Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Cradle of Civilization

I was reading an AP story today about the conflict in Iraq when it hit me. I hadn't thought about it in a long, long time, not since the first Gulf War. "Baghdad" has been in the news so much these days I have become desensitized to the word. It's practically the name of the war. Baghdad. Violence. Green zone. Bodies. Injured people. IDEs. Troop surge. They had been all rolled into one festering, overripe neologism.

But as I was reading about the fighting in the streets, this picture became hauntingly familiar. The buildings in the background could be anywhere. Minneapolis. Chicago. New York. Denver. It's simple, I know. But somehow it got lost: Baghdad is a city. It's not just a war zone. People live there. So I found a map. I walked up and down the avenues in my mind, imagining how terrifying it would be to be trapped in an urban setting with helicopters and automatic weapons and heavy artillery roaring all around me and everyone I knew and cared about. It really gave me pause.

Then I began to recall my history lessons that had been buried beneath four years of war and mountains of political indifference and media stories without context. Bagdad is not the oldest city in the world. But it bears remembering and repeating, again and again: near Haifa Street, in the heart of Baghdad, Iraq, lie the banks of the Tigris River, where people now live and breathe and struggle to survive, where the United States has brought the mightiest war machine ever created. History records that civilization was born right there, over 6000 years ago.

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