December 2016 
StratoChem now offers Porosity Analysis 

We've got a little holiday present for you. In keeping with our ongoing commitment to offer more analytical options to our clients, StratoChem Services recently acquired a porosimeter and an immersed bulk volume instrument for porosity and pore volume analysis.

The immersed bulk volume (IBV) instrument allows us to measure the bulk volume of cores before measuring the grain volume of tested cores using the helium porosimeter. The identification of both bulk and grain volumes uncovers the amount of space within the rock not occupied by solids, which is indicative of the total rock capacity to hold fluids and can be applied to any type of rock sample including cylinder-shape cores, oriented cores, sidewall cores and cuttings.

It's been a difficult year in some ways. 2016 started with low oil prices, and the industry has been slow to recover--but the recovery has begun, and we are optimistic about a better 2017 for the industry and the world.  Wherever you are and however you celebrate, we wish you a happy and safe holiday season, and a great beginning to the new year.

Your Friends at StratoChem Services
Sound Energy Announces Success of its Gas Exploration in Eastern Morocco


Mesopotamia Part III: From the Rise of Islam to the Modern Day
I move through black cloud night-
Dark, at war with Dawn,
Quivers with a fine blade's sheen-
With a vigorous, widejaw cheetah
Thickneck, spine-welded-scapulae
Leanbelly in taut-twist well-rope body
Cheek-folds plump in a scowl,
Sheeny; black teardrops on masseters
Bactrian lungs in saffron ribcage
Heavy paws, bull neck, sudden dart
A lion but for the spotty coat
Alert for shapes that shift.
Abu Nuwas (756-814 AD), "Cheetah" (trans. J.E. Montgomery)

Thus the classical Islamic poet Abu Nuwas vividly described hunting with a cheetah at dawn. Of Persian and Arab ancestry, a master of satire, love poetry, religious devotionals, and celebrations of the hunt, Abu Nuwas seems the perfect symbol of the worldly, multi-cultural civilization that early Islam brought to Mesopotamia.  The poem quoted above strikes us with its brilliant imagery, but also reveals something more subtle about the Islamic states that sprung up around the Tigris and the Euphrates: the continued connection of the people to the land in which they lived.  Much like the hounds used to chase boars and wolves in Europe, the cheetah was a celebrated hunting animal in the classical Islamic world.  The only big cat that can be tamed, the cheetah was once native to Mesopotamia--as much a part of the landscape of the Middle East as the rivers and mountains.  In this, the third and final part of our series on Mesopotamia, we will explore the ways in which Islamic civilization developed in tandem with the geography and landscape of the region.

The Asian cheetah now lives only in isolated parts of Iran, but once ranged across much of the Middle East. It was used as a hunting animal from China to Renaissance Italy.

The Early Caliphates: Ummayads & Abbasids

Islam began in the western part of the Arabian Peninsula in the early 600s AD.  Prior to Islam, the Arabs were largely polytheistic, worshiping a pantheon of many traditional gods.  The Prophet Muhammad condemned these beliefs, preaching the existence of one God, identified with the God of the Jews and Christians.  After a series of victorious battles against the pagan Arabs, Muslim armies unified the Peninsula and turned their attentions outward, towards the empire of the Sassanid Persians in Mesopotamia.  Just 17 years after the Prophet's death in 632, the victorious Muslims had conquered the Sassanids, establishing Islam as the primary religion of Mesopotamia.

But the transition from Muhammad's leadership to those of his successors, the Caliphs, was not an easy one.  A succession dispute arose between those Muslims who wished to see the Prophet's son-in-law, Ali, lead the community, and those who backed Abu Bakr, his father-in-law.  While both ultimately served as Caliphs, the conflict ultimately became as much spiritual as political; Ali's followers ultimately became the Shi'ite Muslims, while the followers of Abu Bakr (and his successors Umar and Uthman) became the first Sunnis.  This sectarian divide would forever change Mesopotamia.

The Ummayad Caliphate that followed the rule of Ali in 661 saw the greatest single expansion of the young Islamic empire, stretching from Spain to India, but the Abbasids who followed in 750 marked the beginning of the true Golden Age of Islamic culture--centered not in Damascus, as the Ummayads had been, but in the new city of Baghdad.  Founded by the Caliph Al-Mansur in 762, the young city swiftly became the center of a brilliant civilization blending the best influences of Arab, Persian, and local culture--including the name "Iraq," an Arab approximation of the Akkadian Uruk, itself derived from the Sumerian city of Ur.

Abbasid carvings from Samarra show off the intricate and beautiful blend of Persian and Arab influence characteristic of the Caliphate _photo by Miguel Hermosa Cuesto).

Under the patronage of caliphs like the celebrated Harun Ar-Rashid (who appears frequently as a character in the Arabian Nights), Baghdad became a center not only of trade and political power, but the arts and sciences as well, a luminous world in which philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine advanced at a dizzying pace.  Muslims, Christians, and Jews all contributed to the blossoming culture of the Caliphate.  Among these was the brilliant scholar Jabir Ibn Hayyan, who laid the foundations of our modern science of chemistry, the astronomer Al-Battani whose ideas on the earth's rotation inspired Copernicus, and the doctor and mathematician Ibn Al-Haytham, whose opthamological work finally disproved the longstanding hypothesis that the eyes shot rays of light to illuminate objects.  In time, all these and many other Arab and Persian scholars achieved fame and renown in Europe. 

