarchies in the Middle East, including Egypt, starting in 1921, with the common structure of prime ministers, ministers and administrators in ministries. This because the political format of monarchy seemed to work rather well in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Oman, Qatar). Thus, from a “backwater”, Iraq suddenly became a monarchy. Britain elected descendants of the Prophet of Mohammed (the Saudi Hashemite family) to lend it the true image of Arab and Islamic heritage.
The Hashemite dynasty originates in the Hejaz, a region which is now part of Saudi Arabia. It had battled the revolutionary military “Young Turks” of the Ottoman empire of which it was part, with tacit British support.
A secular movement, the Young Turks wanted abolition of absolute monarchies. They sided with Germany in World War I and were responsible for the genocide of the Armenians (Catholics and Protestants), mostly living in eastern Turkey, bordering on Russia, because they were accused of siding with the enemy Russia. They murdered about 1.5 million Armenians in the most abhorrent manner, a genocide Turkey denies till todate, demonstrating the intolerance of Islam toward other religions. A courageous medic took clandestine pictures of it that exposed the horrors of the Turkish genocide.
The Koran is often cited for spurring this violence for all Muslims to fight and kill nonbelievers: “When you meet the unbelievers, strike off their heads; then when you have made wide slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives” (Surah XLVII.4). (Source: Islam Review.com). We are reminded of that again today.
Hashemite King Faisal 1 became King of Iraq in 1921 after a national referendum, and ruled till 1933, supported by British and Saudi administrators, largely foreign to the Iraqi population. In 1932, Iraq became an independent state.
In the same year, the British appointed his brother, Abdullah I, the Emir of Transjordan. When Transjordan was granted independence in 1946, it became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and Abdullah became its first King.
The Hashemites, being of Sunni origin, were unpopular with Iraqi Shiites and Kurds, as administrators were mostly Sunni. King Ghazi 1, Faisal’s son, rose to the throne after his father’s death in 1933. A playboyish King, he was accused of Nazi sympathies and a strong supporter of panarab nationalism.
In 1936, he allowed Bakr Sidqi, a Kurd, then Acting Commander of the Iraqi army, to take over government. This is being described as the first Arab coup in the Middle East. Bakr Sidqi, who had acquired solid credentials in the British army, was among others responsible for the massacre of 3000 Assyrians (adherents to the Assyrian Church of the East, a Christian sect dating from 400 AD that wanted autonomy) in Mosul and Simele in 1933.
This is how Mar Shimun, a Catholicos Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, described it: “Girls were raped and made to march naked before Iraqi commanders. Children were run over by military cars. Pregnant women were bayonetted. Children were flung in the air and pierced on to the points of bayonets. Holy books were used for the burning of the massacred. ” (source: www.assyrianenterprise.com). Think about ISIS today. A never ending cruel humanity
Adoring fast cars, and desiring to annex Kuwait (which the British opposed), King Ghazi 1 died in a car accident in 1939, which was suspected to have been engineered by Nuri as Said, a “repeat” prime minister in Iraqi Governments and sort of an eternal “Rasputin” behind the scenes, who was strongly supportive of relations with Britain. He was the only minister who did not accept Bakr Sidqi’s military overthrow and was exiled to Egypt. His life story, which ended with him being murdered at the end of the monarchy in 1958, reads like a political thriller as well.
Ghazi’s son, Faisal II, was 4 years old and Abdul Ilah, the son of Faisal I’s brother, Ali, and brother of Faisal’s mother, Queen Aliya, became regent.
During World War II, Iraq was on the British side, but did not take part in the war. When in 1941, an Iraqi nationalistic military coup sympathetic to the Nazis removed regent Abdul Ilah, a brief Anglo-Iraqi war broke out. Faisal’s mother, Queen Aliya, then divorced from King Ghazi, fled with young Faisal II to Abdullah I in Jordan.
The British restored order with the help of Jordanian forces, and Abdul Ilah was put back in power. Faisal II and his mother returned, but the Queen died in 1950. Faisal II went to school in England, together with his second cousin Hussein of Jordan and they became close friends.
