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63 7 IRAQ UNDER OCCUPATION AND DICTATORSHIP A hostile act thou shalt not perform, that fear of vengeance shall not consume you. ––Ancient proverb Modern Iraq was once part of Mesopotamia, which also included northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey, and southwestern Iran. Situated around the Tigris-Euphrates river system, Mesopotamia was a cradle of civilization with origins going back more than six thousand years.Wealth made it a target of invasions . Bruce Preston points out in A Brief Modern Political History of Iraq, that Persian ruler Cyrus was an early conqueror; he was followed by Darius I. In 331 BC Alexander the Great of Macedonia overran Mesopotamia in the Battle of Gaugamela and rendered the Persian Empire of Darius III impotent.1 Alexander encountered a resurgent Persian Empire under the Parthian and Sassanid dynasties and wars over the land of two rivers continued. Arabs invaded from the south and made Baghdad,and for a while Samara,their capital in the year AD 762. In the era of the Abbasid caliphate, the terms “Arab” and “civilization” became synonymous, and Mesopotamia entered a period of great glory. Baghdad was “not just the hub of a huge empire but also the location of a wondrous outburst of learning and culture”––of arts, literature, medicine, mathematics, and much more.2 In 1055 a new wave of invaders, the Seljuq Turks, entered Baghdad from Iran; these people did not alter the institutions of state or religion in any significant way. Imperial Designs_13448.indd 63 3/12/13 2:44 PM 64   IMPERIAL DESIGNS That, however, changed two centuries later. In 1258 the Mongols under Hulagu, grandson of Genghis Khan, attacked the land, killed the last Abbasid caliph, and plundered Baghdad.According to historian Efraim Karsh, The terrified [Abbasid] caliph, Mu’tasim, accompanied by his sons, ministers and other members of his coterie, produced himself to Hulagu. He was forced to disclose his treasures and was ridiculed for having failed to put them to good use in the city’s defense.Ten days later the hapless suzerain was taken to a neighboring village and executed, apparently by being rolled in a carpet and trampled to death by horses, as the superstitious Mongols would not shed royal blood by the sword. Meanwhile, Baghdad was thoroughly ravaged and plundered, with most of its inhabitants brutally slaughtered.3 The three principal territories of modern Iraq, based in Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul, became part of the Ottoman Empire gradually during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As the Ottoman Turk rulers from Istanbul extended their domain to the fertile lands between theTigris and Euphrates Rivers, it was necessary to check the ambitions of the Safavid shahs of Persia.The region known in Europe as Mesopotamia became a battleground for influence between the two powers.The consequence was that “the imperial and doctrinal rivalries between Sunni Ottomans and Shi’i Safavids touched the histories of the peoples of these frontier lands.”4 The Shi‛a-Sunni divide and mutual fear between Iranians and Arabs dated back to the era of Arab invasions. Those divisions were reinforced. Kurds, an Iranian ethnic group spread over the Kurdistan region of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, were to become the third force. Already a battleground for influence of regional powers for centuries, the region became a target of growing attention from the Western industrializing powers beginning in the early twentieth century with the discovery of oil.The collapse of the Ottoman Empire and Britain’s entry as the new colonial power led to the establishment of the modern Iraqi state after World War I, but not without conflict, which was to continue.As Charles Tripp wrote in his seminal work, A History of Iraq, The British invasion and occupation of the Ottoman provinces of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul and their subsequent consolidation into the new state of Iraq under a League of Nations Mandate administered by Great Britain radically changed the political worlds of the inhabitants in these territories. . . . Narratives that had made sense of people’s lives in one setting were beImperial Designs_13448.indd 64 3/12/13 2:44 PM IRAQ UNDER OCCUPATION AND DICTATORSHIP   65 ing overtaken by changed circumstances as the emerging state became the vehicle of distinctive ideas and forms of order, prefigured by, but not necessarily identical to, those of the late Ottoman state.The Iraqi state became a new centre of gravity, setting up or reinforcing the structures that would shape a distinctly Iraqi politics.5 The Ottomans had reconquered...


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