Life in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, now normal

Life in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, now normal

As blast walls come down, Baghdad life edges towards normality

ByMaher Nazeh

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – With the blast walls finally gone, some 16 years after the U.S.-led invasion, life in the Iraqi capital Baghdad is starting to look like any normal bustling city.

A general view of cars at the Al-Shurja Market in Baghdad, Iraq April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

Families and friends hang out in cafes and shopping malls, people hold birthday parties in public and traders ply their wares from roadside stalls.

Saif Ahmed, an owner of a cafe in the upscale district of Zayyona in eastern Baghdad, said the removal of miles of the concrete walls from the streets had encouraged families to visit malls and cafes and stay until late into the night.

“Baghdad is looking different now, for the better. Families are staying until after midnight in markets, restaurants and cafes. I feel so happy to see Baghdad life is returning to normal,” he said.

The walls, put up a year after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, served to protect the city from years of sectarian civil war and the fight against Islamic State militants. Iraq declared victory over the group in late 2017.

Senior military commanders say there have been no attacks by insurgents for more than a year.


“Baghdad is enjoying considerable security. We managed to keep terrorists away from the capital,” said Lieutenant General Jaleel al-Rubaie, commander of the Baghdad Operations Command.

Soon after he came to power late last year, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi ordered the removal of the towering walls to signal the improvement in security – letting light back into long obscured parts of the city.

For Hutham al-Ansary, who lost her husband in the violence in 2004, the feeling that Baghdad is finally safe brings tears of happiness.

“Baghdad is beautiful, despite all tragedies, with this improved security and peace. I still have a bitter feeling about the past but today is better than yesterday,” said Ansary, a women’s rights activist, with her two daughters at one of Baghdad’s parks.

Many people are now more comfortable about spending time outdoors.

“I’m happy that finally I can celebrate my son’s birthday in a public garden, something we were not brave enough to do fearing bombs,” Sally Adnan, a Health Ministry employee, said at Abu Nawas Gardens by the Tigris river.


“Life in Baghdad is more interesting now,” said Adnan, who was wounded in a car bomb in 2008.

“The wounds on my face are part of Iraq’s history. I’m keeping them to show my sons when they grow up,” she said.

Reporting by Maher Nazeh; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Ahmed Aboulenein and Alison Williams

Reuters Statndards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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How climate change caused the world’s first ever empire to collapse

How climate change caused the world’s first ever empire to collapse

How climate change caused the world’s first ever empire to collapse by Vasile Ersek, Northumbria University, Newcastle is another story of scientists saying yet again that in the past, shifts in climate impacted one way or another  life on earth.

The picture above is that of the author while researching data from a cave in Romania to document the effects of climate change on humankind evolution.

File 20190102 32121 1d7jyfa.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
King Naram-Sin of Akkad, grandson of Sargon, leading his army to victory.
Rama / Louvre, CC BY-SA

 

Gol-e-Zard Cave lies in the shadow of Mount Damavand, which at more than 5,000 metres dominates the landscape of northern Iran. In this cave, stalagmites and stalactites are growing slowly over millennia and preserve in them clues about past climate events. Changes in stalagmite chemistry from this cave have now linked the collapse of the Akkadian Empire to climate changes more than 4,000 years ago.

Akkadia was the world’s first empire. It was established in Mesopotamia around 4,300 years ago after its ruler, Sargon of Akkad, united a series of independent city states. Akkadian influence spanned along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers from what is now southern Iraq, through to Syria and Turkey. The north-south extent of the empire meant that it covered regions with different climates, ranging from fertile lands in the north which were highly dependent on rainfall (one of Asia’s “bread baskets”), to the irrigation-fed alluvial plains to the south.

 

 

The Akkad empire during the reign of Narâm-Sîn (2254-2218 BC). Mount Damavand is labelled in blue.
Zunkir / Semhir / wiki, CC BY-SA

It appears that the empire became increasingly dependent on the productivity of the northern lands and used the grains sourced from this region to feed the army and redistribute the food supplies to key supporters. Then, about a century after its formation, the Akkadian Empire suddenly collapsed, followed by mass migration and conflicts. The anguish of the era is perfectly captured in the ancient Curse of Akkad text, which describes a period of turmoil with water and food shortages:

… the large arable tracts yielded no grain, the inundated fields yielded no fish, the irrigated orchards yielded no syrup or wine, the thick clouds did not rain.

Drought and dust

The reason for this collapse is still debated by historians, archaeologists and scientists. One of the most prominent views, championed by Yale archaeologist Harvey Weiss (who built on earlier ideas by Ellsworth Huntington), is that it was caused by an abrupt onset of drought conditions which severely affected the productive northern regions of the empire.