Jabir Ibn Al'Hayyan, from whose name derives the English word "gibberish" due to his coded alchemical texts, indecipherable to novices.  A foundational chemist and one of our heroes at StratoChem.

But for all its genius, the Abbasid Caliphate was not without conflict.  Invasions by Buyid Persians and then Seljuq Turks forced the Abbasids out of Baghdad.  While the Muslim Seljuqs were welcomed by some who were concerned that the luxury of the Caliphal court had become un-Islamic, both invasions paled in comparison to that of the Mongols in 1258 under the warlord Hulagu Khan.

Hulago Khan's siege of Baghdad.

Hulagu Khan's siege of Baghdad

Beginning with Genghis Khan's campaigns in the Far East, the Mongol Empire spread rapidly across Asia, massacring cities from China to Poland.  As ruthless as they were strategically brilliant, the Mongol siege of Baghdad led to a 13-day orgy of violence that saw the burning of the city and the loss of much of the scientific knowledge in the great libraries of the Abbasids.  In Mongol culture, it was considered dishonorable to kill a ruler with a blade, so the Khan tied Al-Mutasim into a burlap bag and had his cavalry trample him to death in the streets of Baghdad.  The complex aqueducts that had supported the growing population of the region for thousands of years was destroyed--a loss so terrible that some historians believe the region has still not entirely recovered its agricultural productivity.  The horrors of the Mongol invasion show how much the people of Mesopotamia depended on their rich but fragile land.  While some of the Abbasids fled to Cairo and continued their rule, the Caliphate never recovered.

The Ottoman Empire

While destruction of Baghdad effectively ended the glorious age of Classical Islam in Mesopotamia, the groundwork was laid for Mesopotamia's incorporation into yet another empire--that of the Ottoman Turks.  The invasions of the Mongols and the Seljuqs were part of a vast wave of westward migrations by Central Asian cultures, many of whom spoke Turkic languages.  Among these were the ancestors of the Ottomans, who conquered the last remnant of the Roman Empire, Byzantine Constantinople, in 1453.  An ingenious, outward-looking culture, the Sunni Ottomans threatened both Christian Europe and Shi'ite Persia, clashing with the Safavid Dynasty of Iran for control of the rich lands of Mesopotamia.  Ultimately, Sultan Suleyman ("the Magnificent") seized the region, and Iraq lay in Ottoman hands for several centuries to come.

Suleyman the Magnificent_ Ottoman conqueror of Iraq_ as portrayed by the Renaissance Italian artist Titian.

Suleyman declared himself Caliph, but his claim was a tenuous one, since the Caliph was traditionally a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad, which Suleyman was not.  Still, the Sultan presided over an immensely successful era.  Not merely a brilliant general but a talented poet and patron of the arts, Suleyman's empire served as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East, and brought both Western and Turkish influence to Mesopotamia, adding to the rich cultural mix of the region.  After Suleyman's time, the Ottomans continued to consolidate their rule over Iraq, establishing an eyalet (province) ruled by a pasha and beating back the last Safavid offensive in 1638.
But such a widespread empire, taking in much of the former holdings of the Abbasids, was difficult to maintain, and by the 18th century the Ottomans were beginning to lose their hold on Mesopotamia.  In 1704, a revolt by mamluks forced the Ottomans to recognize the rebels' independence.

A mamluk in battle.

The mamluks belonged to a special class of soldiers with roots deep in the history of Islam. In the early days of the faith, it was decided that Muslims should not fight each other, so armies of slaves were trained for combat--at least in theory.  In reality, the mamluks were Muslim themselves and often ended up rebelling successfully against those rulers who recruited them in the first place.  Mamluk rule over Iraq lasted until 1831, when the Ottomans reconquered it, but it was too late for the Empire, which ended with a defeat in World War I.  The roots of Iraq's troubled 20th and 21st century lay in what happened next.

Oil & Borders: From Armistice to the Present

The trouble started early.  In 1916, under the Sykes-Picot Agreement, Britain and France redrew the map of the Middle East, post-Ottoman Empire.  In addition to creating artificial borders where none existed (such as between Syria and Lebanon), the agreement exacerbated tensions between the various ethnic and religious groups living in Mesopotamia.  The Kurds, for instance, were split between three countries--Syria, Iraq, and Turkey.  A Sunni minority dominated a Shi'ite majority.  Britain was given a mandate to govern the newly-made nation of Iraq.

The map proposed in the Sykes-Picot Agreement, 1916.

But another feature of Mesopotamia's geology brought renewed attention to the region: oil.  Atop one some of the richest hydrocarbon deposits in the world, Iraq became a hotly contested region.  Though nominally independent as early as 1932, Britain retained close control of its former mandate, and the drive to access Iraq's rich petroleum reserves drove conflict in the region during World War II.  The short-lived Republic of Iraq followed the war, leading in 1968 to the rise of Ba'athism.  Beginning as an Arab nationalist movement, Iraqi Ba'athism began with the presidency of Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr who was increasingly undermined by his cousin and second-in-command, Saddam Hussein, in 1979.
With the Iran-Iraq War of 1980, the history of Mesopotamia increasingly becomes current events: the Gulf War, the 2003 Iraq War under George W. Bush, the death of Saddam, and the tragic rise of ISIL in a badly destabilized region.  While the land that first birthed human civilization faces a difficult near future, one certainty remains: this pivotal region, the site of brilliant civilizations and terrible warfare, a land of tremendous agricultural potential and unbelievable petroleum wealth, will continue to be a focus of world attention for years, centuries, and doubtless millennia to come.