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[casi-analysis] April 9th - Baghdad - 'The Gate of God....'

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 Published on Saturday, April 9, 2005 by
'The Gate of God Opens Wider'
by Felicity Arbuthnot
It is two years since the illegal invasion, destruction of humanity's
history, the subsequent slaughters, the attempt to dehumanize Iraqis, the
people of Mesopotamia which brought the world all we call civilized. A
people whose deaths, in the words of the inimitable Major General Mark
Kimmitt, 'it is not productive to count' and who, when asked about US
carnage in the cradle of civilization responded 'change the channel ...'
For those of us unable to 'change the channel', the beauty, the generosity
and the horrors of Iraq's suffering under embargo and occupation will
forever haunt. As will the literal and cultural rape of a nation from Mosul
to Basra in the lie of 'liberation'. 'History will judge ..' said Britain's
Prime Minister Blair, President Bush's bag carrier in his 'crusade'. History
will indeed judge. The words of Denis Halliday come to mind - the former UN
Assistant Secretary General and UN Co-ordinator in Iraq who resigned in
disgust at the 'genocide' of the embargo - 'history will slaughter those
responsible' he said of the sanctions, a 'slaughter' which equally
eloquently applies to America's temporary coup - and abduction of a
sovereign government whose status was guaranteed by the U.N. - in the 'land
between two rivers'. It is two years since Iraq's Year Zero.
The lies, misleadings, ignorance in high places, which led to this historic
cultural and human holocaust are outside the scope of an article but many
books will bear witness at the grave where truth lies. As Alexander and
Patrick Cockburn point out in their revealing book 'Saddam Hussein, an
American Obsession', in 1991, not one US official involved in policy making
or advice over Iraq had ever set foot in Iraq. Exactly the same applied in
2003 - neither Britain nor the US had an Embassy there since August 1990,
they were reliant on duplicitous defectors all with their own agenda and
middle-aged Iraqis who had left as children. Little has changed. As British
and American policymakers squat in Iraq's great state buildings - an illegal
takeover under the Geneva Convention - they are helicoptered in and out and
have no clue as to conditions in which Iraqis live, or access to what Iraqis
are thinking. Ignorance is so total that it was only little over a month ago
that a policy has been broadly adopted to employ Iraqi interpreters - those
brave enough - rather than American born Arabs, since 'Iraqis recognize
dialects from the region and can tell if someone is of a different
nationality or region in Iraq'. This astonishing bit of finally acquired
knowledge is presumably accompanied by another total ignorance - an
assumption that if someone comes from somewhere else they are automatically
a 'terrorist'.
The tragic folly of Iraq though, is a litany of ignorance of a 'far away
place..' of which Washington knows nothing. Returning to London from
Baghdad, days before the invasion, newspapers were awash with Ahmed
Chalabi's assurances that the crusaders would be greeted with flowers and
sweets. The certainties from a man who should be serving a lengthy jail term
in Jordan for embezzlement, would be taken by inhabitants of planet earth
with a hefty pinch of salt. Not apparently in Washington or Whitehall. The
thought that perhaps representatives of governments who had been responsible
for thirteen years of grinding sanctions misery and humiliation, a welcome
as invaders might not be forthcoming, appears to have escaped policy makers.
On the day of the invasion a respected politician with deep love for and
knowledge of the Middle East telephoned, appalled, 'Are you aware' he asked
' that the British tanks and vehicles have entered Iraq flying the St
George's flag' - the Crusaders flag. I drew breath in double horror - the
invasion had begun and it WAS a crusade. I thought of the refrain over the
thirteen years of sanctions, heard again and again in Iraq ' nothing so
terrible has happened to us since the crusades ...' but the British, we are
told endlessly, are more subtle than the Americans - they wore soft hats.
They also 'had experience in Belfast', that running sore on British soil,
caused by the division of Ireland by Winston Churchill - a line on the
granite, almost at the same time as Britain's Sir Percy Cox drew 'the line
in the sand' in southern Iraq changing the region's topography before
further colonial meddlings. What 'experience in Belfast', over approaching
four decades of grief and mayhem there, has to do with Basra, a cultural
world away, is perhaps just unfolding - with more of the same.
I wonder if the British and American soldiers - torturers and non torturers
alike - in Basra are aware of that battered, beautiful city's suffering. 'If
there was a war between France and Germany, Basra would be bombed' is a wry
Basra refrain. Until it was looted at the time of the invasion, there was a
museum commemorating the lost of the eight year Iran-Iraq war in Basra. The
impossibly small uniform of the ten-year-old civil defense volunteer - yes
