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From the Ashes of Iraq: Mesopotamia Rises Again
by Alexander H. Joffe
The National Interest
August 20, 2014
The dissolution of the colonial creation named "Iraq" is now almost complete. Perhaps what comes next is a return to the past; not a brutal Islamic "caliphate," but something more basic.
Today, Mesopotamia is reappearing. The term is a Greek word meaning "the land between the two rivers." The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are the defining features, each arising in mountains far to the north of Baghdad. The rivers and their annual floods defined the landscape, the cycle of life and the worldview of civilizations. The deserts to the west and the mountains to the east and far north provided rough boundaries and were liminal spaces related to the center, but yet separate and apart, sunbaked and dangerous. Inside Mesopotamia was a cauldron.
From the Sumerians of the third millennium BCE through the Assyrian and Babylonian civilizations of the second and first millennia BCE, to the Abbasids of the eighth century CE and until the arrival of the British in the early twentieth century, the space called Mesopotamia was the container for civilizations that rose and collapsed. Cultures invented writing and built the first cities, growing and shrinking in response to changing river courses and global climate. They conquered and were conquered, traded with surrounding regions, and formed a baggy but recognizable whole—what we call Mesopotamian civilization.
Internal distinctions were paramount. Babylonia in the south was dominated by the rivers and the annual flood, irrigation agriculture and seemingly unrelenting heat and mud. Assyria in the northern, rain-fed zone sat amidst undulating plains and foothills. Culturally, Babylonia was older and more developed, the "heartland of cities" going back to 4000 BCE, a primacy that Assyria acknowledged even in periods when they dominated the south. By and large, both shared the same deities and myths, the same aggressive tendencies, and the same fear and loathing of surrounding regions. But competition, warfare and repression were constant.
For inhabitants, that is to say the kings and priests whose thoughts we read on clay tablets many millennia later, Mesopotamia the whole, a unity of north and south, was an ideal—the supreme prize, something overseen by the gods—to be aspired to and claimed by quotidian rulers. But, much like the idea of "Iraq," it was conceptual, rather than practical. The south often dominated the north and vice versa, but never for very long.
Then, as now, the neighbors were a problem. One historical parallel seems especially apposite today. The Third Dynasty of Ur was short-lived, existing from around 2212 to 2004 BCE. It arose in southern Mesopotamia after the fall of the Semitic Akkadian Empire and revived the culture of the original or dominant southern ethnic group, the Sumerians. This dynasty created a fanatically integrated state, where temples, palaces and estates spun elaborate networks of supply and whose record keeping was unprecedented. As a territorial state, it was not far-flung; its core area extended only from modern Baghdad south to the Arabian Gulf, but it briefly reached into Iran and Assyria.
Toward the end of the dynasty, however, ruler Su-Sin faced a growing threat, the Amorites. These Semitic-speaking peoples arose somewhere on the middle stretches of the Euphrates River and surrounding steppe-lands in what is, for now, called Syria. Amorites were regarded with contempt and fear by the neo-Sumerians. It was said they did not cultivate grain, nor did they cook their meat. They did not even bury their dead.
Whether this terrifying image was correct or was something cultivated by Ur III scribes, Amorites themselves, or both is unknown. But Su-Sin's response was to build a wall—the "wall against the Martu," perhaps 280 kilometers in length—to keep the Amorites out. It didn't work, any better than other walls in antiquity designed to keep barbarians out. The Ur III dynasty collapsed and was followed by centuries of conflict between various dynasties.
Eventually, the Amorites took control, their most famous scion being Hammurabi of Babylon. Like all Mesopotamian dynasties before and since, it was necessary to connect with the greater Mesopotamian tradition; Hammurabi's lineage was crafted to show he descended from ancient kings and was the restorer of justice. Hammurabi's famous "law code" described him as the pious defender of widows and orphans, when in fact he was their maker. No surprise that Saddam Hussein was often depicted with Hammurabi and with Nebuchadnezzar, destroyer of the temple in Jerusalem. Similarly, ISIS' claims to the Islamic "caliphate," to the restoration of glory and piety can be viewed through the same lens. In Mesopotamia, the past is always charter.
As concession to divisive reality, the Ottoman Turks had ruled Mesopotamia with three administrative units, in which a bewildering assortment of ethnic groups coexisted uncomfortably. About the Sunni-dominated state created by Britain, their "Iraq," a revived medieval term, little more need be said. The claptrap monarchy they invented gave way to a repressive and then tyrannical "republic." As it happened, America disposed of Saddam Hussein, although the Arab Spring may have done the same. In a historical irony, an act of imperialist intervention thus undid a previous one.
So it is as well with Syria, now divided into warring territories along lines familiar three thousand years ago. Many, especially ISIS itself, pointed to the vehement erasure of the so-called "Sykes-Picot" line, the 1916 boundary between British and French spheres of influence, from which the borders of Iraq and Syria were drawn. ISIS even bulldozed the berm that marked this mostly arbitrary line.