When Faisal II turned 18 in 1953, he became the official ruling King, but Abdul Ilah’s influence, very unpopular in Iraq because of his support of British influence in Iraq and denial of growing panarab socialist sympathies, remained unshaken. Even though under King Faisal II Iraq underwent substantial economic progress, local unrest, influenced by communist sympathizers in politics and the army, kept growing.
King Faisal intrigued me because I was of the same age. He lost his father at four, and his mother when he was just 15. I remember collecting pictures of him at high school and seeing pictures of him on TV, which had just become a new medium, during his visit to Queen Elisabeth in 1956.
In July 1952, The Free Officers Movement of Gamal Abdel Nasser had overthrown the Egyptian monarchy (King Farouk), which had deteriorated into complete decadence, and this was widely supported in Iraq. Nasser became President in 1956.
Interestingly, he also booted out The Brotherhood after they tried to assassinate him. Faisal’s pro-British inclination and the influence of Abdul Ilah in his Iraqi rule, as well as the pro-British position of Prime Minister Nuri al-Said conflicted with Egypt’s popular panarab nationalism.
Prince Abdul Ilah and Nuri as Said
Faisal II chose to support the British -French invasion in Egypt when Nasser nationalized the Suez canal. He and his administrators disregarded the Iraqi people’s support of Egypt’s and Nasser’s panarab nationalism, and broad action of reforms and economic development.
This and the growing local inequalities between landowners, the elite, and poor peasants and workers, led to a popular revolt on July 14, 1958 (seems a favorable month for French and Arab revolutions). As the army had become increasingly supportive of the Arab nationalist movement, despite Faisal’s generous pay, General Abdal-Karim Qasim took power, inspired by Nasser’s July 1952 revolt. Using the request for help from Faisal’s cousin Hussein in Jordan against an escalating crisis of civil war in neighboring Lebanon as a ruse, he took to Baghdad and surrounded the palace with tanks.
Aref and Qasem
Faisal apparently ordered the palatial guard not to resist and hoist the white flag, but the royal family was chased into the palace garden and summarily executed. Faisal, only 23, apparently died in a van on the way to the hospital. Abdul Ilah’s body was mutilated, paraded around and hung on a balcony. Nuri as Said tried to flee as a woman, but got recognized, was shot, and after burial they mutilated his body in the streets. The news and pictures shocked me deeply that time. It was the end of the British dream of holding on to monarchy in Iraq. Faisal II never married, despite several match-making efforts, and at the time of his death was engaged to Princess Sabiha Sultan, the only daughter of Prince Muhammad Ali Ibrahim Beyefendi of Egypt and Princess Zahra Hanzade Sultan. Faisal was buried in a tomb in the Royal Mausoleum at Adamiyah
Interspersed by palatial coups, proving that military rule was no better than the monarchy, several military rulers assumed power of the Republic of Iraq.
In 1979, General Sadam Hussain took the scepter, supported by the Revolutionary Command Council and the socialist-communist Baath party (founded in 1947 by three intellectual Syians, one Christian, one Sunni, and one Alawite!) We all know what happened since then (also see previous blog “Don’t Cry for Me, Iraq”).
Michael Thornton, in an article in Mail Online (August 2008) reports that Saddam was haunted by Faisal’s brutal murder. He would secretly visit Faisal’s tomb to meditate and even upgraded it. He had seen him parading through Baghdad as a young boy and King. Perhaps a feeling of bad foreboding?
Today, Iraq is a crumbling fragile state and the US-imposed democracy after the 2003 invasion is hanging by a thread. Iraq had never known democracy and the Ottoman Empire was far from that. The monarchies were unfit for democratic rule. Democracy grows from within, but Iraq’s sectarian divides, which starkly increased as a result of the 2003 invasion, have made it even more difficult. ISIL saw its chance when it was unchallenged in Syria and found open terrain left by the Allies in Iraq. Caliphates are old but enticing ideas in the Muslim world and the Ottoman Empire was the last. We are seeing a repeat of the past cruelties that we had briefly forgotten about.
In Jordan, King Abdullah II is the last Hashemite King remaining in Power. This beautiful Kingdom has strong Western and moderate Middle-Eastern ties, a strong army and modern leadership, keeping a keen eye on the welfare of its small population (7 million).
