Monday, March 24, 2003

SADDAM AND NEBUCHADNEZZAR: It's widely reported that Saddam Hussein has been extremely interested in the ancient history of Iraq and has put a great deal of effort into (ham-fisted) "restoration" of local antiquities. Moreover, he uses this history for his own political purposes and holds up Nebuchadnezzar II as one of his personal role models. Not to be simplistic about the many modern factors affecting the things he's done since he came to power in 1979, but this datum certainly contributes to making sense of what's been going on in his mind. Nebuchadnezzar founded an empire in the ancient Near East; Saddam has had similar ambitions in the modern Middle East, hence the invasion of Kuwait in 1979. Nebuchadnezzar conquered and put an end to the Kingdom of Judah in 586/7; Saddam has made no bones about wanting to do the same to the modern State of Israel. Cyrus the Persian conquered the Babylonian kingdom that Nebuchadnezzar founded and allowed the Judeans to return home and rebuild; Saddam fought a long and hugely destructive war with Iran (Persia) in the 1980s, perhaps in part as payback to Cyrus' descendants.

A couple of websites from the Iraqi government illustrate Saddam's use of Iraq's history. (Not surprisingly, they are no longer up, but Google has cached them.) This propaganda piece picks up many of these themes. And note the "Hammurabi" and "Nebuchadnezzar" divisions of Saddam's Republican Guard described here.

There are countless news pages and websites that deal with the Saddam/Nebuchadnezzar connection. A recent Google search netted me 3,940 references, of which about 230 were listed. Many of them fall into the broadly "warpo" category, and I won't link to them. Most of the others are superficial, merely mentioning the connection in passing, but a few give more information. Here's a backgrounder on Saddam's building projects from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. This is a page on the Babylon International Festival. And this is a piece on Israel's Iraqi Jews from the China Post. And finally, this is a modern midrash on the Tower of Babel story from National Review Online. Propaganda cuts both ways.

If any readers can point me either to actual speeches by Saddam or other official Iraqi government sources that mention Nebuchadnezzar or ancient Babylon in general, I would like very much to see them. I will post anything interesting here. Even if the link is now dead, as it probably will be, give it to me anyway. Chances are I can recover it somewhere in the Google cache.

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