Iraqi Warriors: Scattered Sand

              
Reverse Evolution

The geographical region of Iraq is the place in the world most credited with starting human civilization, circa 3100 B.C., along the Euphrates Valley.  Ancient Mesopotamia was the very tip of modernity at the outset of recorded history.

Now it seems Iraq is bent on undoing civilization altogether with a return to the chaos of a state-of-nature, where warlords, religious and secular, terrorize the population. 

The northern desert of Iraq is a place overrun by Iranians in 1982, overrun by Americans in 2003, seized by Al-Qaeda in 2006, then retaken by Sunni militants with Americans, then terrorized by Shiite gangs and Shiite rule and now overrun by ISIS while threatened with invasion from both Iran and America.  Just about every military force that has tried to seize this desert has succeeded, over the past forty years anyway.

Today, the region of northwest to central Iraq is the Sunni flash point between the Shiite kingdom to the south and the Kurdish republic to the east.  The Shiite Iraqis lie between their Iranian Big Brother and the Sunni Heaven of Saudi Arabia, the most bitter of enemies for five centuries now.

But being in the middle of warring peoples is nothing new in Mesopotamia. 

Before the birth of Islam western Iraq divided Babylonians from Assyrians, Greeks from Persians and Romans from Parthians: being at some point dominated by each power.  

The Grand Caliphate of Islam seized all of Iraq and Iran during the 7th Century.  The Mongols in the 13th Century did the same thing. 

In the two 20th Century world wars Iraq was caught between the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire the Russian Bear and the Nazi Horde.

A Land Forged by Fear

There is one thing that harsh conflict for endless centuries has buried thoroughly into the Iraqi soul, macho bravado.  Threats and acts of murder and especially the commission of sneak sabotage have been woven into Iraqi life through the centuries.

Unlike most other places in the world, the slightest perceived insult often engenders utter rage and violent reprisal among Iraqi men.  Such outbursts are seen as proof of strength rather than evidence of weakness.  Emotional rivalries, whether personal, family or sect, never seem to end.  Even committing the ultimate act of murder in a sneak attack upon one’s blood rival is seen as something that is an unavoidable part of human behavior.

SaddamRifle


Saddam Hussein may have been the master of this Iraqi idiom. His public pronouncements were laced with thoughts of violence.  At the Baath Party Convention in 1979 when he formally assumed power in Iraq by a unanimous vote of the Sunni faithful, Saddam read a list of traitors in the room who then were, one-by-one, carted away for torture and murder.

At the macro level though the deadly approach to life has not translated into an effective military force at all.  Iraq is no Sparta, nowhere close. That is possibly because Spartans were not especially known for killing one another whether during times of peace or war.

Crossroads for Conquest

Many modern thinkers point out Iraq’s borders were drawn arbitrarily by the British and French victors in the aftermath of World War I with no concern for the preferences of the three warring tribes who lived in those lands.  The conclusion reached is that Iraq has never been a proper nation.

But this observation takes too narrow of an approach.

The Euphrates Delta and beyond, within generally the geography of Iraq, became the Babylonian Empire at the turn of the 16th Century, B.C. created by the fourth ruler of the original city-state, King Hammurabi.

Using the power of persuasion King Hammurabi managed to unite the several surrounding city-states into his rule.  Eventually, Babylon took lands to the northwest by conquest, even reigning in the power of the Assyrian King.

Unfortunately, the meager military conquests of Hammurabi proved to be the last time the Mesopotamian army actually won a war.   The Empire of Babylon lasted only 40 or so years.  The Assyrian dynasty dominated Babylonia once again not many years after King Hammurabi’s death.

It was one of the greatest conquerors of Antiquity, the wise and mighty Cyrus the Great of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia that again brought rule to Iraq from the East.

The victory over the Assyrians in Babylon was especially easy for Cyrus who was then just beginning his conquests that would eventually stretch to Egypt and to southern Europe.

BabylonBC


After Cyrus defeated a Babylonian army in the northern desert, King Nabonidus of Babylon arrayed his remaining forces in a Maginot line defense.  Instead of engaging, Cyrus sent a force around the Babylonian formation and captured Babylon itself, along with King Nabonidus.  The Babylonian army quickly surrendered.  The Assyrian King was the next to bow to Cyrus.

Legend has it that King Nabonidus was betrayed when a fifth column apparently opened the main-gait of Babylon to Cyrus’ army.  Cyrus was cheered as he entered the city himself.

Mesopotamia remained a part of the Achaemenid Empire until its overthrow by the other great conqueror of Antiquity, Alexander the Great of Macedonia. 

As Alexander successfully marched east the Emperor of Persia Darius wagered everything on Iraqi soil at the epic Battle of Gaugamela in 331 B.C at a place near modern day Mosul.

Gaugamela

The Persian Horde, twice the size of Alexander’s army, had the empire’s finest combatants.  Once the Persian chariots were decimated though and the center of the Persian formation broken by a cavalry charge led by Alexander himself, most of the Persians ran from the field with their Emperor Darius being the first to flee.  Alexander still had to contend with crack Persian cavalry he had been dodging and misdirecting that day, so his pursuit of Darius was delayed.  Before Alexander could get to him, Darius was murdered by his new entourage, an act that echoes here millennia later. 

Over the next centuries empires captured the region of Iraq as they waxed in size and lost their grip over Iraq as they waned away.   The Mongols, for instance, faded away only twenty years after capturing Iraq.

The most lasting event across this long period was the rapid expansion of the Caliphate of Islam to subsume all of what is now known as the Middle East during the 7th Century, A.D. 