King Abdullah II –
Treasury Petra (JS Enchanté)
It is deprived of natural fossil resources but exports phosphates and potash. It has been able to manage energy import wisely. Nonetheless, in the remote desert town Man’an, suffering from poverty and unemployment, ISIS has been able to start unrest. So far, this has been mildly but firmly suppressed by Jordan’s security forces. On the other hand, this trend confirms that the growing ISIS cancer must be stopped now to avoid that the whole area goes up in flames.
Only strong Western and Middle Eastern leadership can eliminate the cancer. Stories on the internet are circulating about secret slaughterhouses in Syria where ISIS rebels systematically behead Christians, Jews and other minorities, and hang their bodies like cattle in a meat factory. Had journalist James Foley and other captured journalists seen too much? Is Assad the bad guy or is it the Islamist terrorists, as he claimed in his interview with Kucinich in September 2013? Why did they agree so quickly to handover WMD? Out of fear that it would fall in the hands of the rebels? Why do we know so little about it all? Maybe James Foley could have told us.
Strategic action is needed soon, including in Syria (finally). Unfortunately for us, nor in the West, nor in the Middle East, do we seem to have strong leadership that appears able to bring it about. Let’s hope they wake up. 9/11 2014 is coming soon. Are we prepared?
Next Time: Iraq, A Frugal Effort of Economic Development and Governance.
With respectful reference to Tom Rice’s lyrics and Andrew Webber’s fabulous musical, Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina, I just wonder how it would look like if Saddam Hussein rose from his grave and gave a speech to the Iraqi populace from the statue from which he was toppled, “Don’t Cry For Me, Iraq.” Saddam would sing it with his heavy baritone (he could surely not sing it like Madonna, www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Spy3Nd2D6w):
Wikipedia on Saddam Hussain
“And as for fortune, and as for fame I never invited them in” (meaning the Allied forces…)
“Though it seemed to the world they were all I desired” (to show them how he had “no WMD”, just to ridicule “Bush”)
“They are illusions” (Western propaganda about his cruel rule)
“They are not the solutions they promised to be” (my hanging on the gallows)
“The answer was here all the time”(I could do much better then they)
“I love you and hope you love me” (Don’t I look much better now?)
“Don’t cry for me, Iraq.”
Well, with medieval ISIS on the attack, Nouri al-Maliki letting it all happen, and the brave Kurds squeezed, we are all in tears, crying for Saddam, the “good old days”.
Sure, Saddam was a ruthless tyrant. Iraq suffered huge crimes under his reign. Shiites and Kurds got emaciated on various occasions.
Wikipedia on Saddam Hussain
Iraqis were hard-pressed and frequently mistreated. But is Sunni ISIS not much worse? At least under Saddam, Christians could live relatively undisturbed though forced to pay the minority taxes. Even Jews originally lived relatively well among the Iraqi Arabs until Palestinian partition occurred in 1948, when some 150,000 Jews lived in Iraq. From then on, they suffered harshly and left, and in the seventies the UN forced Iraq to let the remaining Jews emigrate. Saddam tried to make Mosul more Arab by moving Arabs into Kurdish areas and chasing out the Kurds. Now ISIS is beheading, killing, and torturing infidels on a large scale.
However, there seems some similarity with Eva Peron’s love for Argentina and Saddam’s love for Iraq: he wanted to keep Iraq wholesome with his despicable mixture of Marxism and Nazism that his Baath party emulated, and he felt he had to do so with an iron fist because of its multiple religious scissions and millennia-old tribal differences.
Despite the fact that Iran provoked him into it, fighting an eight-year long war with Iran did not achieve anything.
Still, it might have proven to the West that having Iraq doing the fighting was better than having the West confronting Iran. Then the allies came in to punish him for attacking Kuwait and Israel, and later because he was coveting WMD, which he had used against Iran and the Kurds, and hidden in bunkers or shipped to Assad in Syria to hide them (with the help of “Chemical Ali”, using seatless commercial airplanes; remember that weird general jumping on TV?) This in anticipation of UN-resolution 1441 that sent UN “Inspectors” to Iraq as of 2002 but who could not find them anymore. (Remember the desperate Hans Blix, who was accused of being “pro Saddam”, finding only empty warehouses?) Proof: Syria used them in their current war with their rebels (or the rebels found them and used them to terrorize Syrians).
