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Baghdad has a rich history, despite its current woes. Unfortunately, that history is one of frequent invasion at the hand of many conquerors. Located along the banks of the Tigris River, Baghdad sits squarely within the Mesopotamian region of the fertile crescent. This means it sits along a fertile river system in a very arid region and is surrounded by difficult-to-defend plains.

The region’s fertility combined with its utter indefensibility means it has fallen to a wide constellation of powers ranging from the Sumerians, Hittites, and Persians in the ancient world to Arabs, Turks, Mongols, Persians (again), Europeans, and Americans in recent times. Which is why, when the Iraqis have a good day, they build a monument to celebrate it. Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had the Victory Arch built following the end of the Iraq/Iraq war in 1989.

In the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the rise of the Iranian-backed Shiites to power, the arch was slated for demolition. Like so many other public works in post-Saddam Iraq, violence and insurgency, as well as a healthy dose of government inaction, saw those plans waylaid. Today the arch is as much a monument to the lives of coalition soldiers and local forces lost during the Iraq war and following insurgency, with helmets and booths mingling with the state propaganda of the Baathist regime they toppled.

For more on the future of Iraq, see Chapter 15 of The Accidental Superpower and Chapter 7 of The Absent Superpower.