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‘Baghdad has been plunged into darkness’

Mar 26,2014 - Last updated at Mar 26,2014

Baghdad has been rated as one of the world’s worst cities to live in, alongside Bangui in war-torn Central African Republic and the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, which has not yet recovered from a massive earthquake in 2010.

Baghdad, once the capital of the Abbasid empire, has been relegated to the bottom of a list of 239 cities by the Mercer group, which has assessed them in terms of political stability, crime and pollution.

Baghdad, founded 1,250 years ago, was, until the 1990s, a vibrant city, an Arab cultural centre, a hub of pan-Arab nationalism.

Education was universal and free, its universities were some of the best in the Arab world, its doctors, taught in English so they could keep up with medical developments, provided healthcare to all Iraqis.

Baghdad’s streets were safe. Shiites, Sunnis, Christians and adherents of other faiths lived side by side without friction.

Grand buildings were constructed in the city centre. Baghdad’s solid middle class lived in walled houses in well laid out quarters. While the poor stewed in slum districts, they could count on public schools for their children, healthcare and security.

The Iraqi capital is no longer a lively city or an Arab cultural icon. Bombs and bullets have made it too dangerous for people to enjoy normal lives or for outsiders to visit.

Ruled by a Shiite fundamentalist, sectarian government, Baghdad no longer fosters “Arabism”. Instead, Iraq is seen as aberrant because it is aligned with non-Arab Iran and is isolated.

During the bloody 2006-07 period of sectarian cleansing, Sunnis and Shiites fled mixed neighbourhoods and settled in areas peopled by their own sects.

Christians were persecuted. Separation walls were built between quarters; unsightly blast walls went up around public and private buildings.

Marginalised Sunnis left Iraq altogether. Professionals, businessmen and jobless from all communities fled the country.

The levels of competence fell at universities, hospitals and other public institutions due to the brain drain.

Electricity cuts forced Baghdadis to rely on private generators that boost pollution levels of the city. Rubble and rubbish litter the streets. Safe drinking water is in short supply.

Insecurity is rife. Bombers strike on an almost daily basis, killing hundreds of hapless civilians every month. In February, there were 57 incidents of violence, 31 of them car bombs.

Baghdad has been brought low by war and occupation. While it did suffer some damage during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), Saddam Hussein and his government adopted a policy of “guns and butter” — providing finance for both the war effort and development of the capital. Sometimes with not so great results, the hideous tangle of flyovers at the entrance to the city being an example.

The war that began the process of degradation was waged by former US president, George Bush I. In his campaign to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, he bombed Baghdad’s bridges, power plants, industries and the French-built nuclear research reactor.

The city was showered with debris and enveloped in toxic fumes and cancer-inducing depleted uranium dust from bunker buster shells.

US bombs hollowed out the iconic telephone exchange designed by world-renowned architect Rifat Chadirji.

The punitive sanctions regime deprived Iraqis of medication, foodstuff and raw materials required to keep their industries functioning.

Between August 1990 and the spring of 1996, when sanctions were eased somewhat, half-a-million children died of malnutrition and treatable diseases. 

Iraqi businessmen managed to create new commercial links, but these did not compensate for those lost.

The looting of the country’s ancient and Islamic cultural heritage began.

The “safe haven” created for the Kurds in the three northern provinces of Iraq slipped from Baghdad’s control and become an “autonomous” region that is acting like a nearly independent state.

The devastation that Bush father wrought in Iraq — and Baghdad — was compounded by the invasion and occupation of the country by George Bush II. The power plants, repaired under Saddam but not renewed under Bush II, cannot meet demand for electricity.

In the lawless period that followed the fall of Baghdad, the Iraq Museum, one of the greatest in the world, was looted, as were telephone exchanges, government offices, palaces, businesses and homes.

But the greatest damage was to human rather than physical infrastructure.

Bush II ordered the demobilisation of the army and security forces, the gutting of the civil service, the outlawing of the ruling Baath Party, and the creation of a divide-and-rule system of governance based on sectarian and ethnic representation.

Bush Jr. also empowered dissident Iraqis who had not resided in the country for decades and had no real understanding of the situation and little regard for the people. These returnees were motivated by the desires to grab power and enrich themselves rather than rebuild the country.

Corruption, which had ballooned after the first Bush war, soared.

On the 2013 global corruption index, Iraq comes 171 out of 175, ahead of Libya, South Sudan, Sudan, Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia.

It is significant that among these countries are four (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Somalia) which have suffered direct US military intervention and two which have experienced US meddling (Sudan and South Sudan).

The Nordic countries and New Zealand were rated least corrupt.

Sectarianism and corruption are destroying and dividing Iraq, and turning Baghdad into a failing capital city. Its writ does not run in Ramadi and Fallujah as well as in the Kurdish region.

The sectarian, fundamentalist, retrograde Iraqi government headed by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has tabled legislation allowing the marriage of Shiite girls as young as nine. This law mocks Baghdad’s 1950s family law, the most progressive in the region, which gave girls and women rights normally enjoyed by counterparts in other emerging countries.

The Fadhila Party, part of the ruling coalition, tabled the draft to exploit the democracy imposed by the US by appealing to the most conservative Shiite clerics and constituencies in order to boost its seats in parliament in the April 30 general election.

Once the guiding light of the world, Baghdad has been plunged into darkness.

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