chapter  2
20 Pages

Iraq under Mongol and Turkoman rule, 1258–1534

In retrospect, it seems the height of folly that the Abbasid rulers ofIraq had even considered resisting the Mongol conquest. By the end of the thirteenth century, the great force unleashed from the steppes

of Central Asia had swept across the entire Asian continent, laying waste

to multitudes of empires and kingdoms, including those in China, Persia,

Russia and east Europe. In 1206, Chingiz Khan, the founder of what was to

become the largest land empire in history, successfully unified the main

nomadic Turkic and Mongol tribes east of the Altai Mountains under his

command.1 To maintain this unity, he set out on a life-long career of con-

quest that was continued by his descendants after his death in 1227. In

addition to their individual ruggedness and valor, collective solidarity and

rapid mobility, Mongol success was also a result of widescale brutality and

terror. The destruction and massacres that accompanied their advance

spread fear and hastened the submission of new territories. Cities were given

the choice between surrender and payment of tribute or a general massacre

of the male population with the women and children carried off into

slavery. Chingiz Khan’s first foray into Muslim territory, for example, was

highlighted by a terrible massacre at Merv, one of the major cities of eastern

Persia. Contemporary sources say that even dogs and cats were slaughtered

after the extermination of the entire population. Similar fates befell the cities

of Balkh, Herat and Nishapur which, in Mongol minds, did not represent

anything of value to their nomadic, pastoral lifestyle. What made matters

even worse was that the Mongols were shamanists who were not awed by the

religious symbols of Islam. The Mongol conquest inaugurated a tumultuous

period of tribal ascendency and recurring foreign invasions which sorely

tested the relations between Iraq’s many communities.