The Ancient Land of Iraq From the ancient land of Iraq emerged complex irrigation systems and
the earliest writing. Baghdad was once spawned great mathematicians
and poets. Today, Iraq looks like a wreck on TV. The cost of American
and British troops toppling Saddam Hussein's 23-year regime is writ
large in the shells of buildings and general state of lawlessness. But
once, it was paradise.
According to Sumerian and Judeo-Christian lore, the land flanked by
the Tigris and Euphrates rivers was the site of the Garden of Eden
where human civilization began. Now called Iraq, the country was known
in the ancient world as Mesopotamia, which is Greek for "land between
the rivers". From about 4000 BC, some of the most accomplished peoples
and cultures in history have occupied this land.
First were the Sumerians, who developed sophisticated irrigation
systems as well as the earliest writing.
Then came the Babylonians who built the spectacular Hanging Gardens of
Babylon. They were followed by the Assyrians, mathematical whizzes who
invented longitude and latitude in geographical navigation.
With the coming of Islam and the rule of the Abbasid caliphs (the word
"caliph" loosely means "successor to the Prophet Muhammad") from the 9th
to 12th century AD, Mesopotamia was the site of the golden age of Arab
Its capital was Baghdad, but what a different Baghdad from today.
Under the caliphs, it was prosperous, well-lit and drained, with
beautiful mosques and palaces, 100 bookstores and the grandest library
of its time.
There was no city to rival it in mediaeval Europe which, according to
historian Paul Kennedy in his book The Rise And Fall Of The Great
Powers (1988), had "borrowed" much of its culture and science from the
In the Baghdad of the Abbasids, a mathematician named Al-Khwarizmi
wrote a book, the Hisab al-Jabr, whose title gave Europe the word and
concept of "algebra".
The city spawned outstanding poets like Abu Nuwas, and set the scene
for many tales in the Arabic literary classic A Thousand And One
Nights, also referred to as Arabian Nights.
In 1638, after a series of wars between the Safavid Empire in Iran and
the Ottoman Turks, Mesopotamia became part of the Ottoman Empire.
A conquering Muslim elite based in present-day Turkey, the Ottomans at
their peak in the 16th century ruled over an area larger than the
Roman Empire of antiquity, including part of the Middle East and
Baghdad never reached the cultural heights that it did under the
Abbasids. Yet, up till the 20th century, it continued to produce
leading artists, architects, writers and musicians of the Arab world.
The modern Iraqi state was established in 1920 by the...