December 15, 2007

Iraq - Grandeur & Destruction. Part I

Breakthrough & Nostalgia

When I say and repeat that you, Americans have destroyed everything in Iraq, I am met with scorn and anger.

Some of you are too simplistic and equate destruction with buildings in ruins.

Having a limited a vision, you can’t go beyond the material, the physical...

I reiterate, you Americans have destroyed everything in Iraq. And I mean EVERYTHING.

Since 1958 until 2003, Iraq, its government and its people strove relentlessly to build a modern nation state.

The biggest developmental boom took place under the Baath regime and in particular under Saddam Hussein. Like it or not.

In 1972, the oil was nationalized. By 1982, illiteracy and preventable diseases were eradicated.

Education including higher education was free of charge. The government would disburse 5000 grants yearly for postgraduate studies abroad to England, Germany, Russia, France...

By 2003, Iraq accounted for 30’000 scientists. Yes, you read me right, 30’000 scientists. And when in 2003, Bush said that Iraqis were very educated people, he knew what he was talking about.

Now you understand why the targeting of academics, scientists and intellectuals was part of the American plan. It was actually no.1 on the agenda way before "sectarian warfare" broke out.

Since, over 600 scientists and academics have been murdered in cold blood, the rest have fled and many are reported missing...

University libraries and schools were booming with books and publications, the National library in Baghdad held the most ancient manuscripts ever to be found.

Iraqis were known to devour books, and Baghdad was a publishing center. Books would even be distributed free of charge to other Middle Eastern countries including some parts of Africa.

The Universities were equipped with the latest technology and labs. The student dorms were specially designed to accommodate the highest number of students – a lot of them came and studied and lived free of charge in Iraq. They came from Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Somalia, Algeria, Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt, Sudan...

In the medical field, Iraq was considered the most developed nation -along with its educational system, in the whole of the Middle East . Both WHO and UNICEF stated that Iraq on these two fronts could be considered as having overcome "underdevelopment" and was ready to join the "developed world."

All specialists were sent abroad for post-doctorate research and for further specialization.

We had the most advanced hospitals, with the latest equipment, there were health dispensaries in every neighborhood. Medication was subsidized, and all you needed to do is pay a symbolic fee of 1 dinar. 1 Dinar for a medical visit and that was it.

Infrastructures were diligently built. Roads, highways, bridges, sewage system, electricity, telecommunications, industry, commercial buildings, hotels, agribusiness...All of these were built by Iraqis. Not some foreign labor, but Iraqis themselves.

In fact, Iraqis were the main asset. And the government under Saddam Hussein, invested heaps into the main riches of Iraq- its people.

Women were particularly favored during that time. We had equal rights, equal pay, 2 years maternity leave, we could divorce when we saw fit, no one would tell us how to dress, 70% of us were working women, we had access to schools, universities, education, government institutions...We could travel, drive, and run our own businesses...

Some of us were professors, others doctors, teachers, engineers, scientists, archeologists, financial managers, diplomats, judges, lawyers, artists, singers, writers, actresses...

We could walk the streets alone, during the day and night, we could go out, dress as we pleased (within reasonable limits), marry whom we wanted in a civil court if we had so wished...Polygamy was forbidden and domestic violence was punishable by law.

Our children had access to free schooling, free meals, free health care and were vaccinated free of charge. Iraq had the lowest child mortality rate in the whole of the Middle East. Our children went to good schools with heating, with desks and chairs, they had enough to eat, they had places to go to and play, they had parks and gardens, swings and playgrounds, they had a mother and a father and grew up into healthy adulthood...

Those who had lost their parents were either taken care of by the rest of the extended family and were given a governmental pay allocation for that or placed in orphanages that were subsidized and supervised by the government. And trust me that government was quite strict with any form of abuse if it ever happened.

The few gays we had, were tolerated and were not harassed or targeted and were not tortured or murdered in broad daylight.

Minorities like the Kurds had their own regional autonomy. Saddam Hussein built them universities and schools where they could teach and learn in their own language. They were allowed their own press in Kurdish, their culture- music, customs and their own style of dress. They were free to circulate in the whole of Iraq, attend universities and live anywhere they wished.

In fact a lot of them remained in Baghdad . They were allowed to be part of the government and were represented in it. We had Kurdish ministers and ambassadors.
And intermarriage between Kurds and Arabs was very common. Kurdish even became a compulsory secondary language in Baghdad’s high schools.

Other minorities like the Sabeans, the Yazidis and the Turkmen were allowed to form associations, practice their own religion, language or ethnic customs...And again, intermarriage was common.

Christians were protected, particularly protected. They were given posts in government. Had access to all the Iraqi institutions, owned their own businesses, were free to worship as they pleased, the government even had a special budget for the construction of churches. They were allowed Sunday off instead of the traditional Muslim Friday. They celebrated their religious holidays in all freedom, they were Iraqis before anything else...They were even free to have their own hospitals, schools, and pension homes.

The Shiites formed the bulk of the government employees and the army. They were considered as Iraqi citizens first and foremost, were allowed to worship in their own mosques and study in their own religious centers, they had access to education, housing, employment, higher studies, high governmental posts, ministerial posts, diplomatic posts...

They were allowed to marry anyone they pleased. And the fact is that the rate of intermarriage between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis is the highest in the Middle East compared to let’s say Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon or Saudi Arabia where Shiite minorities exist. There is not one Iraqi family which is not of mixed sects- Sunni/ Shia.

Iraq produced Shiite doctors, professors, scientists, artists, sportsmen...

