Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Baghdad: City of the Ages Threatened by IS

Nadene Goldfoot                                                           

                                              Baghdad's Airport-Coveted Site by IS

Baghdad, 1st city in the world to reach a population of 1 million, had in the Middle Ages a population of 1,200,000.  It's the largest city in Iraq who's northern section has been taken over by IS terrorists.  In 2011 Baghdad had a population of 7,216,040.  It's the 2nd largest city in the Middle East with Cairo being first with 12 million and Tehran, Iran has 8.3 million people.   Iraq's population is 35 million  with 9 million living in the capital, Baghdad.
                  Baghdad sits on the Tigris River.  It became the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate.

The USA Embassy has 15,000 people working in it.  There are 5,500 Americans in Baghdad. IS is about 25 miles away and it's airport is always under threat of takeover.  

The city of Baghdad's foundation was built in 763 and that's when its Jewish community dates from.  A  Jewish traveler, Benjamin of Tudela, living in 1170,  said that he found 40,000 Jews living there at that time which included many distinguished scholars.  They also had poets, physicians and talmudists.

When the Mongols ruled from 1258, Jews were favored with many placed in high administrative positions. They were  not prejudiced against Jews like the Muslims were.  However, the Jewish administrator and physician, Saad ad-Daula was assassinated in 1291 and this was followed by a general attack on the Jews of Iraq.     Then when Tamerlane (b: 1336)  captured Baghdad in 1400, most of the Jews fled.  He was a Central Asian conqueror and a descendant on his mother's side of Genghis Khan, so he told people.  Mongols had converted to Islam and had reintroduced discriminatory laws.

Baghdad didn't become prominent again until Turkish domination from the 17th century onwards. In the 19th century, Baghdadi Jews moved to India and the Far East and built up new Jewish settlement.   By 1939, when things were at their worst in Germany for Jews, there were about 80,000 Jews living in Baghdad.  They were an important element in the economic life of Baghdad, probably as shopkeepers.

There was a rebellion led by Rashid Ali in 1941 that came in with pogroms in which hundreds of Jews were killed and wounded when thousands of Jews were being killed in the concentration camps in Europe.

When Israel announced its birth on May 14, 1948, most of Baghdad's Jews migrated to Israel and a few went to other countries.   Only about 5,000 remained in Baghdad.  By 1990 there were only about 200 left and most of them were quite elderly.  They had to live under great restrictions.  9 were hanged in 1969 after being charged as spies for Israel.  One of my co-teachers in the junior high in Safed told me his uncle had been one of them who had been hung, and he wasn't any spy.

Iraq itself used to be called Mesopotamia. It is considered as the cradle of humanity and sets the scene for man's 1st revolt against G-d by building the Tower of Babel.  Many biblical stories come from here such as the Flood.  It was Abraham who came from its famous city of Ur of the Chaldeans, but then left and migrated to what was to become Israel.  Babylon was to the prophets a symbol of insolent pagan tyranny .

Their Nebuchadnezzar II (604-56 BCE) inherited the Assyrian Empire and he then conquered Judah in 597 and 586 BCE and exiled many Jews to Babylon.  The 10 Tribes of Jacob had been exiled there in 721 BCE.  Finally King Cyrus permitted a return of the Jews to Jerusalem and they were told they should rebuild the Temple.  So,  it's pre-Moslem history was that of being Babylonia.  It was then conquered by the Arabs in 637.  Surprisingly, the large Jewish community already there favored and even helped the Arab advance in the hopes that it would give them deliverance from the Sassanid persecutions.  After the Arabs occupied Iraq, Jews expelled from Arabia settled in Kufa.

For centuries, Iraq continued to be the center of Jewish life.  Babylon became the spiritual center for all Jewry.  Its rabbis wrote the Babylonian Talmud that became more popular than the Palestinian Talmud.

It was such an important center of Jewish learning that Jews would write from all parts of the world to the Geonim (Jewish Scholars) about their religious problems and their answers were accepted as binding.  Newly founded Jewish sects were created among the Jewish population during this time called the Issawites and  Yudganites,  and Karaism rose.

Then Jews suffered under Omar.  Cultivated land was highly taxed so Jews tended to leave agriculture and  lived in larger towns, like Baghdad, Basra and Mosul.  There they were traders and craftsmen.  Some became financiers or worked in international commerce.

Now Baghdad is ruled by Shi'a Muslims while Iraq is populated by Sunni Muslims, and they fight each other to the death.  IS is a radical sect of Sunnis and is out to create their own caliphate once again and ignore the League of Nations who divided the Ottoman Empire up at the end of WWI when they lost WWI along  with Germany and a few other states being the Axis.

