Saturday, July 25, 2009

Understanding Iraq by William R. Polk, cont.

Ch.3, British Iraq -
During WWI, on Nov. 6, 1914, the British began their invasion of Iraq (not involved in the war) which they justified with:
  1. They needed the Euphrates as a link to India
  2. They needed to keep the French & Germans from getting Iraq
  3. By doing 2. they would be protecting their Asian territories
  4. Oil
  5. They could use the Fertile Crescent for agriculture
The British attempted to rule Iraq as they did India, with a small military presence and a native police force. The Iraqis rebelled, using hit-and-run guerrilla tactics. The British decided to make Kurdistan part of Iraq due to oil deposits there. After WWI, the British attempted to set up a native-run Iraqi government with their own puppet-rulers in place. This established deep roots of mistrust in nationals, as well as a lack of ownership in political affairs. Religion played only a minor role in the formation of Iraqi nationality at this time - the Shiis continued to oppose British rule, while the Sunis were now associated with the British government and were in places of power - both more political than religious. At this time there was an increasing use of military intervention in civil affairs - sadly, an enduring legacy. The first American involvement came during WW2 - the US advised Iraqis to cooperate with the British, adding themselves to the nationalists' list of enemies. After WW2, the British continued to use the military against peaceful demonstrations, which helped Iraqis decide to sympathize with Palestinians, which they saw as yet another British-occupied Arab state taken away from natives and given to Europeans.

Ch.4,Revolutionary Iraq -
When the British finally left, there were numerous coups in the Iraqi government. "Democracy" was only understood by Iraqis in terms of British influence and the many Iraqi dictators who promised better times and always failed to deliver.
Baathists - starts as a qawmiyah (also spelled qawmiyya) - a pan-Arab nationality movements founded by the Syrians. Introduced to Iraq in 1951, they allowed army officers and educated professionals to join their membership. They discussed qawmiyah and the social inequalities that stemmed from British policies - Sadam Hussein was a member of this rising political party. In 1968 the Baathists stage a coup and overthrow the Arif monarchy. Hussein grew his base of supporters within the party by actually growing the party. He then began eliminating both real and imagined rivals. He united Iraqis to him by focusing attention on "enemies":
  1. Shiis - seen as non-Iraqi, Saddam used military forces against all their gatherings and individual leaders were killed off.
  2. Kurds - were driven out of their territory into Iran and destroyed Kurdish villages along the frontier then moved Suni Arabs into the area.
  3. Claimed there were spies for Britain and Israel (probably at least some of whom were real) in the country - would uncover "plots" and have everyone supposedly involved executed.
Saddam also won favor with Iraqis by releasing prisoners of previous regimes, restoring jobs lost during previous rules, and intensive national development with oil money - which he increased by nationalizing the Iraq Petroleum Company (previously managed by British Petroleum).
In 1980, things begin falling apart for Saddam with the Iran-Iraq war. Iran incited Iraqi Shiis to revolt, supported attempted coups, and were firing on border villages. Iran had US-trained military while Iraq had US weapons. The USA's official stance was to keep a "level playing field" between the two countries so neither could win and control all that oil. The US had a change in policy once it became known that Saddam was trying to develop nuclear weapons. The war bankrupted Saddam's regime and in order to stay in power, he needed more funds. Oil prices dropped dramatically due to Kuwait flooding the market with its own oil. In addition, Kuwait was demanding repayment of its war debts and was stealing Iraqi oil by slant drilling on border oil fields. Saddam moved troops to the Iraqi-Kuwait border, then asked if the US planned to defend Kuwait. He was twice told by the US they wouldn't, so on August 2, 1990, he invaded Kuwait and in 24 hours and taken over the country.

Understanding Iraq by William R. Polk

Ch.1, Ancient Iraq -
Things that influence Iraq still today:
  • Religion-based patriotism & wars justified by religion
  • Poor always "tremendously exploited" - slave labor, military draft
  • The idea of paradise as a garden (due to climate, only the rich had gardens
  • The earliest known code of laws (Hammurabi) is from this area - this was a rigid code of conduct that paved the way for Islam
This was fascinating to me: Assyrians were in the north, Akkadians & Sumerians in the south. An Akkadian ruler, Sargon I, built a town to protect his followers, offering the promise of security & prosperity, grew an army and attack and conquered other towns one by one to unify the south, then they turned on the Assyrian north - Sadam Hussein gained power the same way.

Ch 2, Islamic Iraq:
Muhammad was born around 570 AD.. Much of society at this time is split into family-based factions of about 50 - the land doesn't provide enough resources for more. Factions are always fighting with others, but not within since everyone in your faction is your family. So Muhammad says all believers are "brothers" or family, and thus these smaller factions begin to unite - religious-based clans, rather than kinship-based clans, became larger than the family-based ones, so more joined just to survive. Thus it took only eleven years for Islam to swallow Arabia.

Shia Muslims - non-Arabs or of mixed Arab descent, disenfranchised by ruling Muslims of pure blood, minority that lived in southern Iraq & Iran.
Suni Muslims - pure-blood Muslim Arabs, majority

During the (European) Dark Ages, Baghdad had a thriving book trade. Merchants and craftsmen were organized into guilds - these would use the power of strike against taxes, they still use the same tactic today. Nizam ul-Mulk was a prime minister of sorts in the 900's - he established a college education system and planted the idea that governments are measured by the education of their people. In the 1200's there was a horrific Mongolian invasion (Hulagu Khan), which left its survivors longing for the comfort of spiritual things. Sunnism emphasized law & rationalism as the way of Allah - not something people found comforting, so Sufism, a mix of Islam & Zoroastrianism, spread rapidly. Shiism, already very mystical, became more popular as well.