It has now been a decade since the United States invaded Iraq, and the country's beleaguered capital isn't faring so well after 10 years of conflict. In 2012, for instance, Baghdad topped Mercer's list as the worst place to live based on quality of life, edging out other war-torn heavy hitters like Khartoum, Sudan and Brazzaville, Congo. The city has even become a synonym for chaos and destruction; when Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in 2005, headlines such as "Baghdad on the Bayou" and "Looters turn New Orleans into 'Downtown Baghdad'" quickly surfaced.
But the city, nestled on the banks of the storied Tigris River, was not always associated with violence and decline. In 1932, Iraq had just gained independence after more than ten years as a British mandate and centuries under Ottoman rule. Baghdad, famed at the time for its quaint blend of Turkish architecture and ancient markets, suddenly found itself the capital of a fledgling Iraqi nation. The ethnic and religious tensions that would ignite in the coming decades of war and sanctions were already present but not yet explosive, and the vast oil reserves that would transform the capital into a booming metropolis had only just been discovered. These 1932 photographs, drawn from the Matson Collection at the Library of Congress, show a Baghdad on the brink of a new era, struggling to discover its identity in a time before it was defined by devastation.
Above, pedestrians walk along the street in front of the Midan mosque.