Arab Culture and Civilization: A collaborative web project created by NITLE and sponsored by MEPC
Musharaka [ Cooperation ]  Calligraphy by Khaled Al-Saai

Geography, Demographics, and Resources

Main Menu   Introduction   Map   Readings   Audio/Video   Links   Bibliography  

-Ethnicity and Identity
-Arab Americans
-Literature and Philosophy
-Popular Culture and the Performing Arts
-Family and Society
-Art and Architecture
-The Arabic Language
-Geography, Demographics, and Resources
-New Media
A website for K-12 educators featuring innovative resource on the culture, geography, history and religions of the Middle East, including essays, classroom activities, downloadable multimedia content and interactive Google Earth tours.

<< Back to list


"Iraq". Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001. © 2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.



Iraq, officially the Republic of Iraq ( Al Jumhuriyah al-'Iraqia in Arabic), country in southwestern Asia. Some of the world's greatest ancient civilizations - Assyria,Babylonia, and Sumer - developed in the area that now makes up Iraq. The modern state of Iraq was created in 1920 by the British government, whose forces had occupied it during World War I (1914-1918). Baghdad is the country's capital and largest city.

Iraq is situated at the northern tip of the Persian Gulf. Its coastline along the gulf is only 30 km (19 mi) long. Its only port on the gulf, Umm Qasr, is small and located on shallow water, and only small craft can dock there. Thus, the country is nearly landlocked.

Iraq is potentially one of the richest countries in the world. It contains enormous deposits of petroleum and natural gas. It is endowed with large quantities of water, supplied by its two main rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, and their tributaries. Iraq's location between those two great rivers gave rise to its ancient Greek name, Mesopotamia ("the land between the rivers").

Most of Iraq's population is Arab. Since its inception as a modern state in 1920, Iraq has been politically active in the Arab world, with most of its regimes trying to advance pan-Arab or partial Arab political unification under Iraqi leadership. The country has had tense relations with its eastern neighbor, Iran, resulting in a costly war in the 1980s ( see Iran-Iraq War ). At times it has claimed neighboring Kuwait, most recently in 1990, leading to the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Iraq was involved in all the Arab-Israeli wars except the Suez Crisis of 1956.

Set up as a monarchy, Iraq became a republic in 1958. It became a dictatorship dominated by a single party in 1968. That dictatorship came under the control of Saddam Hussein in 1979. Under his leadership, Iraq's regional and foreign policies were ambitious, often involving great risk. In the late 20th century Iraq attained a high international profile, unprecedented in the modern history of the Middle East, but at an exorbitant political price. The dictatorship failed in various attempts to topple Arab regimes and to achieve leadership status in the Arab world or even in the Persian Gulf region. It failed in eight years of war in the 1980s to bring down the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It conquered Kuwait in 1990 but was forced to relinquish it by a coalition of Western and Arab countries in the Persian Gulf War. Afterward, it found itself shackled by an international oil embargo and other sanctions. A United States-led invasion overthrew Hussein's regime in 2003.


Iraq has an area of 438,317 sq km (169,235 sq mi). It is bounded on the north by Turkey; on the east by Iran; on the south by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the Persian Gulf; and on the west by Jordan and Syria.

The northern portion of Iraq, known as Al Jazira, is mountainous. Near the Turkish border elevations reach about 2,100 m (about 7,000 ft) above sea level; in the northeastern part of the country, near the border of Iran, there are higher peaks. The highest is Mount Ebrahim (Kuh-e Haji Ebrahim or Haji Ibrahim), with an elevation of 3,607 m (11,834 ft) above sea level. Farther south the country slopes downward to form a broad, central alluvial plain, which encompasses the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. West of the Euphrates, the land rises gradually to meet the Syrian Desert. The extreme southeastern portion of Iraq is a low-lying, marshy area adjacent to the Persian Gulf.