 

 

Sargon of Akkad – or maybe his son, Naram-Sin.
Iraqi Directorate General of Antiquities / wiki

Weiss and his colleagues discovered evidence in northern Syria that this once prosperous region was suddenly abandoned around 4,200 years ago, as indicated by a lack of pottery and other archaeological remains. Instead, the rich soils of earlier periods were replaced by large amounts of wind-blown dust and sand, suggesting the onset of drought conditions. Subsequently, marine cores from the Gulf of Oman and the Red Sea which linked the input of dust into the sea to distant sources in Mesopotamia, provided further evidence of a regional drought at the time.

Many other researchers viewed Weiss’s interpretation with scepticism, however. Some argued, for example, that the archaeological and marine evidence was not accurate enough to demonstrate a robust correlation between drought and societal change in Mesopotamia.

A new detailed climate record

Now, stalagmite data from Iran sheds new light on the controversy. In a study published in the journal PNAS, led by Oxford palaeoclimatologist Stacy Carolin, colleagues and I provide a very well dated and high resolution record of dust activity between 5,200 and 3,700 years ago. And cave dust from Iran can tell us a surprising amount about climate history elsewhere.

Gol-e-Zard Cave might be several hundred miles to the east of the former Akkadian Empire, but it is directly downwind. As a result, around 90% of the region’s dust originates in the deserts of Syria and Iraq.

 

 

Mount Damavand is a ‘potentially active’ volcano, and the highest peak in Iran. Gol-e-Zard Cave is nearby.
Vasile Ersek, Author provided

That desert dust has a higher concentration of magnesium than the local limestone which forms most of Gol-e-Zard’s stalagmites (the ones which grow upwards from the cave floor). Therefore, the amount of magnesium in the Gol-e-Zard stalagmites can be used as an indicator of dustiness at the surface, with higher magnesium concentrations indicating dustier periods, and by extension drier conditions.

The stalagmites have the additional advantage that they can be dated very precisely using uranium-thorium chronology. Combining these methods, our new study provides a detailed history of dustiness in the area, and identifies two major drought periods which started 4,510 and 4,260 years ago, and lasted 110 and 290 years respectively. The latter event occurs precisely at the time of the Akkadian Empire’s collapse and provides a strong argument that climate change was at least in part responsible.

The collapse was followed by mass migration from north to south which was met with resistance by the local populations. A 180km wall – the “Repeller of the Amorites” – was even built between the Tigris and Euphrates in an effort to control immigration, not unlike some strategies proposed today. The stories of abrupt climate change in the Middle East therefore echo over millennia to the present day.The Conversation

Vasile Ersek, Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, Northumbria University, Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Christmas festivities in Bethlehem

Christmas festivities in Bethlehem

Bethlehem, West Bank (AP) – Palestinians are preparing to host pilgrims from around the world in celebrating Christmas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, crossed an Israeli military checkpoint from Jerusalem on Monday ahead of midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

Hundreds of locals and foreign visitors gathered in Manger Square as bagpipe-playing Palestinian Scouts paraded past a giant Christmas tree.

Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maaya says “the whole world is looking toward Bethlehem” and the Palestinians are ready to host them.

The Christmas festivities traditionally bring a boost of holiday cheer to Christians in the Holy Land, who make up just a small percentage of the local population.

Christmas in Palestine

December 22nd – December 30th 2018

During the Christmas season, Bethlehem in Palestine welcomes Christian worshipers from all denominations from all over the world. An estimated 10,000 were in the Square on Christmas Eve last year!  It is an exciting, colorful and lively time during which a message of hope is broadcast around the world by the large number of media agencies covering Manger Square in which the Church of the Nativity is found.

What will we do?

You are invited to take part in this unique experience with To Be There. We have a well-planned a program providing you with opportunities to enjoy the Christmas season as well as gain an understanding of ancient and recent history, and how the occupation affects the lives and the future of Palestine and its people.  Topics which will be covered during your visit include Palestinian refugees, their  legal status and the hardships they face; Israeli settlement colonies which contribute to the forcible displacement of Palestinians and land theft; the treatment by Israel of Palestinian children and the documented violations of their rights; Palestinian political prisoners and their treatment under military law; the Israeli infrastructure of occupation and apartheid – walls, security zones, check points and much more.

Why should we come?

