National Geographic : 1941 Aug
Bombs over Bible Lands to Baghdad! While some live in famed old homes where fountains play in courtyards and have rooms walled with inlay of mother-of pearl, others have erected modernistic bunga lows on the near-by hills. At midday men sleep in cubicle shops and along shady streets. Late in the afternoon women enveloped in black gowns and veils sit like rows of crows in gardens and along the river to cool off. Hundreds of Damascenes go to open-air cafes up the Barada (Abana) River to sip cold drinks, eat ice cream, and smoke their water pipes under the trees. Yes, Damascus is old, wise, and has learned how to live. To this "world's oldest city," war is war the will of Allah! From here motor roads and airplane lines take off east, into Iraq, where the oil comes from. Iraq is smaller than New Mexico. When lulls in shooting permit, it's the stopping place for competing east-west commercial air lines of Italy, France, England, Germany, Egypt, and the Netherlands. East of Baghdad, Iraq's capital, rise the hills of Iran-long named Persia-now grown enormously rich from oil and living in mortal fear of Moscow. Brooding Russia looms to Iran's north; to the south, Iraq has an outlet to that fragrant Persian Gulf which has tanta lized the nose of "the Bear that walks like a man" since Peter the Great warned his peo ple they must never rest till they'd gained a seaport on warm salt water. "My Fat Breast Is My Misfortune" And there are the oil fields! From them, fat taxes flow into Iraq's treasury, and vast sums are spent on oil-field wages and supplies. Yet rich wells are a mixed blessing. For they are coveted. An Arab proverb makes a partridge say: "Alas, my fat breast is my mis fortune." It may be that these fat oil fields will prove tiny Iraq's misfortune. Iraq itself, then named Mesopotamia, was the most easterly section of Turkey, until the First World War dismembered that old Otto man Empire. Over it Britain then took a mandate, and Iraq became an independent state in 1932. By treaty, however, certain English troops were to remain. Iraq's Mosul oil fields * center about the old pastoral town of Kirkuk. Some 70 miles southwest of it, Saladin was born. "Honor ing the Faith," his name means. With him Richard the Lionhearted made the treaty, in 1192, when the Third Crusade ended. Something happened at Kirkuk, when drill ers from California were helping on these wells, that made men think again of Saladin, to whose wounded Saracens the Crusaders more than once gave chivalrous aid. Over come by gas, two American well drillers lay suffocating near a well mouth. Three Kurds, descendants of the Saracens, rushed to their aid, only to die with them. Oil Town of Iraq Kirkuk, reached by rail and motor road 145 miles north of Baghdad, is the boom oil town of Iraq (pages 162-3). Gas makes so much pressure that men compare the field to a giant soda-water siphon, with the cork at Kirkuk. How 15,000 men, lugging 123,000 tons of pipe, dug 1,000 miles of ditch over deserts and mountains and laid the pipe line under ground and at places above ground from Kirkuk to the Mediterranean in 18 months is among the great feats of engineering annals. Americans own 23-)4 per cent of the stock of Iraq Petroleum Company, Ltd. British, Dutch, and French own most of the rest. Since the pipe line was finished, each year it has carried about 31,000,000 barrels of crude oil to the sea. They say when oil was first started through this pipe, a crowd gath ered at the Haifa end to see the first gush come through. It came-pushing ahead of it two big lizards! Easiest, quickest route to Baghdad from Palestine or Syria is by plane or bus. Both go via Rutba, a fortified desert post set at ancient water holes on a caravan trail from Damascus to the Euphrates. These motor roads have great military importance. British troops from Baghdad moved over them in June, 1941, to invade Syria. Since antiquity, men trudging across the hot sands have depended on Rutba for water (page 167). Abraham's emigrant train no doubt stopped here. Riders in buses and private cars, driving be tween Baghdad and Syria or Palestine, eat lunch here or stay overnight. A walled rest house, guarded by troops, saves you from be ing robbed or killed by nomad bandits. They shot through one of our wings when we flew over, but happily missed our gas tank. Sometimes, when tribes are on the march, thousands of camels and hundreds of tents of desert folk descend on Rutba. About the older wells camel dung, piled up for centu ries, is many feet deep. This Damascus-Baghdad road runs past Lake Habbaniya and the near-by British air corps post, Dhibban, so much in the news. The lake is the stopping place for seaplanes of British Overseas Airways on the London Australia run. * See "Today's World Turns on Oil," by Frederick Simpich, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, June, 1941.