Present-day Iraq occupies the greater part of the ancient land of Mesopotamia, the plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The two rivers flow through Iraq from northwest to southeast. They meet 160 km (100 mi) north of the Persian Gulf to form the Shatt al Arab, which drains into the gulf. The chief tributaries of the Tigris are the Great Zab, the Little Zab, and the Diyalá rivers. Level terrain separates the Tigris and the Euphrates in their lower courses. In ancient times the two rivers were joined by a network of canals and irrigation ditches, which directed the water of the higher-lying and more westerly Euphrates across the valley into the Tigris. In modern times irrigation canals remain important, and the Iraqi government has built a series of dams on the Tigris and Euphrates for irrigation and for flood control.

A. Climate

Most of Iraq has a continental climate with extremes of heat and cold. The mountainous northern portion of the country has cool summers and cold winters, often accompanied by snow. The mean January temperature in Mosul, the chief city in the north, is 7°C (44°F); the mean July temperature there is 32°C (90°F). In the lowlands the summers are long and hot, and the winters short and cool. The mean January temperature in Baghdad, which lies in the central lowland part of the country, is 10°C (50°F); for July it is 35°C (95°F), and temperatures as high as 51°C (123°F) have been recorded. In the northeastern highlands rainfall is considerable from October to May, ranging from 305 to 559 mm (12 to 22 in), but farther south, on the central alluvial plain and near the Persian Gulf, precipitation is slight, averaging 150 mm (6 in) annually. The Syrian Desert gets little or no precipitation.

B. Natural Resources

The natural resources of Iraq are primarily mineral. The country is well endowed with petroleum and natural gas. It has large quantities of water, supplied by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Along and between the Tigris and Euphrates are areas of rich soil. About 50 percent of the land is arable. There are small deposits of salt, coal, gypsum, and sulfur.

C. Plants and Animals

Vegetation is meager throughout Iraq. The southern, southwestern, and western parts of the country are desert areas. The country has few trees, except for the cultivated date palm and the poplar. Among the animals found in Iraq are the cheetah, gazelle, antelope, wild ass, hyena, wolf, jackal, wild pig, hare, jerboa, and bat. Numerous birds of prey are found in Iraq, including the vulture, buzzard, raven, owl, and various species of hawk; other birds include the duck, goose, partridge, and sand grouse. Lizards are fairly common.

D. Soils

There are two different kinds of soils in Iraq. Heavy alluvial deposits, containing a significant amount of humus and clay, make up one type and are useful for construction. The lighter soils, lacking in humus and clay content, contain wind-deposited nutrients. A high saline content mars the otherwise rich composition of the soils. Irrigation and flood-control projects on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers help increase the agricultural production of this area.

E. Environmental Issues

Two devastating wars and years of economic isolation have seriously degraded Iraq's environment. The Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) and the Persian Gulf War (1991) destroyed wildlife habitat, polluted Iraq's land and water, and led to the neglect of conservation efforts.

During the Persian Gulf War, much of Iraq's infrastructure was destroyed, including equipment involved in the country's petroleum industry. Although Iraq has restored many oil wells and refineries since the end of the war, the Iraqi government contends that the international economic embargo established by the United Nations (UN) is preventing the repair of equipment needed to safely process the toxic by-products of oil refining. As a result, hazardous wastes are being released into the air or dumped into depleted wells.

In addition, the UN estimates that 10 million land mines are still buried in Iraq. The mines pose a continuing threat to the country's human and animal populations.

Iraq's farmland is declining in productivity as a result of soil salinization, which is caused by insufficient drainage and by saturation irrigation practices. Government water-control projects have destroyed wetland habitats in eastern Iraq by diverting or drying up tributary streams that formerly irrigated wetland areas.


The population of Iraq (2003 estimate) is 24,683,313. The estimated overall population density is 56 persons per sq km (146 per sq mi). The density varies markedly, with the largest population concentrations in the area of the river systems.

The population is 67 percent urban. In the rural areas of the country many of the people still live in tribal communities.

The population growth rate, which was 3.2 percent per year in the 1980s, declined in the early 1990s as the country's birth rate fell. By the end of the decade, however, it had regained its former level. In 2003 the rate of population growth was 2.78 percent, the birth rate was 33.7 per 1,000 persons, and the death rate was 5.8 per 1,000 persons.