Palestinians enjoy welcoming foreign guests to participate in the procession to the Church lead by Palestinian scout groups from all over Palestine and Israel accompanied by the music of horns, bagpipes and drums. However, Christmas is experienced differently Bethlehem, providing an example of how Palestinians enjoy such occasions while living under the Israeli military occupation which imposes sever hardships on the people, restricting their freedom of movement, their livelihoods and economic and social well-being.  Sadly, the occupation and its policies have turned Bethlehem in to a ghetto around which Israel continues to tighten the noose with its encroachment and development of settler colonies, ‘Jewish only’ restricted roads and security zones, checkpoints and military installations.  In fact, Israeli controls 90% of tourism into Bethlehem.  Christmas in Palestine is an opportunity to visit Palestine, to make a contribution to this vibrant community during the Holiday Season and witness the reality of occupation.

May we all have a Merry Christmas.

Evidence of a Cosmic Calamity in ancient Dead Sea

Evidence of a Cosmic Calamity in ancient Dead Sea

 

Archaeologists at a site in what’s now Jordan have found evidence of a cosmic calamity as told by Bruce Bower on November 20, 2018.  Here it is.

An exploding meteor may have wiped out ancient Dead Sea communities

 

ANCIENT WIPEOUT Preliminary evidence indicates that a low-altitude meteor explosion around 3,700 years ago destroyed cities, villages and farmland north of the Dead Sea (shown in the background above) rendering the region uninhabitable for 600 to 700 years. Fightbegin/istock.com

 

DENVER — A superheated blast from the skies obliterated cities and farming settlements north of the Dead Sea around 3,700 years ago, preliminary findings suggest.

Radiocarbon dating and unearthed minerals that instantly crystallized at high temperatures indicate that a massive airburst caused by a meteor that exploded in the atmosphere instantaneously destroyed civilization in a 25-kilometer-wide circular plain called Middle Ghor, said archaeologist Phillip Silvia. The event also pushed a bubbling brine of Dead Sea salts over once-fertile farm land, Silvia and his colleagues suspect.

People did not return to the region for 600 to 700 years, said Silvia, of Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque. He reported these findings at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research on November 17.

Excavations at five large Middle Ghor sites, in what’s now Jordan, indicate that all were continuously occupied for at least 2,500 years until a sudden, collective collapse toward the end of the Bronze Age. Ground surveys have located 120 additional, smaller settlements in the region that the researchers suspect were also exposed to extreme, collapse-inducing heat and wind. An estimated 40,000 to 65,000 people inhabited Middle Ghor when the cosmic calamity hit, Silvia said.

The most comprehensive evidence of destruction caused by a low-altitude meteor explosion comes from the Bronze Age city of Tall el-Hammam, where a team that includes Silvia has been excavating for the last 13 years. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the mud-brick walls of nearly all structures suddenly disappeared around 3,700 years ago, leaving only stone foundations.

What’s more, the outer layers of many pieces of pottery from same time period show signs of having melted into glass. Zircon crystals in those glassy coats formed within one second at extremely high temperatures, perhaps as hot as the surface of the sun, Silvia said.

High-force winds created tiny, spherical mineral grains that apparently rained down on Tall el-Hammam, he said. The research team has identified these minuscule bits of rock on pottery fragments at the site.

Examples exist of exploding space rocks that have wreaked havoc on Earth (SN: 5/13/17, p. 12). An apparent meteor blast over a sparsely populated Siberian region in 1908, known as the Tunguska event, killed no one but flattened 2,000 square kilometers of forest. And a meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 injured more than 1,600 people, mainly due to broken glass from windows that were blown out.

Citations: P.J. Silvia et al. The 3.7kaBP Middle Ghor event: catastrophic termination of a Bronze Age civilization. American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting, Denver, November 17, 2018.

Further Reading: T. Sumner. Here’s how an asteroid impact would kill you. Science News. Vol. 191, May 13, 2017, p. 12. 

Forgotten legacy of World War I that devastated the Middle East

Forgotten legacy of World War I that devastated the Middle East

For those of us of an age to have known only peace in Western Europe, the centenary of the end of World War I is a an opportunity to learn something of the extreme consequences of the failure to solve political differences peacefully. And when the world marked the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, millions fell silent to remember the pain and sacrifice of that conflict.

But another anniversary that fell this year – that of the end of the British Mandate for Palestine in 1948, a seminal moment in a conflict that continues to this day – has been largely ignored. It should not be. Britain’s role was pivotal – and, if it is forgotten in the UK, it is remembered in Middle East.

 

Palestine and Britain: forgotten legacy of World War I that devastated the Middle East

By James Rodgers, City, University of London

File 20181108 74766 1daohpk.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Rare photograph of the formal transfer of Jerusalem to British rule.

