Millard Grimes: Ancient land, bloody history

June 23, 2014 

During the past 30 years, Iraq has arguably been the scene of more warfare than any nation on Earth and suffered the most deaths.

Why is that and who is to blame?

Well, you might start with the Prophet Mohammed, who neglected to leave behind a clear line of succession when he died, which has resulted in hundreds of years of conflict between so-called Sunnis and Shi'ites. Their differences are few but fierce, and in the Middle East today those differences are at the root of various bloodlettings.

Thousands of Iraqis have died in its wars since 1980; most of its cities, some among the oldest in the world, have been demolished and rebuilt and today seem on the verge of being destroyed again.

Culprits in addition to Mohammed include Lawrence of Arabia, the legendary military leader in World War I; Winston Churchill, who drew the new map of the area after that war; Saddam Hussein; and various American leaders who have sought unsuccessfully to solve Iraq's problems over the past 24 years.

For centuries the land now called Iraq was known as Mesopotamia. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were there; Baghdad was where Scheherazade is believed to have recited the stories we know as The Arabian Nights to a sleepy Caliph.

The people who lived in Mesopotamia have never known much peace, but the last few years have been especially tough.

The U.S. spent billions of dollars and more than 4,000 lives in two wars to free Iraq from Hussein's dictatorship and to establish a basis for a stable government. The largest U.S. embassy in the world and the most expensive was built in Baghdad. U.S. troops were in Iraq for 11 years, and some still are. Lack of manpower is not a problem for the current government. Reportedly its troops outnumber the rebels - or whatever they are - by 8 to 1. If they want to hold their country they have the troops but not the will.

The government has asked for U.S. assistance in air power and fire power but the weapons the U.S. left behind are surely superior to those of the ragtag legions rolling through Iraq against the fleeing government troops who apparently have decided they've fought long enough, with little result.

Iraqi armies began fighting in in 1980 in a 10-year war with Iran over a disputed waterway; thousands died on both sides with some of the Iraqis victims of their own leader, Saddam Hussein.

When that war finally ended Saddam sent his troops into Kuwait, a lesser foe, but one soon joined by troops and planes from the U.S. and other Western nations who killed more Iraqis and destroyed their power supplies and a few museums but left Saddam in control.

Saddam was a slow learner, however, and years later the U.S. sent an even larger military force which quickly disposed of Iraq's army but in the process shredded its ability to operate the country.

That's a long, uncomfortable story for Americans, but suffice to say Saddam Hussein, a very evil man, ended with a noose around his neck and his statue in a pile of rubble.

Sadly, the Iraqi people still couldn't get their act together.

Today, it's not exactly clear who is fighting whom in Iraq. It may be that war has become a habit and most of the people are ready to accept whatever results as long as the killing stops.

Republicans, of course, are blaming President Obama for the whole thing because he "hasn't been tough enough." They have even suggested he bring back advisers from the two Bush administrations, a really scary idea.

The best solution is to let the people in the nations involved work it out. They've all suffered enough, including the families of the leaders who must make the decisions. The Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds have shown again that they don't like the map Churchill and his committee drew up for the land of Mesopotamia after World War I.

Several years ago, Vice President Joe Biden, then a senator, proposed a much-ridiculed plan to divide Iraq into three parts, giving the Kurds the northern part of the country; the Sunnis the area around Baghdad and the Shi'ites the rest. That might still be a solution - but let them work it out. Surely they are tired of fighting.

The U.S. should look on the turmoil in the Middle East as an opportunity to help negotiate a broader peace. The peoples of Iraq, Iran, Syria and the others would surely choose a peaceful solution rather than the chaos and turmoil they've suffered in recent years.

And as I've pointed out before, peace would reward U.S. consumers with lower gasoline prices, lower grocery prices and fewer refugee scenes on the nightly news.

Millard Grimes, editor of the Columbus Ledger from 1961-69 and founder of the Phenix Citizen. is author of "The Last Linotype: The Story of Georgia and Its Newspapers Since World War II."

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