Baghdad: Baghdad was once the
capital of an empire and the center of the Islamic world, but at
1,250 years old, the Iraqi city is a far cry from its past glories
after being ravaged by years of war and sanctions, according to an
Construction of the city on the bank of the Tigris River began in
July 762 AD under Abbasid Caliph Abu Jaafar Al-Mansur, and it has
since played a pivotal role in Arab and Islamic civilizations.
“Baghdad represented the economic center of the Abbasid Empire,
and it was used as a starting point for controlling other
neighboring regions to enhance Islamic power,” said Issam Al-Faili,
a professor of political history at Mustansiriyah University.
“Baghdad witnessed a renaissance of thought through translation,
which was usually mastered by Jews and the Christians, and became
a destination for intellectuals, poets and scholars from all parts
of the world, and a center for craftsmen and a city of
construction,” Faili said.
“Baghdad today, after it was the
capital of the world, has become one of the most miserable
cities,” he said.
British consultancy firm Mercer ranked Baghdad as the worst place
in the world to live in its 2010 Quality of Living Survey. The
city has been conquered several times in its history, the first in
1258 when the Mongols destroyed Baghdad.
It was captured in 1831
by the Ottomans, in 1917 by the British, and in 2003 by a US-led
coalition that overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein but also ended up
unleashing internecine violence that killed tens of thousands of
Baghdad was a modern capital known for its nightlife in
the 1970s, but it has fallen into gloomy disrepair in the years of
conflict since. Saddam started a war with Iran in 1980 that lasted
for eight years, and then launched a disastrous invasion of Kuwait
in 1990 only to be forced out in 1991.
Iraq was hit by a harsh regime of international sanctions over the
Kuwait invasion, and later lived under an ever-present threat of
bombings, assassinations, gun battles and death squad killings in
the years after 2003.
Even now, government employees,
including high-ranking officers in the security forces, are
frequently gunned down in the streets. Concrete blast walls still
surround official buildings, hotels, and other structures that
could be the target of attacks.
Despite its long history, there are
only fleeting signs of historic buildings on even its oldest
streets. Ugly, uninspired concrete boxes are far more common.
Checkpoints cause massive traffic jams, and security forces in the
city are armed for war, with equipment including assault rifles,
machine guns and armored vehicles. Baghdad’s streets are often
strewn with rubbish and riven by potholes.
What public works
projects there are move at a glacial pace. Spider webs of power
cables criss-cross many streets, linking houses to private
generators — a testament to the failure of the government
electricity grid to provide citizens with consistent power.
government is headquartered in a heavily fortified area known as
the Green Zone, which is defended, among other things, by newly
acquired US-made Abrams tanks.
Entry to the area requires passing through a Byzantine series of
security checks, some of which are of questionable value in
deterring attacks, and journalists’ cameras are regarded with deep
While Baghdad was once the center of an empire, the
Iraqi government has been paralyzed by political crises for almost
eight months, during which it has accomplished little.
today is like Baghdad of yesterday in terms of the luxury that was
enjoyed by the caliph and his family in the days of the Abbasid
era, while the people were in misery,” Faili said.
widespread, and while Iraq takes in billions of dollars a month in
oil revenues, signs of it benefiting the general public are hard
Iraq has made some efforts to return its capital to
regional prominence, hosting a summit of Arab leaders in March and
talks between world powers and Iran on the Islamic republic’s
controversial nuclear program in May.
Preparations for those
events cost around $1 billion, although the impact of that outlay
for most Iraqis was limited.
Iraqi writer and journalist Rifaat
Mahmud said that the “issue of restoring Baghdad to what it was is
a difficult matter, and cannot be achieved in circumstances such
as those in which the neglected city now lives.
“Baghdad needs what we can call a
miracle to regain its form and heritage and at least a part of its
past', Rifaat said.