"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The history of Al Asad

Well, here I sit on duty again, with a storm threatening outside again, and no new episodes of Lost or BSG on the shared drive to help me pass the time. So, to amuse myself, and to give you, dear readers, a reason to continue reading my blog, I decided to Google the history of this sprawling installation that's been my home for 8 out of the last 18 months and see what I came up with. As one might expect, there's little information available before 2003, when the world cared little about an obscure oasis in the boondocks of a less-than-friendly country. But I gleaned a few scraps of information that pre-date the invasion and tailored them together here. Though these are mostly second-hand sources, I have little reason to doubt their authenticity; so, enjoy!

(Parts of the following history of the oasis and village at the Al Asad Air Base, Iraq came from an interview with Major General Ibrahim Mohammad of the Iraqi Army and one of his colonels on May 21, 2005, conducted by LCDR Terry Eddinger and CDR Rondall Brown.)

A visit to the Al Asad Oasis is literally like taking a step from a stark, desert wasteland to a lush, green sanctuary. The pool teems with small minnows, some tan and others black. Frogs line the banks intermingled in the reeds, warily retreating to the water when someone approaches. Birds sing in the surrounding trees and bushes and, occasionally, waterfowl visit the pool for a swim. It's a complete ecosystem.

According to Arab legend, Abraham, the patriarch of the Hebrew Bible, the Quran, and other Islamic writings, visited the oasis at Al Asad on his journey from Ur to Haran (Gen 11:31; Stories of the Prophets, Al Imam Ibn Kathir, Ibrahim; the Quran does not mention the journey). According to the legend, he stopped at the oasis, drank from its water, and bathed himself. He and his family camped here for a short time before moving on to Haran.

The Arabic name of the village near the oasis is Eyen Al Asad, which means "Spring of the Lion". Perhaps the named was derived from a time when this area was a wilderness area with all kinds of wild animals, including lions.

The oasis had neither settlement nor village before 1920 other than occasional occupation by Bedouins who passed through with their flocks and stopped for water. Over the centuries, most people in the region lived much closer to the Euphrates River, along its banks or flood plains. They preferred to stay closer to the lush land and trade route that the river naturally provided.

Around 1920, six large families from a town between Kirkuk and Mosul, left there and moved to the oasis. The Shitwi group formed the largest family. These families built the buildings of the village (that now stand in ruin), planted the date palm grove, and eventually built a school. In its prime, the palm grove provided a good cash crop for the village.

In 1985 Saddam Hussein decided to turn the surrounding area into an Iraqi Air Base, which he hired Yugoslavians to build. He paid the villagers a very small sum of money for their land and moved them to other locations, such as Hit, Baghdadi, and Baghdad. A few of the people remained behind and stayed unnoticed for ten more years, since at that time the base did not take in the oasis area. However, in 1995, the base was expanded to incorporate the oasis. The commander of the base found a document stating that all of the villagers had been evicted in 1985 and so he evicted the remaining villagers.

Originally called Qadisiyah Airbase, it was named after the great battle of May 636 at Al Qadisiyah, a village south of Baghdad on the Euphrates. The Iranians, who outnumbered the Arabs six to one, were decisively beaten. From Al Qadisiyah the Arabs pushed on to the Sassanid capital at Ctesiphon, enabling Islam under Caliph Umar to spread to the East. During the 1980s, Baathist publicists regularly called the Iran-Iraq War a modern day "Qadisiyah" exploiting this age-old enmity in its propaganda and publicizing the war as part of the ancient struggle between the Arab and Persian empires.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, the base was initially secured by an Australian SAS regiment, then turned over to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in May. In March 2004, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force took over the base, which became the largest coalition base in western Iraq and served as a major logistical and transportation hub.

Marines, soldiers, and sailors took on a cleanup project of the oasis on April 16, 2005. These volunteers collected trash and debris from the water and surrounding area, including around the ruins of the buildings. Their efforts restored respect to the site.

Near the oasis is a stark reminder of the reality of death that follows life. There is an Iraqi cemetery from the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Buried in shallow graves are the remains of soldiers and civilians, adults and children, those killed in that horrible conflict.

In March 2006, the 67th Area Support Group, Host Nation Section began a project with local Iraqis to clean the oasis and the surrounding Palm Grove. Iraqis were brought in to clean up the oasis by removing the weeds and trash around the water. The workers also prepared the date trees for the upcoming growing season. The workers climbed the trees barefoot, using equipment and techniques that have probably been used for hundreds of years to cut down old and dead tree limbs. This helped prepare the date trees which had not been cultivated for at least three years. Located within the Palm Grove are fifteen to twenty varieties of dates which are planted through out the area; the ultimate goal of this project is to provide an excellent source of food for the villages in the area. There are also 70 different species of birds, three different species of canines, and many other types of animals and wildlife that live around the Oasis.

Regardless of the authenticity of Abraham's visit, people treat the oasis with reverence believing in the story of ancient visit.

There you have it. If I were feeling super-motivated I might have tried to correct grammar and style, but I just copied and pasted so please forgive the fact that it doesn't sound like "me". It's a pretty Spartan history, but then this is a Spartan place. Rumor has it there's a course on the history of this place on base; if I find it, I'll provide more info for anyone who cares. Anyway, now I've made my blog relevant for another few days. Hopefully my next post will be more interesting.


Winefred said...

Pictures, we need pictures! Any chance of you making a pilgrimage (literally -- I'm totally into the whole Abraham story) to the site and grabbing some photos?

Anonymous said...

It appears that your "cobbled" it directly from here.



Cincinnatus said...

Ooooookay there smart guy, you got me! Though I will add that I used several different sites plus Wikipedia for amplifying information. I never said that I dusted off the ruins of well and found enscribed tablets by myself . . .

More will come if I can find it!