A day before I reached Baghdad, over a hundred people were killed in bombings across the country. According to news reports, members of the Shia community had been specially targeted and Al Qaeda elements were suspected. I first came to this city 35 years ago as a second secretary in the Indian embassy, my first regular diplomatic appointment. I was back 20 years later, in 1999, as a member of the Indian delegation for the joint commission. My last visit took place eight years ago when, in 2004, I was part of the Indian team negotiating the release of Indian and other hostages. During every visit, the city had looked worse than before so that the period of my posting in 1977-79, when Baghdad was quite a grim place, is now seen as a golden age!
In the 1990s, Iraq suffered the consequences of the first Gulf war when its armed forces had been annihilated and the country was subjected to an intrusive and humiliating sanctions-inspections regime.
But the city even then looked far better than what it had become in 2004. Every aspect of the country—its structures and institutions, its very nationhood, had been assaulted during the post-9/11 war, so that civil society was in a state of collapse and prey to vicious attacks from trigger-happy and frightened American soldiers and ideology-driven or just plain thieving marauders. Professionals were kidnapped for ransom, women were dishonoured, and large numbers of people were killed in vicious sectarian violence. Warlords and their thugs ruled the streets, towns and highways. American occupation forces both perpetrated and were the victims of widespread atrocities that sapped their morale and turned victory into defeat. The cult of violence corroded the moral fibre of the occupier, preparing the ground for the abuses of Abu Ghraib.
Now, the American soldiers have gone, the last one packing his bags in December last year, after a futile seven-year occupation. But, the impact of war and occupation continues to be felt across the city. The first impression is of total breakdown: the streets are full of rubble; buildings are shabby and either damaged or incomplete skeletons; civic services are almost non-existent, with acute scarcity of both water supply and power. There is a pervasive military presence, with heavily armed personnel, numerous checkposts and the ugliest possible concrete blocks protecting offices and homes from suicide bombers. Surveys suggest that demand for services has replaced security as the number one concern of the people.
City on a Routine
And yet, amidst this squalor and destruction and the searing heat, there is a hint of the resilience of the Iraqi spirit—strong, stoic, unsmiling, uncomplaining. What seems to be rubble is often construction material being used to do patchwork repairs to broken homes. Stores are laden with basic goods, with housewives haggling for a bargain. Baghdad’s roads are busy and traffic chaotic. But, there is a new patience in the drivers, with tempers held in check, perhaps by the heat or the holy season of Ramadan. In spite of the news of widespread death, the people go about their normal chores.
Government departments teem with officials, both men and women, briskly handling paper, files and appointments. Their approach is business-like, with no room for light talk or banter. At times, I see in the eyes of those I meet a deep sense of anguish, recalling the wanton destruction meted out to the country and its people and the large number of loved ones lost forever. But, perhaps this is my imagination, since the memory of what’s gone before would make normal life impossible.
Will the Phoenix Rise Again?
Baghdad evokes memories of great cities that have suffered total destruction. Baghdad itself was devastated by Hulagu Khan when his horde destroyed the Abbassid Caliphate in the 13th century. Delhi was subjected to assault and murder at the hands of Timur and Nadir Shah. In recent years, in the dying days of the Second World War, Berlin and several other German cities were razed to the ground, while Tokyo was firebombed. All of these cities have risen up from rubble and ash and asserted their position in national and world affairs.
Surely, Baghdad too will one day reclaim its exalted position: all around it are the cradles of human civilisation: Sumer, Babylon, Ur, the source of writing and law. The city itself has the tombs of Abu Hanifa and the Sufi saint Abdul Qadir Geelani and of the Shia Imam Musa bin Jaafar. Some of these stalwarts have modern-day followers at war with each other. Can these bands be reconciled, so that the Sunni, Shia, Kurd, Turkoman and Jew flourish in this city again, as they had for over a thousand years?
As I Leave...
...the govt has declared a holiday as temperatures have crossed 50°. The airport is crowded, but the people are quiet: is this the silence of graves recalled or of peace emerging from hope and confidence?
Talmiz Ahmad is a retired Indian diplomat who has been an ambassador to several West Asian countries; E-mail your diarist: talmiz.ahmad AT gmail.com
Apropos Baghdad Diary (Sep 10), my family and I went to Baghdad 45 years ago and stayed on for over a year. It was a nice city and we have very pleasant memories of our stay—a boat ride on the Tigris to celebrate Onam comes to mind. A pity that this great city is in ruins.
Where ever white people gone they made that city hell.Just look Thailand they made it sex shop,Visit any country of Africa .there you will find out chaos and anarchic .White people are curse to mankind.
The pointless invasion of Iraq is a powerful reason not to start another misadventure in Iran.
Iraq is a battleground for Iran-led Shias and Saudi Arabia-led Sunnis. Peace will remain elusive as long as these two refuse to bury the hatchet.
Brothers slitting the thoats of brothers in the name of God and sects
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT