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IRAQ: Babylon

Thank God for C-Span! Most TV programs suggest that we are a people of violent idiots, but C-Span shows that rational life and speech are not dead. Its latest achievement is a tour of Iraq. After a chilling account of mass graves of victims of Saddam Hussein, it took us to Babylon and gave me the answer to my question: Did Saddam Hussein try to make it a symbol of Iraq's glorious past as the Shah used Persepolis? The answer is yes. I have been very close to Iraq, but have nor visited it. A long time ago, soon after Saddam Hussein came to power, I was asked to write a piece saying that Iraq was naturally the dominant power in the Persian Gulf. The reward would ba a visit to Iraq. I smelled a rat (Saddam Hussein) and wrote a piece on the importance of the Arabic language. The invitation did not materialize, so I have not been to Babylon. It is an enormous place, built mostly of bricks, and restored at great expense by Saddam Hussein, who built a palace overlooking it.

When I looked at those bricks, I wondered if they were laid by Jewish slaves: "We sat down by the waters of Babylon and wept, when we thought of thee, oh Zion". The C-Span program summarized the history of Babylon. Babylon means "gate of god", and from his palace Saddam Hussein looked down on god. It is located about 55 miles south of Baghdad. The most famous feature is the lion of Baghdad. A WAISer reproached me for having spoken unkindly of lions, but I stick to my verbal guns. Undoubtedly Saddam Hussein looked upon the lion of Baghdad as his pet, rather like the kings of Ethiopia, whose palace gate was guarded by a live lion. Much of the city was built by Nebuchadnezzar II. Did Saddam Hussein ever think of his fate? Cyrus the Great conquered Baby˝on in 539 BC. I would like to know what Iranian textbooks say about that. Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 BC. It is thought he intended to make it the capital of his empire. After all these "Greats", Saddam the Great would seem natural: The city was excavated mostly by Germans under Robert Koldewey, who wrote The Excavations at Babylon (1914). .Saddam Hussein was born in 1937- The expensive restoration of Babylon was one of his major projects. For our history textbook survey, we need two of Iraq: one that used under Saddam Hussein, the other, the new. post.-Saddam history, yet to be written. The comparison should be odious and enlightening.

Ronald Hilton - 7/3/03