For one of the consequences of the end of World War I was the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The December before the Armistice in November 1918, troops under the command of General Sir Edmund Allenby (nicknamed “The Bull”) captured Jerusalem. After the end of the war, The League of Nations “mandated” (handed over) what was then Palestine to British rule. That rule lasted until 1948. Then the British withdrew. The region’s Jewish and Arab populations were left to to fight it out. The Jewish forces prevailed and, in May 1948, the State of Israel was declared.

The conflict is remembered by Israelis as the War of Independence; by the Palestinians as “al-nakba” (the catastrophe). In Britain – whose retreat after a period during which “the purpose of the mandate was never entirely clear to most of those serving in Palestine”, as Naomi Shepherd put it in her 1999 book Ploughing Sand: British Rule in Palestine – it is barely remembered at all.


 

Read more:
Nakba day in Palestine – past catastrophe, future conflict?

 


In a sense, this is all the more surprising because of the scale of British involvement. The numbers are staggering today. The National Army museum website gives a figure of 100,000 British troops in Palestine in 1947 – compared to a total of 78,000 fully trained troops in the entire British Army in 2017.

In another sense, it is not. The task faced by the mandate authorities was not easy. They left the region riven by conflict which continues to this day. Seeking international Jewish support during World War I, Britain had – in the words of the late historian Eric Hobsbawm – “incautiously and ambiguously promised to establish a ‘national home for the Jews’ in Palestine”.

The Balfour Declaration – as that pledge was known – was made in 1917. Its centenary in 2017 was barely noticeable compared to the attention the Armistice has generated. Like the end of the mandate, the Balfour Declaration is an anniversary Britain has mostly preferred to forget. The same cannot be said in the land that was Mandate Palestine.


 

Read more:
A century on, the Balfour Declaration still shapes Palestinians’ everyday lives

 


No brass bands

As a correspondent newly arrived in Gaza to take up a posting during the second Palestinian intifada, or the uprising against Israel, I was soon welcomed by an elderly resident of a refugee camp – and then chastised by the same gentleman for the Balfour Declaration. The year was 2002, but he traced his wretched fate – his breeze-block house had just been demolished by the Israeli Army – to that document from 1917.

In his memoir, Ever the Diplomat, the former British ambassador to Israel, Sherard Cowper-Coles, recalled an encounter he witnessed between the then Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and the British Middle East envoy, Lord Levy. An increasingly undiplomatic exchange ended when Sharon’s “massive fist came thumping down on the desk”, as he shouted: “The British Mandate is over.”

British leaving Haifa in 1948.     תא, CC BY-ND

It is hard to imagine now, but when the mandate did end in 1948, it was a huge story in the British press. Research for my book, Headlines from the Holy Land: Reporting the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, led me to archived newspaper articles where the first draft of the history of that era was written. The morning that British rule ended, May 14 1948, the Daily Mirror did its best to rouse patriotic pride:

When British rule began, says the Colonial Office, Palestine was primitive and underdeveloped. The population of 750,000 were disease-ridden and poor. But new methods of farming were introduced, medical services provided, roads and railways built, water supplies improved, malaria wiped out.

The next day’s Daily Mail painted the stirring picture of the “weather-beaten, sun-dried Union Jack” which had flown over British Headquarters in Jerusalem being brought back to “the airways terminal building at Victoria” in central London.

Where the story has found its way into contemporary newspapers it has had a fraction of the attention granted to the end of World War I in Europe – a lack of public commemoration which suggests a combination of ignorance and shame.

“There were no brass bands playing when they came back. They were treated as if they’d been involved in something dirty”, the organiser of the Palestine Veterans Association told the Sunday Times recently.

Ignoring anniversaries such as these – especially at a time when the poppy appeal is given ever greater public prominence – amounts to selective commemoration, which acts against learning from military and diplomatic mistakes.The Conversation

James Rodgers, Senior Lecturer in Journalism, City, University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Remarkable discovery about the Great Pyramid

Remarkable discovery about the Great Pyramid

What began as an expedition to record the inscriptions of ancient Egyptian quarry workers produced a remarkable discovery about the Great Pyramid at Giza. My colleagues and I in the Anglo-French joint archaeological mission to the ancient quarry site of Hatnub recently revealed the existence of a well-preserved haulage ramp dating to the time of the Great Pyramid, roughly 4,500 years ago.

The story is told by Roland Enmarch, University of Liverpool.

