Civilized Nations Respect the Dead

Many historians consider Mesopotamia to be the cradle of civilization. Writing was invented here. The great Hammurabi’s Code of Laws was first engraved here. This was the birthplace of Abraham, father of the Jews and the Arabs.

The territory now called Iraq was the center of the greatest powers of the day. At different times, it has been conquered by Alexander the Great, ravaged by the Mongols, and dominated by empires based in Persia, Turkey, Britain, and now the United States.

One of the first acts of the American occupation authorities in Iraq was the destruction of the tomb of Michel Aflaq, an Arab nationalist philosopher and a founder of the Ba’ath Party that ruled Iraq. This savage act was totally unwarranted and unjustified. It reminds us of the barbaric actions of the Mongols centuries ago. Regrettably, this 21st century barbarism is practiced in the name of "freedom," "democracy," "liberation," and "human rights." What is even worse is that it is done by an "elected" government that tells the world that its actions are taken in the name of the American people.

I do not blame the American people for not knowing what atrocities are being committed in their name. I watch U.S. network news, so I know Americans are not told what is really going on in Iraq.

During World War I (1914-1919), the British army fought military battles with the Ottoman (Turkish) armies stationed in Iraq. Many thousands were killed and buried in Iraq from both sides.

We have British cemeteries in Basra, Kut, and Baghdad, where approximately 54,000 Commonwealth troops are buried. We have a cemetery for the Indian soldiers who fought with the British army. We also have the Turkish cemetery in Baghdad.

In the 90 years since the establishment of these cemeteries, the Iraqi governments and the Iraqi people respected the sanctity of these graves. In those 90 years, Baghdad expanded so much that these cemeteries became prime property and obstructed the full development of badly needed projects. Despite this, the government of Iraq respected its humanitarian obligation to protect these cemeteries.

In fact, in April 2002, a year before the attack on Iraq, the Iraqi government approved the restoration of the Australian cemetery despite bitterness over the first Gulf War and 12 years of sanctions.

Mr. Peter Francis of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission said: "The [Iraqis] said that the government of Iraq attached great importance to the long-standing War Graves Agreements between it and the commission, and that it was ready to provide whatever assistance the commission required to carry out its work in Iraq."

Our 7,000 years of history and civilization have taught us to respect the sanctity of graves, whether they belong to natives, occupiers, or enemy soldiers. These values are shared with other civilized people around the world.

Jon Lee Anderson wrote in The New Yorker about a visit he had to the British cemetery in Baghdad days before the American invasion. His last paragraph read as follows:

"As we were walking out of the cemetery, we passed an obelisk with the inscription ‘Here are the honored Turkish soldiers who fell for their country in the Great War, 1914-1918.’ When I pointed this out to Khalid, he seemed confused, and I explained that the obelisk had been erected by the British to honor their enemies. He smirked. ‘So, the British have honor!’ he said, and he walked away, then turned back. ‘Maybe they will do the same for us, after they have killed us. Thank you very much.’"

I hate to disappoint my friend Khalid. The American army did not respect the Iraqi soldiers who died fighting for their country; they let them rot in the streets. The Americans did not allow the Red Cross to enter Fallujah for days after the city’s "liberation." The dead were left to rot in the ruins of their homes.