The government of Iraq in Baghdad decided to invade Kuwait on August 2, 1990..  The UN took a measure or two against Iraq for this act and  for every action the Council took against Iraq, they felt they must take a parallel action against Israel. "After the Gulf War began, the UN Commission on Human Rights  repeatedly voted to condemn Israel".  They condemned Israel for control of the Golan Heights and accused Israel of keeping Palestinians in "concentration camps" and demanded it withdraw from "Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem."  The reason for this craziness was that IRAQ was on the Human Rights panel.  Of course they were among the majority voting to condemn Israel.  Their idea was to deflect condemnation on themselves and throw it onto Israel, instead.

The United States has made some mistakes in dealing with Iraq.  The first went back to 1955 when the US armed Iraq, who was Egypt's hated rival, and promoted the Baghdad Pact.  This caused Nasser to turn to the Soviet Union out of anger for this move.  Nasser opposed that agreement, and would have opposed any defense alliance with the West.  The result was that he began to get Soviet arms in 1955.  In trying to appease him, the US then offered to build the Aswan Dam, but that didn't turn Nasser's head at all.  Instead, he increased his orders with the Soviets and spurned the USA peace initiative.  

"The Baghdad Pact was a defensive organization for promoting shared political, military and economic goals founded in 1955 by Turkey, Iraq, Great Britain, Pakistan and Iran. Similar to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, the main purpose of the Baghdad Pact was to prevent communist incursions and foster peace in the Middle East. It was renamed the Central Treaty Organization, or CENTO, in 1959 after Iraq pulled out of the Pact."  I see that Egypt was left out and was the country with the largest population and had been the main leader of the Middle East Arabs.  Today Turkey has about 74 million  99% Sunni/ Shi'a;  Iraq with 31 million 97% Shi'a/Sunni, Pakistan with 173 million 97% Sunni/Shi'a;  and Iran has 77 million.98% Shi'a.    Egypt, left out of the mix, has at least 80 million with 90% Sunni.   

In 1978,Baghdad hosted an Arab League summit that condemned and ostracized Egypt for accepting the Camp David accords.  It seems to me the USA had picked the wrong team to back back in 1955.   

Then, Iraq and Iran fought the war of all wars against each other starting exactly when my husband and I made aliyah to Israel; September 1980.  It lasted until August 1988, and was the longest conventional war of the 20th Century.
Marine Corps M1 Abrams tank patrols a Baghdad street after its fall in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The USA entered Baghdad to get Saddam Hussein in 2003 and didn't leave until 2010.  This cost the USA 1.1 trillion dollars of which 757.8 billion was spent by the Dept of Defense which includes money that was borrowed to pay for all of this.  This Iraq War was called the First Persian Gulf War or Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Now we see IS using arms left there against Iraq's soldiers.

Saddam Hussein (1937-2006)  was the most evil man one can imagine and comes in 2nd compared to Hitler.   "In 2003, a coalition led by the U.S. and U.K. invaded Iraq to depose Saddam, in which U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair accused him of possessing weapons of mass destruction and having ties to al-Qaeda."  Somehow, Assad of Syria  was able to get Sarin gas later which he used on his own people who were fighting against him, the odd man out, an Alawite.  It could be that Saddam had possessed this very gas and moved it over to Syria.   "Assad opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq despite a long-standing animosity between the Syrian and Iraqi governments.  He also belonged to the Ba'ath Party in Syria, just like Hussein belonged to the Ba'ath Party in Iraq.  

                                                             Al Qaeda Terrorists

                                                IS marching towards Mosul 

Now, IS has taken control of Iraq's 2nd largest city on the way to taking Baghdad; Mosul.  They did it by forming a coalition of 41 armed Sunni groups and one was of the Ba'ath party known as Naqshbandis of Mosul. These fighters managed to kick out Al Qaeda.  However, "al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), or al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia was an Iraqi Salafi jihadi militant organization affiliated with al-Qaeda. It was a major combatant actor in the Iraqi insurgency and played a central role in the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq.    They've been tired of Baghdad's favoritism for Shi'as.  There's no way to tell who the players are in this battle when one group splinters up and joins IS anyway.  If they're Shi'as, they are out.  If they are Sunni, they are in.  Al Qaeda, organized by Osama bin Ladin, is "a radical Wahhabi Muslim movement calling for a strict interpretation of sharia law and jihad, the struggle towards Islamic ideals, at a global scale.  It stands for everything IS stands for.  

Resource:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baghdad
Book:  Myths and Facts-a concise record of the Arab-Israeli conflict by Mitchell G Bard and Joel Himelfarb

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