As I write this, CNN is airing a program entitled ”œ1,000 Days in Iraq.”’ George W. Bush has already declared victory from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, but 160,000 US troops still remain in Iraq and the number of American dead is creeping up to 2,200; how many Iraqis have died is unknown. The American ”œexit strategy” will require $3.9 billion in 2006 to train and equip Iraqi troops, according to a report in the New York Times, which also reports a Gallup Poll showing that 55 percent of Americans think that Bush has no exit strategy. Neo-Conservative wonk, Paul Wolfowitz, former number two in the US Defense Department, who promised that Iraqis would greet their American invaders with flowers, has gone to preside over the World Bank, and number three Douglas Feith, a truly pure laine neo-conservative, whom Colin Powell considered a card-carrying member of Israel’s Likud party, and told George W. so in his farewell interview, has resigned for family reasons. Donald Rumsfeld, whose strategy for tackling the emerg- ing guerilla warfare in Iraq was to label ”œan increased level of domestic violence,” soldiers on, but Congress wants a deadline for withdrawing troops, which would only encourage the insurgency. Yet its impatience is understandable: as of mid-2005 the war had cost about $317 billion. Wolfowitz, besides promising flowers, had reckoned that Iraq oil revenues would cover the cost, not the American taxpayer.

For anyone who wants to know how neo-conservatism took over Washington after 9/11, I would rec- ommend the second chapter of The Assassins’ Gate, titled ”œFevered Minds.” The ideology harks back to Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom and their readings of the classic authors, Plato, Xenophon, Machiavelli, and Nietzsche, and although none of these were great exponents of democ- racy ”” Plato’s ideal states are closer to fascism ”” somehow neo-conser- vatism became allied with the ideal of spreading democracy. But what was most striking about the Washington neo-conservatives was their self-confidence mingled with incompetence. The Middle East has had a long history ”” if the Garden of Eden ever existed, it was where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers converge. Sumer and Akkad, Assyria, Babylon, the Persian Empire and its nemesis, Alexander the Great, all had their moments there. Before the Americans, there were the British, who fomented an Arab revolt against the Turks in the 1914-18 war, and then created modern Iraq by joining three vilayets or provinces of the Ottoman Empire to form a new coun- try. Kurds made up the majority of the population of the northern vilayet of Mosul, and they were not Arabs: If Winston Churchill, the Secretary of State for the colonies at the time, had not been under severe pressure to save money, if British resources had not been stretched so thin, and if there had been no oil in Mosul, the northern vilayet might have become an independent Kurdistan, thus sidestepping one of present-day Iraq’s problems. Christopher Catherwood calls the creation of Iraq ”œChurchill’s Folly.” But his book also makes clear what a Pandora’s box of conflicting interests the First World War had opened in the Middle East. The British Empire was a money-losing outfit and it was taking on new obligations when it should have been shedding them. The Washington neo-conservatives who plunged the United States into war with Iraq 1,000 days ago had it comparatively easy, but they should have studied Britain’s experience in Mesopotamia more closely. Iraq’s problems today have a history.

Britain eventually opted for a con- stitutional monarchy with Feisel, descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, as its king. He was one of the two ambitious sons of the Hashemite Sharif of Mecca, Hussein; the other son, Abdullah, became king of Jordan, where his descendant, Abdullah II, reigns today. Feisal was looking for a kingdom in 1921, and Britain was looking for an exit strategy. Feisal looked like the solution: an Arab prince who had been an ally of Lawrence of Arabia. A referendum of sorts was held; the Iraqi people seemed satisfied, and on August 15, 1922, Feisal was proclaimed king. The monarchy lasted 37 years, during which governments came and went ”” there were 58 of them before the last king of Iraq, Feisal II, and the royal family were murdered and a revolu- tionary government took over, which in turn fell to a CIA-backed Baath coup. Yet one plan, which Washington played with for post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, was to bring back a Hashemite to Iraq as king; the man they had in mind was the uncle of King Abdullah II of Jordan, who has become America’s best friend in the Arab world. Some of the neo-conservatives even floated an ”œall-change-thrones” policy: Abdullah II would move to Baghad and become king of Iraq; the Palestinians would take over Jordan, and Israel would annex all the Oocupied Territories. That would have proved that if there is one thing more dangerous than being America’s foe, it is to be America’s friend. Foes live under the threat of sanc- tions; friends of ethnic cleansing.

Hadani Ditmars interviewed the pretender to the Iraqi throne, Sharif Ali Bin al Hussein, a cousin of the last king, Feisel II. The relationship is on his mother’s side, which poses a prob- lem in a patriarchal society such as Iraq’s. Ditmars asked him what he thought about the American presence ”” the interview took place while L. Paul Bremer III was in charge, with the status of a presidential envoy ”” and the king-in waiting replied that American policies were bad and had destroyed ”œthe initial optimism after the fall of the regime.” That sums up the message of Packer’s The Assassins’ Gate. The Iraqis ”” except for the Sunnis of Tikrit ”” were by and large delighted to see the fall of Saddam Hussein. The ”œshock and awe,” which the coalition’s swift success was sup- posed to inspire, did happen. But then ”” nothing. Law and order broke down, the US troops shot too many innocent civilians and optimism faded.

Hadani Ditmars is a Vancouver- based journalist, Lebanese on her mother’s side and Canadian melting pot on her father’s, who has written for a wide range of publications in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. She went to Iraq first in 1997 for the New York Times, to do a story on the latest clash between Saddam Hussein and the UN weapons inspectors, and seized the opportunity to do a series of articles on the suffering the United Nation embargo had caused, devas- tating what was once the best health care system in the Middle East. The Iraq Ministry of Information was not amused, and she was expelled on Christmas Eve, 1997. Since then she has been on assignment in Iraq six times, the last time in the fall of 2003. Her Iraq is one that rarely appears in Canadian media. She describes the plight of the Christians still there ”” most have emigrated ”” and tells the story of a media event at Abu Ghraib Prison where the brigadier-general in charge, Janis Karpinski, who eight months later would be in the centre of the abuse scandal, gave them a guided tour. She visited the al-Rabat theatre for a rehearsal of the Iraqi National Orchestra. The orchestra’s ranks were growing and they included two recruits from the US forces, a black woman who played the trumpet and a blonde man on the timpani. She visited the Iraq National Museum, looted when Baghad was liberated and still closed, and she went to Ur, once sacred to the Sumerian moon goddess. Mesopotamia belongs to a truly ancient world, and Islam is only the latest religion to arrive.

Baghad Bulletin tells the story of a quixotic adventure. David Enders, a young University of Michigan gradu- ate who took his final semester at the American University in Beirut, decid- ed to go to Baghad once the war start- ed and start an English-language publication in the combat zone as an outlet for Iraqi journalists. With a British partner, a chemist from Oxford with a little money, he founded the Baghad Bulletin, which last- ed for seven issues before money ran out. Like Hadani Ditmars, he encountered an Iraq which goes unreported in our media. He gives us no great insights, but his Baghad Bulletin is a tale of youthful adventure. I found it full of hope. The war’s outcome may not be what the Washington neo-conservatives antici- pated, but Iraq will come through, somehow. It has seen the empires of Tiglath-Pileser, Nebuchadnezzar, and Alexander the Great come and go, and it will outlive the imperial visions of present-day Washington. What Iraq has revealed, however, is the flaws of the American empire, and its clout in world affairs will not be quite the same again. 

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