[NOTEBOOK]The two seizures of Baghdad

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[NOTEBOOK]The two seizures of Baghdad

Baghdad, the capital city of Iraq, was occupied twice in history. In 1258, Hulagu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, made a triumphant entry into Baghdad with his swift cavalry after besieging the city for more than 20 days. In 2003, Baghdad fell to the U.S.-led coalition forces, which mobilized advanced precision weapons, just 19 days after the beginning of the war.
Despite the time difference of about 750 years, the two events have many similarities. First of all, the Iraqi Army collapsed powerlessly. There was no fierce battle to defend the capital to the last. Also, the war was accepted as a “liberation war” by Iraq’s long-oppressed Shiites, because the corrupt dictatorship of the Sunnis fell. The 37th caliph of the Abbassid Dynasty, al-Mu’tasim, was assassinated by the Mongolian Army. The dictator Saddam Hussein was arrested and is awaiting trial.
But their post-war situations are fairly different. Despite the Mongolian Army’s harsh occupation policy, almost no record shows that there was any organized resistance movement. Although the Islamic empire, with over 500 years of history, was destroyed by a foreign nation, residents were not enthusiastic about resisting the occupation forces.
On the other hand, since the war began in Iraq in 2003, there have been endless backlashes from the resistance forces. Two years have passed since the war, but dozens of civilians, Iraqi soldiers and policemen, and coalition forces are still losing their lives every day. The death toll of U.S. soldiers has already exceeded 1,750.
Why is this? There can be many interpretations, but one possible explanation is that the image Mon-golia and the United States have shown to the Islamic world is very different.
To the subjects of the Islamic empire who lived 750 years ago, Mongolia was a mere object of fear. There was no information or particular antipathy. The Mongolian Army was seen as something like another rival who tried to occupy the oases by military power. Conflict over the oases between tribes and nations was a familiar pattern in the Middle East. Also, the Mongolian occupation forces did not impose their tradition or values on the occupied Islamic territories. Rather, Mongolian monarchs converted to Islam and accepted Sharia or traditional Islamic law instead of traditional Mongolian law.
How about the United States? The United States as viewed by not only Iraq but also the Islamic world is considerably different from ancient Mongolia. At present, radical groups in Iraq and the Middle East define the U.S. troops as the “second Crusaders.”
They view the war against terrorism carried out by the United States as a “war against Islam.” They denounce the “expansion of democracy” advocated by the United States as an attempt to insist on individualistic Christian values. Now, even religious antipathy is added to the political antipathy toward the Middle East policy that the United States has implemented since the establishment of Israel in 1948.
It was a Christian whom the Islamic prophet Muhammad visited with fear when he received Allah’s first revelation in a cave near Mecca in 610. He was engaged in religious discussion with Jews in the nearby city of Medina as well. He established the Islamic religion as the last religion that complements the “defects” of Judaism and Christianity.
At last, Islam took root among Muslims as a complete religion transcending Christianity and Judaism. As a result, occupation or rule of the Islamic world by Jewish and Christian forces has been considered a great threat that fundamentally shakes the Islamic identity.
Here came Muslims’ strength to endure the Crusades of the Christian forces in Europe over two centuries from the late 11th century to the late 13th century. For the same reason, mujahedeen, or fighters in a holy war ― who fought against the former Soviet Union that invaded Afghanistan in 1979 on the side of the United States ― suddenly changed their stance and began to carry out international terrorism against the Western world. This was because U.S. troops began to be stationed in Saudi Arabia, where Islam originated.
Also, after that, Islamic radical forces from the Arab countries began to arm themselves to fight pro-American governments on a large scale.
The present fierce resistance of the armed forces in Iraq can be seen as part of the anti-American and anti-Christian struggle that has continued for 15 years. In other words, the resistance is nothing but a part of a bigger war to protect the Islamic identity.
Here lies the reason why it is constantly pointed out that the United States should now gradually end the war in Iraq. For the country began an endless war that may take hundreds of years to win completely.

* The writer is the Cairo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Seo Jeong-min
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