The Falls of Baghdad

Last Friday, millions of people in Iraq and across the Arab world commemorated, or held a moment of thought or prayer for the fall of Baghdad on that tragic day of April 9, 2003. For seven years now, the Iraqi capital has been filled with fire and blood. The formidable force of destruction unleashed by the decision of former President George W. Bush has wrecked everything in its path and the repercussions of this immense strategic earthquake are still being felt far beyond the Iraqi borders.

Some scenes from this umpteenth fall of Baghdad are forever engraved in our memories, like that of this poor American soldier climbing on the statue of Saddam to cover its head with the Stars and Stripes; or of American tanks protecting the only place that mattered to Bush and his consorts — namely, the Iraqi Ministry of Oil; or of the systematic looting of hospitals, universities, museums and administrative offices by a crazed mob under the lenient and delighted eyes of Bush’s “liberation” army; without forgetting Donald Rumsfeld, the then secretary of defense who, elated by this growing anarchy, equated it to “learning freedom”…

Undoubtedly, this was not the first time that Baghdad had fallen. This martyr city has been through much worse historical episodes and has been ransacked by conquerors much more fierce than George W. Bush. In February 1258, the Mongol Hulagu made his thunderous entrance into Baghdad, where his men had been spreading an indescribable terror, destroying and burning everything in their path and massacring every Iraqi who had the misfortune to be in their way.

In July 1401, it was the turn of Turko-Mongol Tamerlane (Timur Leng) to make his devastating way into Baghdad, where the atrocities perpetrated by his conquering troops had nothing to envy of those committed a century and half earlier by his predecessor, Hulagu. In July again, but this time in the year 1534, the Ottoman troops of Suleiman the Magnificent (Suleiman al-Qanouni) in turn entered Baghdad. Unlike Hulagu and Tamerlane’s troops, those of Suleiman the Magnificent had not come to destroy, massacre, ransack and leave. They had come to stay. They remained in Iraq, just as in the rest of the Arab world, for close to four hundred years. Four centuries of Pax Ottomana, during which Baghdad never knew another fall… until April 9, 2003.

True, Baghdad was the scene of many bloody episodes in the last century, first between the British and the Iraqis and then, later on, between various Iraqi political factions. But never since the Turko-Mongol Tamerlane had the Iraqi capital seen so devastating a tragedy as that caused by the decision taken by George W. Bush to save humanity from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and to free the Iraqi people from the prison in which Saddam was holding them…

Perhaps one day historians will tell which invasion between those of the Mongol Hulagu and the American George W. Bush was the most devastating for Baghdad. But we can already gather some hints of an answer to this question when we consider that the former lasted only for a few weeks and that the Iraqi people immediately proceeded to heal their wounds, whereas Bush’s invasion is still ongoing and, seven years on, the Iraqis are still afflicted of more wounds than they can heal.

On April 9, 2003, Baghdad fell for the fourth time. But there is one fundamental difference between the fall engendered by George W. Bush and those caused by the onslaught of the Mongol hordes of Hulagu and Tamerlane. The latter, when ransacking Baghdad, did not violate any human-made law or regulation. They lived in a world where international relations were governed by the same natural laws that govern life in the jungle. Thus, it makes no more sense to blame Hulagu and Tamerlane for having followed their most primal instinct than to blame a tiger for raiding a territory inhabited by weaker and slower animals.

Hence the extreme seriousness of the case of George W. Bush. Unlike his two predecessors, Bush was living in a world governed by laws and institutions that strictly forbid invasions, acts of aggression and wars, and that do not allow the use of force unless it is in self-defense.

In this respect, the former U.S. president turned out to be a danger not just to Iraq and the Iraqi people. By violating international laws and conventions in 2003 in order to attack a weaker country for no reason, George W. Bush was reclaiming those most primal instincts that had led Hulagu and Tamerlane to wreck Baghdad in 1258 and 1401 respectively. And by going back to the law of the jungle, Bush did not just wreck Baghdad and the whole of Iraq. He also instigated a treacherous plan against the precious legal and institutional heritage that mankind has been laboriously building since the Treaty of Westphalia of October 24, 1648, generally considered the founding document of the nation-state and the first attempt at outlawing the right of might.

What is most extraordinary is that, despite the crimes committed against Iraq and against humankind’s legal and institutional heritage, the former American president is still enjoying a happy life in his native Texas. He was even asked to go to Haiti to offer relief to the earthquake victims with a kind word or a handshake, even if he should then wipe it off on Bill Clinton’s shirt. No legal or political institution in the world has so far found it necessary to hold him accountable. But it is true that besides the few aforementioned offenses, Bush has never committed any petty crimes of pickpocketing or shoplifting.

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