The symbolism of Sykes-Picot in the minds of Westerners and Islamists alike is telling, if nothing else, of the psychological impact of the last century. Their borders, drawn with thick pencils on imprecise maps, looked to the future, to a Middle East under Western domination. Iraq, and Syria, created holes where none existed.
Iraq has fractured along traditional lines; Kurdistan in the north, the Sunni regions around Baghdad and west toward the Euphrates and the Shiite regions of the south. These correspond roughly to Assyria and Babylonia, and the swing zones in the middle over which they fought endlessly. Hordes more terrifying than the Amorites—judging from their tweets of mass murder and crucifixion—rush in from the west while Persia struggles to defend its Shiite vassal state in Baghdad.
More of what is old is new again. ISIS threatens the Haditha Dam on the Euphrates, which if destroyed, would unleash catastrophic floods, much as the Assyrian king Sargon II did in 710 BCE against rebellious Babylonian ruler Merodach-Baladan. Cutting off the water supply, as ISIS did when it captured the Fallujah Dam earlier this year, is an even more ancient tactic; the cities of Lagash and Umma had fought a water war around 2500 BCE.
Ethnic cleansing and mass slaughter, proud announcement of the mutilation and execution of captives as nearly religious expressions of power, arbitrary decisions to provision or starve captive populations—all these are ancient Mesopotamian patterns of conflict. Only the destruction of Islamic religious buildings and sites by ISIS is truly new; Mesopotamian dynasties were fastidious about maintaining or restoring the cults and temples of conquered city-gods, even though the gods' statues might "choose" to dwell in the conqueror's city.
Geography is the container for cultures and helps create their possibilities and limits. Iraq was always a figment, as well as an ideal held by people who, for a few decades following the European style, thought of themselves as a nation-state. But underlying dynamics have proven stronger, and Iraq is no more. The ancient cauldron returns and decades of warring tribes and dynasties likely await.
Alex Joffe is editor of The Ancient Near East Today, the monthly e-newsletter of the American Schools of Oriental Research. He is also a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
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Posted by solsticewitch13 at 2:13 PM
Big Timer/In The Press/Politics/Potpourri/Question of the Day/Random Posts/War on America/War on Christianity/War on Our Military —
by bigtimer | 8-22-14
by bigtimer | 8-22-14
Friends and foe alike, Nick Powers has had much to say recently in one form or another…see if you agree with any or all of his sentiments after you read and watch the information below.
So folks, right off the bat I’ll preface this report with some of what Nick Powers strong opinions are here before I get to the rest of the story from his television appearance earlier this morning:
Following the filmed beheading of New Hampshire journalist James Foley by Islamic extremists earlier this week, the public protests against the Islamic State – or ISIS – terror network have grown throughout the United States and beyond.
The Vatican confirmed that Pope Francis called Foley’s parents personally following the death of the 40-year-old who disappeared from Syria nearly two years ago.
Perhaps the most galvanizing statement on the tragic murder, however, is attributed to Marine veteran Nick Powers, who posted the following on Facebook.
To all you ignorant Islamic extremist f—ks. As I sit here watching you execute women, children and men in the Middle East I chuckle. Why do I chuckle you may ask? Well let me explain something to you idiots who think you are so tough. You are scaring a population that doesn’t know how to fight, you’re bullying the weak.
What did Saddam’s troops do when we came to town? Surrendered, twice… All your threats of coming to America and raising your flag over the White House amuse me more than you could ever understand. In 2012 there were 21.2 million veterans in the United States. Do you understand what that means? That means there are millions of pissed off veterans who have been dealing with years of abuse from their government stabbing them in the backs and having to watch friends die because you Islamic idiots can’t seem to act like human beings and stop terrorism and violence.
It’s one thing to take over an Islamic state, pretty sure we plowed through Fallujah in 4 days, do you really think you stand a chance on US soil? Do you really think it would be smart to poke that bear? Remember we are armed in the US and I can promise you that the Geneva Conventions will not apply to you. You attack us and there is no mercy. The ball is in your court Islam, we are more than ready to send you to your “prophet” Mohamed….
Listen to what he had to say from early this morning via this report:
Following the beheading of American journalist James Foley by ISIS, one Marine is issuing his own warning to the terror group.
Iraq war veteran Nick Powers wrote on Facebook, “Remember we are armed in the U.S. and I can promise you this … You attack us and there will be no mercy.”
Krauthammer: ”Ridiculous’ for DOJ to Treat Foley Beheading as Criminal Act
ISIS claims that the killing was in retaliation against U.S. airstrikes against the militants in Iraq. At a press conference on Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called ISIS “beyond anything we’ve seen.” He said the U.S. is “looking at all options.”
Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that the group can be contained but cannot be defeated without attacking it in Syria.
This morning on Fox and Friends, Powers said there is no way to defeat ISIS without boots on the ground.
“You can bomb whatever you want, but without boots on the ground, you’re never going to fully accomplish any kind of mission militarily.”
Please listen to what he has to say below:
Read more at http://angrywhitedude.com/2014/08/mercy-meet-iraq-war-vet-nick-powers/#iUexmDX5PMPrmOOC.99
Posted by solsticewitch13 at 9:30 AM