Writer: Vincent Lyn
If Africa is considered the Cradle of Humanity, then the region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, historically known as Mesopotamia, can be considered as the Cradle of Civilization. It was here that the earliest written language was formed, notably in the ancient city of Uruk, from which Iraq is derived. Modern Iraq was created from the legacy of the Ottoman Empire. Regrettably, along with the growth of civilization, has come the deadly expansion of warfare, and the past and present history of Iraq continues to be soaked in bloodied conflicts.
One's views of the world changes when thrown into a danger zone, where death is but a sniper's bullet away or collateral damage from an exploding Improvised Explosive Device (IED). Not surprisingly that I did not sleep well a week before my assignment to Iraq. Running through my torrid mind, the imagination of quick deaths by a bullet or bomb was the least of my worries, as I contemplated the worst case scenarios of being kidnapped, tortured and the dreaded beheading as part of a terrorist's propaganda film. The day of my departure, such hellish thoughts had finally been vanquished, and my mind was clearly focused on my coming journey. Though luckily the reality of my stay in Iraq never manifested into the horror shows played in my mind during my sleepless week before I arrived, the situation continued to remind me that this was still a very dangerous conflict zone: the sounds of automatic gunfire, and heavily armed Iraqi soldiers running through my hotel made sure of that.
Salah ad Din Mosque in Samarra – bulldozed by Saddam Hussein and attacked by Al Qaeda and ISIL terrorists
The Iraqi people are no strangers to wars, and battle-hardened to become extremely resilient through the decades of conflicts: Iraq-Iran War in 1980, the Gulf War in 1991 followed by the invasion of the coalition forces in 2003, from which birth the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIL) terrorist organization. Hence they found it laughable when former President George Bush infamously declared “Mission Accomplished” in 2003 on board the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, and earlier this year when President Trump also made equally preposterous claims that “ISIS was defeated in Iraq and Syria.” Whether you call them by their official designation of ISIL or the more commonly used media name of ISIS, there is still estimated to be at least 15,000 fighters in various pocketed terror cells throughout Iraq.
My local guide Fariba introduced me to her friend Emad, who took us both on a driven tour of Hussein's former palaces in his specially modified armored silver Mercedes Benz S550. After completing his mandatory military service in the Iraqi army under Saddam's regime, Emad had emigrated to the US city of Seattle. He returned to Iraq in 2014 as part of the Fatwa religious proclamation to take up arms against ISIL; leaving his family, the comfort and safety of his new home on the west coast of America. As an undercover agent, he infiltrated ISIL strongholds posing as one of their fighters, making many successful incursions behind enemy lines to aid the destruction of the terror group from within. A real-life highly decorated and respected Iraqi hero, and a most valuable target for assassination by the remaining ISIL forces. With such a high-ranking government official and war hero as our escort, we had very little difficulties passing through all the military checkpoints. Over lunch, Emad had disclosed eyewitness stories of his insider experience observing US troops arming ISIL fighters from small arms to heavy artillery. In these continued deadly conflicts in Iraq and Syria, it is common for allies and enemies to switch roles depending on which directions the political and religious winds blow. The instabilities and uncertainties of the fog of war are further compounded by the interference of the superpowers, namely US and Russia using these Middle East conflicts as pawns in their own strategic games.
In my charitable capacity as founder of We Can Save Children, I visited several orphanages. It is depressing statistics that from a total Iraqi population of 38 million, there is a staggering 3 million orphans, though some estimates put the real figure as high as 5 million. Though Iraq is blessed, or some may argue it is a curse, to be an oil rich producer, it will still take at least 20 years of infrastructure investment to rebuild this once historically majestic nation back to its former glory.