Iraq will continue to be a major issue and involvement for the United States into the foreseeable future says William R. Polk, former member of the State Department's Policy Planning Council and professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Chicago.Read more...
Iraq will continue to be a major issue and involvement for the United States into the foreseeable future says William R. Polk, former member of the State Department's Policy Planning Council and professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Chicago. Iraq sits on the world's largest supply of oil, and with the world's energy requirements continuously rising, Iraq will play an ongoing role in the global economy and the political environment throughout the Gulf region and the Middle East.
Polk's concise, authoritative overview of Iraq's history shows how the pattern of outside intervention was established first by the Ottoman Turks and the Persian Safavids and later by England, Russia, and Germany. After World War I came British rule, followed by a brief and uneasy period of independence that sparked Iraqi nationalism, leading Saddam Husain to power with American military and financial aid and covert CIA involvement. The Iraq-Iran War and the invasion of Kuwait was followed by the Gulf War, the sanctions period, and the Bush administration's decision to invade. Finally, there is the American occupation and the challenges, opportunities, and options that Iraqis and Americans face now and in the future.
Oil, water and politics in Iraq
Water and oil: two valuable natural resources in Iraq. They are elements that have led to civil war and foreign invasion over the centuries, defining the fractious history of that country. William R. Polk makes this point in convincing fashion in Understanding Iraq: The Whole Sweep of Iraqi History, from Genghis Khan's Monguls to the Ottoman Turks to the British Mandate to the American Occupation, a detailed examination of the country from its tranquil origins to its tumultuous present-day situation.
In ancient times, when Iraq was known as Mesopotamia, its greatest resource was water, as supplied by the intersecting Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Nomadic tribes migrated to this area, known as the Fertile Crescent, establishing roots and hastening the development of civilization. But eventually the tribes fought over property and power, setting a theme of upheaval that would continue throughout Iraq's history. When the tribes weren't warring amongst themselves, they were fighting invaders the likes of Genghis Khan's Mongols and the Ottoman Turks, each seeking to extract the natural treasures of the land.
In the early 20th century, British imperialists, needing oil to fuel the Industrial Revolution, discovered Iraq was situated above the largest oil reservoir in the world. Even when Iraqis took back their country through revolution in 1958, factions continued to fight. And when they were later united by a heavy-handed dictator named Saddam Hussein, he used the oil to amass great wealth and power and to fund wars with neighboring nations.
Today, Iraq is occupied by the U.S. in what President Bush calls an effort to replace dictatorship with democracy. Polk thinks the occupation still has a lot to do with oil, and his analysis is written with authority, given that he has been studying Iraq for 50 years and has visited the country dozens of times. For anyone seeking an intelligent perspective on the current state of affairs in Iraq, his book is required reading.
John T. Slania is a journalism professor at Loyola University in Chicago.