ten-years-old, almost all the men had been sent to fight - killed trying to
rescue the injured. The young doctor with great, warm eyes looking from a
fading photograph, his bloodied shirt laid in the glass case below. The
hundreds, upon hundreds of identity cards on the walls, names, photos,
addresses, ages - the lost loves, lives, dreams of another western fueled
Have any of the modern day barbarians who have destroyed the world's
wonders, Babylon, Kufa, Najav, Kerbala, Samarra and the resultant
destruction of the golden Malwiya minaret - 1,155 years old which actually
survived the Mongols, but not this illegal onslaught - pondered at all. Did
they gaze even momentarily in awed wonder at the great ziggurat of Abraham's
believed birth place, Ur, before spraying it with graffiti and erecting a
base over unexcavated archeological sites which were incalculably ancient
before Christ and the Prophet Mohammed - peace and blessings be upon Him -
walked in this region. Did they hesitate in wonder at the hundred mosques,
their great golden and turquoise domes glinting in the sun, before they went
on their rampage in Falluja with equal disregard for humanity or history.
Does the great mosque in Mosul where the Prophet Johah is believed buried
still stand unsullied - and is the poignant monastery perched on its
mountain top nearby, where Saint Matthew is believed to lie still stand. We
are told many pray before operations. As they read their bibles, did any
reflect on the verse from the book of Revelations before Babylon was laid to
waste for a second time. 'By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down ... We
hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. ...'
The answer to the above is almost certainly that these world's wonders, as
the manuscripts, the museums, were wasted on the world's most powerful army
and its unwilling 'coalition'. Recently, a colleague who has lived for many
years in the Middle East spent an 'embedded' period with the US Army in
Iraq. On a Friday morning the unit he was with decided to raid a home on a
'tip off' regarding an 'insurgent'. As they set off, the call to prayer rang
across the area. The senior officer remarked he hated the sound which brings
peace to the heart of believers and non-believers who travel the Middle
East. Determined not to be drawn, my friend said mildly 'Well, remember, it
is the Sabbath'. 'What do you mean it is the Sabbath,' was the reply 'it's
Friday.' How long have you been here', 'two years', said the officer. Oh,
and the home which was virtually destroyed. 'Wrong house, wrong
On April 9th 2003, I went to see a friend, a former Professor at the
University of Mosul. Usually a cool, clear headed thinker, always on the
move, she was sitting frantically flicking through the television channels,
watching the destruction of her land - suddenly Mosul was shown, the looting
of the museum, the university, the carnage, the chaos - ' No, oh no, my
town, my home, my university ...' she was inconsolable in her helplessness
and grief. As the American flag covered the statue of Saddam Hussein's face
and it fell, she was physically sick - not because she was pro the regime,
but because it represented the beginning of the destruction by invaders of
Iraq's very sovereignty, the stripping of modern and ancient history - and
lack of any cultural sensitivity or understanding.
I thought of standing on my hotel balcony a short time before, taking roll
after roll of film as the azure and peach Baghdad dawn shimmered in
reflection in the Tigris, knowing I would never see Baghdad like this again
- then being consoled in the lobby by the proprietor as the tears ran down
my face on the eve of war - 'Don't worry Madam Felicity, don't be upset, we
will be all right, we will be all right ...' In Amman, Sattar, the engineer
turned driver during the embargo years, looked at me for once speechless, we
knew - and there were no words. In the years coming into Iraq from Amman we
would slap palms together when we hit the sign which displayed Fallujah,
Damascus - and 'Baghdad Central', after 1,200 grinding kms, we had nearly
made it. So far, Damascus still stands.
But for all the horrors, illegality, destruction, shame on the invaders and
collective shame shared by so many, there is something Iraq will never lose
as expressed hauntingly by Paul William Roberts. In Baghdad, he writes, he

  .... the old people with resignation stamped across their foreheads, who
can't go on yet will go on; the young married couples who still hope for a
better life yet don't hope too hard lest it break their hearts, the
countless unremembered acts of kindness and of love that fill desolate days,
and I realize I would far prefer to be here than in any house where this war
is justified. For it cannot be justified.
But this region has always led to somewhere worth going. Baghdad is just as
glorious in its ruin as it was in its glory, for something noble crawls from
the rubble to spread golden wings in the light of dawn. The Gate of God
opens wider.'
Paul William Roberts book on Iraq 'A War Against Truth', was shortlisted for
this year's Charles Taylor Prize for best nonfiction.

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