Recently, after the ISIS invasion, ISIS now occupies the Al Muthanna Chemicals Weapons Complex, Saddam’s ultimate chemical weapons facility, located less than 50 miles from Baghdad. Apparently, a lot of that material is still left in spite of what leftist pundits and commentators wanted us to believe that they did not exist during the Bush presidency. And what about Saddam’s nuclear program that was “dismantled”? All that uranium, bought from Niger, which was said to have been shipped to the USA?
How eager were the “mainstream media” in the USA and Europe at the time to fall in the trap of the “non-wmd” propaganda! Only to pummel “Bush” who defeated their favorite global warming enthusiast Gore, as eager as they are now to support Hamas in its attacks on Israel. But “mainstream media” pundits are known to disregard history, if they ever studied it, or facts when they don’t like them. They go by the emotions of their equally uninformed audience. What a carnival of animals (apologies to Camille Saint-Saens).
These were the last words in Saddam’s letter to his people, issued by his lawyers upon his execution: “Dear faithful people, I say goodbye to you, but I will be with the merciful God who helps those who take refuge in him and who will never disappoint any faithful, honest believer … God is Great … God is great … Long live our nation … Long live our great struggling people … Long live Iraq, long live Iraq … Long live Palestine … Long live jihad and the mujahedeen.”
It’s doubtful that Saddam’s merciful God is helping much in current Iraq or what Saddam thought should be Palestine in spite of UN resolution 181 of 1948. For Arab dictators, it is difficult to accept a majority vote in the UN if they don’t like it. (Today, UN-membership has changed totally and, with it, its political colors. Anti-Israel majority votes are happily agreed.) It’s also doubtful that his “long live jihad and the mujahedeen” would have welcomed ISIS.
Truth be told, the Bush Administration could have found out that most of the WMD had been removed but they did not: they, the allies and Congress wanted to get rid of Saddam as he was a pest in the region. In hindsight, Saddam could possibly have been contained at that time, leaving it to him to deal with the Iranians, while the West could have been protecting Israel with overwhelming military aid while maintaining tough sanctions on Iraq. Too bad hindsight never catches up with actuality. It would have saved many lives, including Iraqis, soldiers maimed for life, and trillions of dollars gone up in smoke.
The name “Iraq” was drawn from ancient Sumerian history dating back to the Sumerian civilization in the “Uruk” (“Ur” meaning ” city” in Sumerian) period that reigned that area some 4000 years BC! The 600-year Ottoman Empire (“caliphate”) which supported Germany and included millennia-old Mesopotamia, was dismantled upon Germany’s defeat in 1918 after World War I. The then League of Nations, established under the aegis of Woodrow Wilson, turned Palestine, Transjordan and the three Mesopotamian Ottoman provinces (Mosul, Baghdad, Basra) into British protectorates.
Churchill and his “40 Thieves” (see Churchill’s Folly by historian Christopher Catherwood, 2004, Carrol & Graff) drew up “Iraq”, ignoring tribal regions. In fact, at the time of the British protectorate, the southern Shiites near Basra tried to form their own regional sovereignty as they were suspicious of the Shiites in the north. For a well researched article on the creation of Iraq in 1922, read Don Chapment’s interesting 2007 piece on http://archives.midweek.com/content/columns/Print_Story/following_churchills_folly_in_iraq/
Past caliphates show the surface they occupied.
Under the Ottoman empire, what is now called “Iraq” comprised three provinces Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra.
Several upheavals occurred in the Iraqi part, forcing the British to send troops in 1943. Sixty years later American and allied troops, including the British, invaded once more. The never ending story of the Middle-East.
In Iraq’s new Constitution, under American pressure, Iraq was divided into 18 “States”. Federalism, let alone democracy, is an unknown form of Government in the Middle-East and it never worked in Iraq or anywhere else (except for democracy in Israel). A unified Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish government is a pipedream. Now we are dealing with an Iraq shattering back into several pieces, mostly according to religious and tribal adhesion, amidst ruthless intolerance and genocide of religious minorities.