Palestinians, and they used to call themselves Iraqi-Palestinians, numbered around 35'000 in total.

They were specially protected by Saddam Hussein and his government. They were given equal rights just like the Iraqis, were allowed to own their businesses, marry -marriage between Iraqis and Palestinians was common, had access to free schools, universities, grants, medical services just like any Iraqi.
Palestinians were considered the rightful owners of a just cause and they were fully and unconditionally supported -no matter the cost or the consequences. And that is the way to do it.

Culturally and artistically, Iraq was a truly booming place. Baghdad was known for its poets, writers, artists, musicians, painters, dancers...

And Saddam Hussein invested heavily in Iraqi art.

There was a special Institute for plastic arts, sculpture and ceramics... The Iraqi school of Art was known to be the most prominent in the Middle East and produced many famous names that were later emulated by other Arab artists.

Furthermore, to encourage both Iraqi and non Iraqi art, the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein, established cultural offices supervised by its cutural attach├ęs abroad.

For instance you had an Iraqi cultural center in London, one in Paris and another one in Geneva.

These centers would promote Iraqi and non Iraqi artists, organize Iraqi dance festivals, Iraqi exhibitions of crafts and traditionally designed clothes, would invite traditional Iraqi musicians...

The aim was to bridge any cultural gaps between the Arab world/Iraq and the West. And all these activities were free of charge. The government paid for everything- every single activity and covered all the costs it entailed.

As some of you may know, Iraq is the land of the first civilizations known to humankind. The skeleton of the Alphabet started in Sumer with the first cuneiforms. Even cooking recipes were engraved on tablets. Techniques for civil construction, agricultural irrigation and also the preliminaries for urban planning - all took root in this ancient civilization. Epics, poetry, music, jurisprudence with Hammurabi’s over 700 codified rules, philosophy and metaphysics also took root in this land...

I don’t want to go into Mesopotamian history right now, but suffice to say, that Iraq counts for the highest number of archeological sites in the world covering thousands of years, and bearing witness to different epochs of history. From the Sumerians right through to the monotheistic prophets and beyond...

Before the sanction years and I will touch on the sanctions years in my next chapter, the government under Saddam Hussein spent millions of dollars in the restoration, preservation and protection of these sites that are considered part of the universal patrimonial heritage according to UNESCO’s definitions.

The hanging gardens of Babylon were even considered part of the 7 wonders of the world. Not anymore. They have been replaced by Petra in Jordan.

The Iraqi museum was home to thousands of priceless artifacts, numbered, classified and recorded...Experts in ancient history and archeology would spent unlimited hours excavating, restoring, preserving, protecting and teaching our Mesopotamian heritage that stretched all the way to the Abbasid Caliphate right into Modern Iraq.

Right up to the sanctions years and despite the Iran-Iraq war, one can safely say that the Iraqi state was a fully modern functioning independent entity. When I talk about state I am not only talking of governmental institutions.

There were these and there was the army, a modern strong capable army. But state also entails other aspects...

State entails other societal institutions, like universities, schools, hospitals, cultural bodies, associations...infrastructural systems, civic society and national and cultural identity.

The Iraqi State and its ideology overcame tribalism, sectarianism, ethnic chauvinism...And it was a fully functional State without outside help. It was run by Iraqis for Iraqis.

I am absolutely convinced that, had Khomeinism not appeared on the scene, and Khomeinism was greatly helped to accede to power thanks to the West...

I am absolutely convinced had there not been this tumor called political Shiism, and Persianism. I am absolutely convinced that had Iraq not had such disgusting treacherous neighbors- Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait...

I am absolutely convinced had Iraq been truly allowed to continue on its developmental path without having to constantly ward off outside influences, it would have become a fully fledged Arab Democracy with its own specificity...

In fact Iraq had ALL the necessary prerequisites and ingredients to become so.

It had a strong government with a vision, it had institutions, it had eradicated illiteracy and had a highly educated population, it was developed in more ways than one...

And this, the West can never accept. Nor the West, nor the rest of the feudal backward Arab states, nor the criminal Israel and Iran.

And it is with the objective of destroying what the Iraqi government and in particular Saddam Hussein took great pains in building in only 3 decades, and 3 decades are not much in the history of a country, the Americans came to invade and occupy...

America’s objectives and the primary goal on its agenda was the erasing of the Iraqi identity because America understood that it was precisely that identity that proved to be America’s main stumbling block despite years of grotesque, criminal sanctions. Sanctions, previously unknown to contemporary mankind.

Not since the League of Nations, has anyone witnessed such a collective effort to destroy and steal the soul of a nation that tried to stand on its own two feet alone with its own resources.

And its resources were:
1) a hardworking, intelligent, educated people
2) its natural geography - a) the finest quality of crude oil gushing from the biggest, largely unexplored oil reserves in the world. b)sweet water flowing from two rivers. c) a fertile land and,

3) its deep, ancient, historical roots from which it drew pride and moral strength.

A deadly combination for the covetous, barbaric West and for their bastard criminal whore mistresses the Jewish State of Israel and Persian-Iran.

Here was an independent, progressive, modern, secular, strong, proud, Arab identity...that freed itself from the shackles of the Ottoman then British colonialism and on its way towards true economic, political, intellectual and moral independence...Here was a country who refused to be a lapdog, a slave that would bow down...And that was simply not acceptable.

And the breakthrough that started as a dream and took root in reality, was forbidden to further unfold...Not only was it forbidden to unfold, it had to be smashed, destroyed to pieces. It was in fact a must.

Painting : Iraqi female artist, Zainab Abdel Qader.