Baghdad - Context & Conflict -


Focusing on the city of Baghdad as a site of repetitive conflict in modern history while examining how negative events affect its context and vice versa, could lead us to an understanding of this city’s need for new architecture; a form of architecture that reacts to the constant states of war, attacks and social irregularity.  The careful consideration of the roles of accidents, constant casualties and residents’ displacement due to high risk changes within their home environment, offer keys to understand the connection between Baghdad’s conflict and its impacts on what the city contains through its rich historical layering. 

Accidents and Casualties         Negative events can quite possibly create positive outcomes; precisely accidents of war and conflict attacks can generate the un-expected, or even reveal elements in the city fabric not previously known.  Simultaneously, they could also produce even worse outcomes than war itself, by generating the unexpected through different tools that help in achieving those unforeseen accidents. Paul Virilio declares weapons of war as one of those instruments that carry out accidents in states of conflict and uncertainty as accidents become a form of military operation.[1]   

In Baghdad, negative accidents of war have left the city in a constant state of hesitation, where commonly expected human relations and forms of communication, that the city thrived upon prior to the 2003 attacks, become impossible.  If accidents of war achieve such an obvious negative impact; is it clear what effect this has on the city? Results of such accidents reveal the very basis of society and its woven threads. When the vital and basic elements of communications are cut, all life forms are altered and isolated, leaving a weak social mesh.  This mesh is further affected by permanent threats and temporary disputes, such as the recent sectarian differences that have begun to change the capital’s map of inhabitation.  On the other hand, the positive outcome from such warfare accidents might be represented in realizing the need for a new alternative of dwelling and being within the wounded city.  This realization could represent the possible creation of the new layer added to the damaged city and to the rich historical mesh of ancient Baghdad. 

The main indicator of such altering needs is the number of casualties over the conflict period.  This can offer us a relational-scale of how heavy the strains of the conflict are on the city inhabitants.  Over time, we see that the amount of casualties in every major war increases according to how recent that conflict is.  A simple comparison would be the 54 million casualty increase between the First and Second World Wars.[2]  And in a city like Baghdad which went thorough constant intervals of war and destructive occupations in its modern history, starting with the British Occupation in Mesopotamia in the 1920s up to its recent occupation by the Coalition forces, the death toll of civilians (unengaged in war activity) rose dramatically due to the increase of military air strikes and firefights.[3] 

Rather than thinking of casualties in terms of a number gathered from different sources, it is perhaps more important for architecture to consider these numbers as experiences which occurred in the presence of three elements combined at one time.  The formula of death in states of war consists of three parts 1 the human presence 2 architectural existence and 3 the impact of the accidental instruments which create the moments of destruction. 
What then do these experiences imply when considering the architecture of the past and the architecture of the future? Can architecture help protect future accidents of war and conflict?  In Baghdad, one must understand the social, cultural and historical fabric in order to analyse new structural formations new continuous forms, as tools of liveability under the uncontrollable events of deadly aggression where inhabitants (whether intended or not) become the main targets along with the structures that contain them. 

Source: (Architecture of War: A conflict generated Architecture - By ReeM Al-Rawi )

[1] Virilio, Paul & Sylvere Lotringer.  ‘Crepuscular Dawn’. Semiotext(e), 2002. P.147, 154, 173 
[2] Virilio, Paul & Sylvere Lotringer.  ‘Crepuscular Dawn’. Semiotext(e), 2002. P.139
[3] Gregory, Derek.  ‘The Biopolitics of Baghdad: Counterinsurgency and the Counter City’.  Department of Geography:      University of BC.  Vancouver.  

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