Great Pyramid: how my research on ancient Egyptian poetry led to an amazing discovery

File 20181107 74757 1nzaxpf.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Shutterstock

 

We think this could significantly change the theories about how the workers who built the monument were able to transport such large blocks of stone to great heights. It could even provide evidence that pulleys were invented hundreds of years earlier than previously documented.

The rock-cut ramp is flanked by two flights of rock-cut stairs, into which are cut post holes that would originally have held wooden posts, now long perished. The pattern of post holes is well enough preserved that we can begin to reconstruct a pulley system that would have been used to lift large blocks of alabaster out of the open-cast quarry.

The ancient ramp.
Roland Enmarch, Author provided

While some quarrymen would have been stationed above the blocks, hauling them upwards directly, others would have stood below the blocks, pulling downwards. Their ropes would have been lashed round the post holes and attached to the alabaster blocks, so that both groups were exerting force to pull the blocks up out of the quarry.

This stone haulage system makes efficient use of the limited available space on the ramp, and it is reasonable to speculate that this same pulley technology would also have been used in the construction of the Great Pyramid. While pulley systems are well known from Greek civilisation in the first millennium BC, the evidence from Hatnub pushes their use much further back in time, as it pre-dates the Greek evidence by some 2,000 years.

Steep incline.
Roland Enmarch, Author provided

The Hatnub haulage ramp is also much steeper than most previous reconstructions of Egyptian haulage ramps. This is significant because one of the long-standing objections to the theory that the Great Pyramid was build using a single large ramp was the enormous volume of such a ramp (which would have had a greater volume than the Great Pyramid itself). With a much steeper gradient, the length and volume of such a haulage ramp would be much smaller, suggesting that this old theory needs to be re-evaluated more seriously.

Many other theories have previously been proposed for how the Great Pyramid was constructed. For example, a ramp might have coiled around the sides of the pyramid. There are also many suggestions involving levers and similar mechanisms. (And, of course, there are always those lacking in imagination who cannot accept a human explanation, and instead groundlessly evoke aliens or Atlanteans). The merit of our recent discoveries is that they give us solid archaeological evidence we can use to test previous theories.

Ancient graffiti

These discoveries have emerged from the work of the University of Liverpool’s joint expedition with the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology in Cairo to Hatnub, which is some 20km from the Nile in the eastern desert of Middle Egypt. This quarry was the most prestigious ancient source of Egyptian alabaster, the milky white banded translucent stone that was used by the Egyptians to make vessels, statues, and architectural items.

Our original aim was purely to record the surviving inscriptions left by quarrymen 4,500 to 4,000 years ago. I began my career studying Egyptian poetry, but it turns out quarrymen could on occasion get quite poetic when writing their graffiti in the quarry. And so I now study these texts, written in a cursive version of the Egyptian script known as hieratic.

We have so far identified more than 100 previously unrecorded texts, offering a wealth of information about the organisation and logistics of the expeditions that came to the quarry to extract alabaster. They mention royal patronage, the hundreds (and, on occasion, thousands) of expedition personnel, the numbers of blocks mined, and the time taken to ferry them to their ultimate destinations.

Stone inscriptions.
Roland Enmarch, Author provided

Some of the inscriptions take a more long-term point of view, and seek to convince future visitors to the quarry that their predecessors were good people, and deserve to be treated with respect (and offerings) after their death. In the 21st century, we are accustomed to talk of “posting” to “walls”. But at Hatnub we have an actual Bronze Age wall whose texts speak across the years, and create a solidarity among those who came to work in the quarry, generation after generation.

More recently we have expanded our work (and our team) to record the wider archaeological features of the extremely well-preserved Bronze Age industrial landscape around the quarry. We are collecting and analysing the stone tools that litter the site, offering insights into the process of extracting blocks from the bedrock. Through experimental archaeology we are learning just how rapidly alabaster needed to be worked before it dried and hardened after extraction.

We are also studying the ancient road connecting the quarry to the Nile Valley, which is flanked by hundreds of simple dry-stone shelters used by workmen for accommodation and stoneworking. We have simple dry-stone religious cairns and other structures of possible ritual function. The recent clearance of debris from the haulage ramp leading out of the quarry has been part of our study of this wider context.

Our ultimate goal is to study all aspects of stone extraction and transport at Hatnub, integrating the rich textual and archaeological evidence to provide a more holistic understanding of quarrying in ancient Egypt. Few sites offer the range and diversity of evidence that survives at Hatnub. We have many years of work ahead of us; the potential for further exciting discoveries is huge.The Conversation

Roland Enmarch, Senior Lecturer in Egyptology, University of Liverpool

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.