Professor provides perspective on history, culture of Iraq

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 20, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; The Fertile Crescent defines the middle of the country we know as Iraq.

In earlier times called

Mesopotamia, the ancient region that is home to the storied Tigris and Euphrates river valleys, is a place every school child studies.

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There in the land known as Iraq is the exotic city Baghdad, setting for The Arabian Nights and its most prominent tale of &uot;Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves.&uot;

Now the ancient land, home to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and untold numbers of archaeological treasures, once again will be the site of a war, this one having only begun in earnest a few hours ago.

Jim Wiggins, history instructor at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Natchez, begins his first course in the history of western civilization with instruction on this important area of the world, where indeed civilization as we know it may have begun.

&uot;There are thousands of archaeological sites in the old Mesopotamia, including the city of Ur, now the site of an Iraqi air base,&uot; Wiggins said. &uot;You can’t have modern civilization in that part of the world without building on archaeological sites.&uot;

Ur, for example, is considered the home of Abraham, one of the most prominent figures in the Bible.

The anticipated war with Iraq has been a subject of discussion in his classes all year, Wiggins said. &uot;It constantly comes up with my students. They are always thinking of some angle, some parallel.&uot;

As one who has studied and taught history for many years, Wiggins has thoughts of his own about the war with Iraq.

&uot;First of all, let me say up front, I support our troops, some of whom have been in my class,&uot; he said. &uot;On Monday, in fact, one of my students said he might not see me for class on Friday. His unit might be called up.&uot;

Wiggins has found himself using a single phrase in discussions with classes and among colleagues. &uot;The purpose of war is peace,&uot; he said. &uot;That is what I’ve come up with. You don’t just go in and beat up your enemy. Now, will this war make the world a more peaceful place?

&uot;I don’t know. If we could go in and perform minor surgery and just cut out Saddam and his supporters, fine. But we’re going in with bazookas and fire power.&uot;

Wiggins has reflected on what is known about Saddam Hussein, the history of his rise to power and of his reign.

&uot;I think about the law of unseen consequences. The occupation will be difficult, expensive. He may have tricks up his sleeve that we’re not anticipating,&uot; Wiggins said.

Central to concerns about occupying Iraq after subduing the Saddam regime is the ability of U.S. forces to deal with the many different people of the country.

&uot;The British drew the boundaries of Iraq after World War I to try to recreate Mesopotamia,&uot; Wiggins said. &uot;They stuffed all these disparate people together to make it look like my map from ancient history. Remove Saddam and you may have civil wars.&uot;

Three primary regions &045; or people &045; came together in the Iraq of the early 1920s. They were the Kurdish tribal lands, the Shia south and the Sunni Muslim region around Baghdad. The combining of these regions brought about instability that some experts say only a ruthless dictator such as Saddam can contain.

Wiggins does not agree with those who compare Saddam to Adolph Hitler. &uot;Saddam is immoral, horrible, yes, but in no way is he near the threat of Hitler,&uot; he said. &uot;Iraq is not a superpower as Germany certainly became and not technologically advanced. Saddam could inflict horrible damage but not dominate the whole Middle East.&uot;

Questions abound as to how the people of Iraq will respond to the U.S.-led invasion of their country. Other troubling questions center on whether Saddam will use chemical or biological weapons.

&uot;Will Saddam give the order to use chemical weapons? Will people carry out his orders? And does it matter?&uot; Wiggins said.

Another concern is Israel and the possibility of attack on that country by Iraq.

&uot;What might that country do if they are attacked? The Israeli government is now more hard line than even a year ago.&uot;