Baghdad, a city mourning its past

Baghdad, a city mourning its past
3 min read
03 Feb, 2015
Comment: The invasion of US-led troops was not as devastating as the sectarianism they unleashed.
Baghdad is now cloaked in layers of security [Anadolu]
April 2003 was not the most painful month in the history of Baghdad.

Invasion does not kill great cities - it sometimes gives them a chance to renew and let the burdens of their past fall. Such is the case with Baghdad.

Baghdad did not change after the US army arrived. Indeed, a different side of the city prospered as the invaders showed scenes of looting on their television channels.
The new invaders dissolved every institution, every aspect, of the state.

Baghdad revolted. Many patriotic Iraqi writers refused to refer to 9 April as the "fall of Baghdad". The presence of the city's civilised side was strongly felt.

Dissolving the Iraqi state

The new invaders dissolved every institution, every aspect, of the state. Baghdad seemed lonely, with closed government institutions and empty police stations. Traffic policemen disappeared and traffic lights were turned off.

Nonetheless, the city fought back, showed its civilised side and refused to die. You could walk in the dark from Baghdad to Basra in the south without fearing anything but the invaders.

There were no traffic accidents, despite the absence of police and traffic lights. I remember a young boy standing in Baghdad's largest intersection, organising traffic, with everyone willingly following his orders.

Baghdad's invaders did not like these civilised scenes, and they became even more furious when the city started fighting back.

Their troops and vehicles became easy targets for the resistance. The invaders' shock meant they had no clue as to what they were doing. They expected Baghdad, the heart of Iraq, to stop beating and die. They thought its people would fight each other. But none of this happened; Baghdad and its people continued their defiance.

Reports of armed resistance against the invaders in Fallujah and other cities were circulated among people of the south.

It was a shock for the invaders. They had to create a division that would match the strength with which Iraqis clung to their national identity. Baghdad's history and its social fabric defied the invaders. So they planted the seeds of sectarianism, from the Interim Governing Council to the toxic media.

Unleashing sectarianism

Bloodthirsty militias carried out one of the most brutal massacres in history, killing more than 2,000 Iraqis in a single day.

It was in the sad month of February when the invaders decided to use their deadliest weapon, sectarianism in its most brutal form.

The location was Samarra, with its Sunni majority and holy Shia shrines. That day, Housing and Construction Minister Jasim Mohammad Jaafar described the bombing of the shrines as "very precise".

The perpetrators needed 12 hours to prepare the explosive devices at the site. No one else could have done that, as the shrines were under the protection of the Interior Ministry's special police forces, one of the most brutal security apparatuses formed after the invasion of Iraq.

February 22 was a black day. It was when Baghdad changed its attire. Afterwards, bloodthirsty militias carried out one of the most brutal massacres in history, killing thousands of Iraqis and bombing hundreds of mosques, which forced thousands of Baghdadis to leave their city, as they had nothing but ruins left to them.

There, in Samarra, Atwar Bahjat lost her life. She was a reporter who believed in a unified Iraq.

February is a sad month. Since that month in 2006, Baghdad has worn the clothes of mourning. It has refused to change out of this sombre dress since. The city's features have changed, new people have moved in, and death has roamed its streets, knocking on doors and scarring its beautiful face.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.