Iraq Reflections: Thoughts of the Past by a Native Daughter

leadiraq4You should visit Iraq sometime,” my father says to me whenever we are involved in long conversations. I can’t count how many times. And so it’s been my dream to visit Iraq since I was a little girl. I don’t have family or friends in Iraq, but I still want to travel there sometime. I want to visit Iraq because of the simple fact that it’s my birth land.

Three decades ago when I was born, Iraq was a peaceful country, home to thousands of people from many nations who had moved there in search of better opportunities. With vast resources of oil, Iraq was a rich land, the envy of many Middle Eastern countries.

My parents came to Iraq from India, when my father got a job as a civil engineer in Baghdad. My parents adored Iraq. They liked everything about it, except the scorching heat of summer.

When I was a toddler, my parents returned to India. It was around the time when the war between Iraq and Iran began, primarily over the Shatt al-Arab waterway. During this eight-year conflict, which erupted full-scale in 1980, the condition of Iraq started to deteriorate, and it was no longer a safe place to be. As conditions continued to deteriorate, thousands of Iraqi people fled to other countries.

Before my family returned to India, we had visited the hanging gardens in Babylonia and the numerous museums in Baghdad. I don’t have any memories of that time.

But my father, a lover of ancient history who savored the rich heritage of Iraq, captured the wonderful landscape, colorful culture and thousands-of-years-old artifacts with his camera.

Even though I was raised thousands of miles away, in Bangalore, I grew up listening to the wonderful stories of Iraq my parents told me. One of our neighbors even called me by the name “Iraqi.” Even today, the myriad pictures in our old family album still mesmerize me.

When I married in 1998, my husband and I moved to the United States. On March 19, 2003, when the second Persian Gulf War started and the mostly Anglo-American attack on Iraq began, I was returning home from a trip to Canada. After checking my passport, a U.S. immigration officer in Detroit asked me why I was born in Iraq.

Many of my friends are also surprised, and curious, when I tell them that I was born in the Middle East. I always look forward to their questions, because it gives me an opportunity to tell them the interesting history of Iraq.

Iraq is situated in an area that is historically known as Mesopotamia, meaning “land between two rivers” in Greek. The banks of the Euphrates and the Tigris were the birthplace of some of the world’s first and most distinguished civilizations.

The influence of the Akkadians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Sumerians and many other cultures extended well into neighboring regions from around B.C. 5000.

The ancient city-states of Mesopotamia dominated other civilizations of its time, and produced some of the first known writing, science, law and philosophy. Astronomy and algebra are also believed to have originated in present-day Iraq.

The Epic of Gilgamesh, considered to be one of the oldest stories in the world, is from Iraq. The Hanging Gardens of Babylonia, among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, were located in Mesopotamia.

Iraq was ruled by many leaders: Alexander the Great, the Parthians and the Romans. The Mongols devasted Iraq in 1258, and it became part of the Ottoman Empire from 1534. After World War I, the League of Nations granted the three former Ottoman provinces of Baghdad, Mosul and Basra to Great Britain as a mandate. The British drove the Turks out and created a new country, which they named Al Iraq, “the origin” in Arabic.

This name had previously applied only to the southern province of Basra. In 1932, Iraq was granted independence. The British-installed monarchy lasted until 1958; after this, the country underwent a series of coups until the Ba’ath Party took control, and Saddam Hussein came to power in 1979.

I shudder to think about Iraq’s legacy. I hope people remember not only the brutal deeds of Saddam Hussein, but that the area where modern Iraq is today was also commonly known as the “cradle of civilization.”

I was excited when Saddam Hussein was thrown out of power. I thought that Iraq was on the verge of peace and prosperity.

I was recently looking for some travel books about Iraq. Every new book, however, deals only with the war.

I thought I could finally visit Iraq, the country of my birth and the birthplace of civilization. I hoped I could explore the vast deserts and ancient buildings. I dreamed of eating delicious Iraqi dates and samoon flat bread, my father’s favorite.

Alas, I was wrong.

I am sad for myself and I feel sorry for the tourists to whom Iraq has been closed for nearly a quarter century. The ancient and wonderful heritage of Iraq waits to be explored even though countless artifacts from the Iraqi National Museum were looted during the war.

Iraq is still a dangerous place to visit.