Destruction of An Historic Culture

Iraq was once a center for art and culture. But it has been in “steep decline for twenty years. The loss into exile of three million people, among them many of the country’s most gifted, has arguably been far more destructive than recent wartime damage. The reduction of the entire middle class to deep poverty, one result of the international sanctions imposed since 1990, compounded the misery. The sanctions — or, as Iraqis say, the siege—had the further effect of sealing them off from advances elsewhere in the world, and even from the hope of catching up. In the past decade a kind of rottenness set in. When I saw Baghdad in 1990, with its neat, palm-lined boulevards, it looked not unlike Kuwait or Riyadh. A decade later the city looked more like Khartoum or Kinshasa, a place of brownouts, grasping bureaucrats, and leaky drains, its broken streets packed with the aimless unemployed.”