Iraqi people feel nostalgic for the previous decades. This is not because the past is beautiful in itself, but as the present is much worse than they thought. Thus, they prefer to remember the near history painfully. They know that everything has changed, and time will not have mercy on them. They have such bad feelings in the midst of many terrible problems they are suffering from, such as the spatial chaos hugely widespread in their cities.
Formerly, the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, was a source of great pride. It had good health services, streets, gardens, markets, and educational institutions. During that time, women had a real free life as they were not forced to wear headscarf for religious reasons. As well, the level of crimes was very low. Therefore, It is said that many Arab leaders were looking to apply the Iraqi experience in their cities.
However, the period of the Iraqi-Iranian war made the Iraqis lose the opportunity of becoming the Arabian crown jewel. Since then, Baghdad has started to decline as a real city from geographical and planning perspective.
The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 transformed the capital into the worst city in the world. It suffered from a lot of explosions and waves of violence. Additionally, it became a city of the deep sadness that founded a place in the hearts and memory of its inhabitants. Moreover, the city walls were dressed in black. During the sectarian war, which erupted between 2006-2007, the funeral announcements, the revenge slogans and the lists of missing youths were observed all over the city. This led to establishing more turbulence and complexity in the social structure of the city. All these things reshaped the districts of the city and deepened the sectarian divisions of its residents. As a result, we have now got isolated Shiite and Sunni islands inside that city, which once was a diverse metropolitan area.
In Baghdad, slums are now expanding in many geographical directions. As a result, a person can see different kinds of architectural distortion. This happened because of the rapid population growth inconsistent with the numbers of available housings. Exploiting the weak laws, the families have begun to extend their ownership to the areas located outside the Masterplan of the capital. People took advantage of the drop in the price of such lands to build unplanned population centers. Thus, the capital municipality confirmed that it does not have the capacity to deal with the environmental consequences of these squatter settlements. Accordingly, diffusion the residential waste in Baghdad's streets has become commonplace. Therefore, this city is presently regarded as one of the most polluted cities in the Middle East.
Slums have many other effects in Baghdad. The tribal system has become more rooted than ever before. So, Baghdad is now facing what can be called: The ruralization of the urban life. This coincides with the campaign of Islamization the Iraqi capital. These matters caste a shadow over the social interaction in this city, which has lost many of the secular, the non-Muslims, and the moderated families, who were compelled to leave Baghdad in order to stay alive. The rest of the Baghdadis, who did not have a chance to move into another place, express their hatred for the radical tribal and religious principles deciding the patterns of life in their city. They are dreaming about the day in which the life returns to its normal course.
Furthermore, police stations do not have a database or security record of those living in the slums. In fact, many criminal and terrorist incidents are committed by teenagers of the slums. This is playing a significant role in sounding the alarm and increasing awareness of what will happen in the future.
It is right to say that slums are employed for electoral motives. However, we have to ask this question: How could we stop the deterioration of Baghdad in the next years? If we depend on the politicians, there will be more setbacks, and we will bequeath to the upcoming generations a devastated city. As such, the sentiments of alienation from the city will increase horribly.
I trust that Baghdad can be saved from this bad and undeserved fate. I spent about an academic year in Warsaw, the capital of Poland. I read about its plight and visited some places that reflect the details of its collapse. Warsaw was completely destroyed in the second world war, but then its residents struggled for revitalizing it. Thus, it is now regarded as one of the most important urban and cultural centers in the European Union. Baghdad and the Baghdadis can do the same.
Diyari Salihis an Iraqi academic, Ph.D. in Political Geography, Baghdad, Post-Doctorate in International Relations, Warsaw, Focuses on the Geopolitical Issues in Iraq.