I am sure that Saddam would not have let ISIS cross his border. Nouri al-Maliki and the Iraqi army seemed totally impotent and, like the White House – although warned by its intelligence services that knew of ISIS in Syria -, taken by surprise. Maliki being a Shiite politician with strong Iranian ties – after all he lived in exile in Iran for some eight years during Saddam Hussein’s regime – was unable or perhaps unwilling to form a unified Shiite-Sunni-Kurd government, which created deep Sunni resentment. The USA having withdrawn its troops left a terrible vacuum. Again it shows that short-sighted local politics based on polls only bring havoc. With some greater effort in trying to convince Maliki, the USA could have left troops to support fledgling Iraq, but Iran told their ally to keep the USA out, and he caved. Saying now that keeping troops would not have prevented ISIS from entering Iraq is trying to justify irresponsible inaction, surely on the side of Maliki but also the USA.
What remains to be seen is what local Iraqi Shiite politicians and activists like Mukthadar Al-Sadar with his Mahdi army and the Grand Ayatolla Ali-al-Sistani will do when ISIS approaches Baghdad, and if Iran will intervene when the Shiites are threatened.
Sources say Iranian Qud is already there, assisting Nouri al-Maliki. Sadar is against US forces propping up Maliki to protect Baghdad, so is Iran. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar are the main Sunni states in the Middle East. Sunnis are 90 % of the Islamic population, Shiites only 10 percent (mostly in Iran, Iraq and Oman). Egypt’s role has substantially strengthened politically in its mediation between Israel, the Palestinians and Hamas. How will they react to Sunni ISIS?
Inaction in Syria helped create ISIS and allowed it to grow from a small force to some 10,000 fighters, many of whom are radicalized Islamists from Western nations. It is being said polls reveal Americans are sick of fighting other people’s wars. But don’t they realize that rats take vacuum territory? Is it not lack of leadership to hide behind that so-called sickness of the American people and do nothing? Should the leadership not point out the dangers of not willing to fight? And that, if you don’t, these rats may finally end up in New York port? Individual Islamists in the US may already have contact with ISIS through cell phones and e-mail and can rapidly be radicalized. Remember the Fort Hood shooting, the Boston bombing.
Why got Hamas power in Gaza? Because the Palestinian Authority was unable to manage Gaza after Arafat was gone. What ISIS is doing in Iraq is worse than what Hamas is doing to the Palestinians in Gaza. Hamas and ISIS are both Sunnis. The danger of them connecting is clear. ISIS wants all, and “Levant” includes Jordan and Lebanon, both bordering Palestine and Israel, reason why ISIS calls itself ISIL, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. A dire prospect.
Unfortunately, for Western countries, they must defend their comfort at the cost of losing it, but tell that to the comfortable TV-looking beer drinking Westerners who imported millions of Islamic people to do work for them they don’t want to do and who are now protesting in their streets. It takes good leaders to wake up their citizens, and good leaders are rare today. Beware whom you invite into your house!
The origins of World War II stemmed for a good deal from wishful pacifism, cowardice, procrastination and collaborators (!), in the hope that it would not be all that bad as some were convincingly predicting. Suddenly Europe was run over and Amerika and Canada had to help to protect themselves. Now America and Canada have large Islamic populations with no sense of assimilation with the history of their hosts, and the pride that goes with it, and, with their open borders, the potential for terrorist attacks is plenty, even more than was the case with 9/11.
As long as the West has been involved in the Middle-East, it has been unable to implant its “rational renaissance” thinking that began in the Renaissance and overtook Islamic reactionary thinking, despite its past wealth of scientific, medical, and artistic creativity. Oil made it worse. Many different peoples in the Greater Middle East, including Iran, are ruled by religious mantras, outdated historical principles, and an unstoppable array of new masters of intolerance and cruelty, such as ISIS.
My fear is that ISIS is just one more ugly Middle Eastern sore but the most vicious so far that will run its course causing many deaths and suffering, until its dreadful puss is burned out by the Middle East itself, when it finally realizes that the 21st century has arrived and they must adapt rather than creating outdated caliphates, yelling with rockets to throw the Jews into the sea, screaming fatwas about planting Allah’s flag on the White House and propagating that Islam is the only true religion.
No US and European pacifism will help. Peace through strength will. It had better start now.
Next time: a soft-pedaled effort by the UN and World Bank to steer Iraq toward economic development.