The greatest source of the present troubles of Iraq began with the Islamic schism between Sunni and Shiite that was engendered by one man, Persian King Ismail I during the early 16th Century.  The Iraq northern desert then became a flash point of the Islamic schism and remains a flash point of the same schism through till today.

Modern Times: Same Formula

Iraq’s reputation for military disaster refined itself often in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

In the 19th Century, the Persian Qajar dynasty managed to be decimated by two wars with Russia that its own leader provoked.  The area of Mesopotamia became for a time the southernmost province Russia has ever managed to seize.  Invaded from the east by the British and the west by the Afghan warlord, the Qajar dynasty fell into the dustbin of history.

In the 20th Century Iraq acquired a new blood enemy, the upstart nation Israel.  Iraq has been officially at war with Israel since the founding in 1948 when the first Arab war against Zionism was launched.

In the 1948 war the large Iraqi army first acted as the reinforcements to the Egyptian and Jordanian armies and then took a position in the rear dodging advancing enemy assaults.  Iraq had proportionally the most POWs from the war, but the fewest Arab casualties.

 Ready for prime time in 1967, the Iraqi army joined the Arab armies surrounding Israel.  One of the first places the Israeli air force destroyed when the war was launched though was the major air force base back in Iraq, where the largest air force then in the Arab world could be found.  Most of Iraq’s fighters and bombers were destroyed in the Israeli assault.

In the main event, The Six-Day War, Iraqi forces were routed once again along with their Arab allies.  Syria lost the Golan Heights in that war and Egypt lost a large chunk of the Sinai desert.  The eastern Israeli border extended now to the edge of the West Bank.

By the time the Arab Israeli War of 1973 came along Iraq had been demoted from being a named combatant.  That war went the best by far for the Arab side, suffering only a tactical loss on the battlefield.

When, by 1981, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was completing a nuclear reactor Israel destroyed the facility with a sudden air raid.  The Israelis were free to cite the ongoing state of war with Iraq as a justification for the raid.

Of course, Saddam was quite busy in 1981 in another military matter, the war he started with Iran in 1980. 

Saddam’s sneak attack on a chaotic, revolutionary Iran smashed a path headed to Tehran, an advance though that ran out of steam far away from the capital city.  For the next eight years it was the Iraqi army fighting on defense, slaughtering Iranian human waves and blasting the enemy with mustard gas as necessary to hold Iraqi ground.  At one point the Iranian army attempted to isolate and surround Baghdad. 

Saddam survived that war only with weaponry purchased by Saudi Arabia and with the implicit backing of the United States.  The war appropriately ended with no gain achieved by either nation.

It was 1990 when Saddam found himself now on the enemy list of the United States, indeed global enemy number 1.    Saddam’s sudden invasion of tiny Kuwait that year, a country without a military force to speak of, was a cakewalk.  So was the Iraqi eviction from Kuwait in January, 1991.

After weeks of US bombing Saddam’s forces in Kuwait were itching for the battle to begin: so they could surrender.  The Iraqi army gave up essentially without a fight.  There were not enough coalition soldiers to handle the flood.  Western reporters had dozens of their own Iraqi POWs under tow.  The part of the Iraqi army ordered to retreat home took the Highway to Hell it turned out.

The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was another complete rollover, this time of all of Iraq.  No large battles were engaged, even on the invaded soldiers’ home soil.  Most of the population savored the fall of Saddam, with many taking from the chaos the opportunity to loot even the museums and to finally kill their blood enemy in the neighborhood.

Saddam’s capture typified the valor of past Mesopotamian leaders when he was eventually dug out of a hole by a US marine while holding $400,000 cash on him.

Then, just last month, the Iraqi army at Mosul, ten times larger than the ISIS gangster army that was attacking, fled like fowl while never trying to take with them or sabotage the regiments of military helicopters and equipment left for ISIS to grab.  The new Iraqi uniform allows for civilian clothes beneath in case of the onset of battle.

Orderly retreats have never been part of the Iraqi army field manual.

The Wisdom from Four Millennia

Out of all of this, a few insights are apparent concerning the role of the West in “Iraq’s” future.

 The hope of neo-conservative war mongers in the West for the first truly legitimate foreign enemy in decades in ISIS is likely to be sorely disappointed.

ISIS is destined to kill far more Sunnis than the Shia it ends up killing.  ISIS is already starting a death match with its fellow Jihadists.  The Second Caliphate of Islam is doomed to prompt failure on its own turf.

When ISIS does face an organized, loyal military force, possibly the Kurds quite soon, ISIS fighters and leaders will likely follow the example of Emperor Darius and President Saddam Hussein.

Warlords can be skilled at murder.  Few can govern much of anything.

A nation of bullies should never by choice become a part of the vital interests of another nation.  That is a recipe for more disaster for all.

It is best to lecture such nations on modern humane values, prod them to evolve and to keep a sharp stick if needed to slap the bullies as necessary, just like President Thomas Jefferson did to the Barbary pirates of his day.

There are also a couple of observations on human nature in general that can be drawn from the splintered history of Mesopotamia.

The biggest loudmouth bullies on the stage are typically cowards themselves, no threat at all in a fair fight and no match for calm warriors like Cyrus and Alexander.

Many bullies have a bad history of fear behind them.

Fear begets fear in the individual, especially when socially reinforced due to a common experience of basic insecurity; a police state mentality or a war ravaged people. 

When such a feeling of insecurity rises over time to become a defining national trait of a people, the administration of an open, humane government for such a nation becomes quite impossible.  The cure for this social condition is unknown.  The fate is chaos tempered by criminality.

Such a place is no place for nation-building by outsiders.   Editor