Here’s a virtual reconstruction of the city of Ur around 2500 BC or so, or upwards of five thousand years ago. This is based on the remarkably well preserved mud brick structures (due in part to the dry climate, and in part to the excellence of the construction), which gives a blue print of the city in exceptional detail. There is also an enormous quantity of documents—mud tablets baked hard by the sun and in ovens—written in cuneiform which give insight into almost every aspect of life, politics, war and commerce in the city’s 3,300 year history (which coincides neatly with the history of cuneiform, actually, the first cuneiform preceding the founding of the city by only a couple centuries.) Ur was perhaps the very first city, and certainly the very first great city in the modern sense. Take us back in time and put us atop the ziggurat that towers over it and we would take in the view and know we were looking at a city. The way the Chicago skyline seems to rise out of the fields a great distance away was how Ur’s towering ziggurat would have appeared to rise from the plains of Mesopotamia to a Sumerian farmhand. Ur was the model that most cities from Europe to Central and South Asia to the northern half of Africa followed, even though most never knew it. It became the ur meme, the fundamental urban design concept, like how an alphabet invented in the Sinai by a handful of literate turquoise miners became the conceptual model for nearly all the world’s alphabets thereafter. Thus was the urban design deliberately laid out by the planners of Ur over five thousand years ago imprinted upon civilization. Only cities in the Far East and the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa were founded and conceptualized independently. It was in Ur where humans first figured out how to create an urban civilization. Crime, epidemic disease, slums, crowding, pollution, repression and extremes of wealth and poverty followed the idea as it spread, sure, but so did the glamour, excitement, inspiration and thrill of life in the big city, which is why so many of us live in one five millennia later. Ur itself, though, was abandoned about twenty seven hundred years ago, forgotten, it’s bones covered with blowing sand and dust till all that remained was a few odd hillocks, as if it never were.

A virtual recreation of Ur about four thousand years ago. That’s the Euphrates River, Ur then was near where it spilled into the Persian Gulf, making Ur a coastal city. Sedimentation carried in the current of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has long since left the site of Ur far from the sea. The water table was eight or nine feet higher then, too, the land would’ve been well watered, even marshy, so much so that the city planners had canals like thoroughfares crossing the city, carrying goods and people. Alas, six thousand years of civilization and climate change have taken their toll on the landscape of Mesopotamia, and Ur now stands in the desert, silent and still, dust devils swirling over the long forgotten canals.
(Unfortunately I don’t know the source of the digital image.)

Gilgamesh would nod knowingly

[I’m not sure when I wrote this, actually.]

A lot of Iranian foreign policy is driven by the history of the various Persian empires that have existed in a continuous arc for three thousand years. Iranian civilization today is the direct descendant of Persian civilization three millennia ago. Persian civilization never disappeared, was never destroyed and reborn, it’s perhaps the oldest continuous civilization in the world. Persia has been playing this game in Iraq and Syria for thousands of years and are very aware they have been doing so.

We are not. We will never. We can’t even begin to fathom what is going on. Iraq is a lattice of grudges going back to the very dawn of civilization, grudges that last for centuries, for eons, grudges so old people’s don’t even know why they hate other peoples except that their ancestors did, and those ancestors never questioned why either. Civilization doesn’t mean everyone gets along. Put a few thousand years of lots of civilizations in one relatively small area and you get quite a beautiful mess. Humanity thrives on conflict. Otherwise we’d be like the Neanderthals, scarcely changing in a hundred thousand years, peacefully using the same flint tools for 5,000 generations. But look what Homo sapiens have achieved in a mere 500 generations of civilization in the Middle East. A lot of rich history, a lot of extraordinary cultures, a lot of endless fighting. But with drones now, no stone tools.

In the long sweep of the history of the Middle East, our Iraqi intervention will scarcely be noted. We we there and then we were gone a couple decades later, and we made no difference whatsoever.