A. Principal Cities

Baghdad is the capital and largest city of Iraq. Other major cities include Al Basrah, the main port, located on the Shatt al Arab, and Mosul, or Al Mawsil, an oil center in the north.

B. Ethnic Groups

About 75 percent of the population of Iraq is Arab. Kurds, dwelling in the highlands of northern Iraq, constitute 15 to 20 percent of the population. Smaller groups include Turkmens, Jews, Armenians, and Assyrians.

C. Language

Arabic is the official language of Iraq and is spoken by the majority of the population. The Kurds speak Kurdish. Armenian and Assyrian are spoken in rural areas in the north and west.

D. Religion

Muslims make up 96 percent of Iraq's population. About 60 to 65 percent of the Muslims adhere to the Shia branch, and the rest adhere to the Sunni branch. The Shias live mostly in central and southern Iraq, and the Sunnis live principally in the north. Most of the Kurds are Sunnis. Several of the holy cities of the Shias, notably An Najaf and Karbala', are situated in Iraq. Among the few Christian sects in Iraq are the Nestorians ( see Nestorianism ), the Jacobite Christians, and offshoots of these two sects, respectively known as Chaldean and Syrian Catholics. In addition, smaller religious groups include the Yazidis, who live in the hill country north of Mosul, and a Gnostic group ( see Gnosticism ) known as the Mandaean Baptists living in Baghdad and Al 'Amarah. The Yazidis are a syncretic sect, which combines the beliefs of different religions. A small community of Jews lives in Baghdad.

E. Education

Education in Iraq is free. Six years of primary education are compulsory, but many children do not attend school as they must work to help support their families. Instruction is in Arabic, although in much of the Kurdish-inhabited northern region, which has been autonomous since 1991, Kurdish is used in all levels of education alongside Arabic. Only 40 percent of Iraqis aged 15 or older are literate. In the 1998 - 1999 academic year 3.1 million pupils attended elementary schools, and 619,114 students were enrolled in secondary schools. More students attended vocational or teacher-training institutions. Iraq has eight universities, four in Baghdad and one each in Al Basrah, Irbil, Mosul, and Tikrit. The country also has about 20 technical institutes.

F. Social Structure

Iraq's enormous petroleum resources make it potentially one of the richest countries in the world. Before Iraq invaded Iran in 1980, no less than 95 percent of the value of its exports came from sales of petroleum. The Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988, seriously reduced Iraq's production and sales of petroleum and harmed the economy as a whole. The Persian Gulf War (1991), which resulted from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, further devastated the economy. An international oil embargo and other economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations (UN) in response to the invasion of Kuwait caused much hardship to Iraq and its citizens.

The repressive dictatorship of Saddam Hussein also had a stifling influence. Iraqis are relatively well educated and considered industrious. However, the nation was unable to realize its huge potential under Hussein's leadership.

Under Hussein's rule most of the ruling elite hailed from the Sunni Arab population. Few Shia Arabs were found in the middle and upper ranks of society. Poverty was particularly widespread among the Shia Arabs, even those who lived in Baghdad. The Kurds, for their part, did not enjoy even the limited representation that the Shia Arabs had in Baghdad's corridors of power. Beginning in 1961 the Kurdish north was off-and-on in a state of revolt. It was unclear what effect Hussein's fall would have on these social dynamics.

Another cleavage in Iraqi society is that between the urban population and the rural population. Despite a rapid pace of urbanization, many Iraqis, particularly those in rural areas, still retain their extended family and tribal connections. Recent economic hardships, as well as government encouragement of tribal organization and values, have made extended kin ties even more prominent than in the past.

G. Health and Welfare

Health standards in Iraq are low because of poor sanitary conditions and many endemic diseases. In 2003 the average life expectancy at birth was 40 years; the infant mortality rate was estimated at 55 per 1,000 live births in 2003. Iraq has 1 physician for every 2,091 people and 1 hospital bed for every 690 people. Most of the medical facilities are controlled by the central government. Working conditions are regulated by a social security law that was introduced in 1957, which also provides maternity, disability, old-age, and unemployment insurance. Sanctions imposed against Iraq have resulted in falling health standards since the Persian Gulf War.

IV. Arts

The cultural heritage of Iraq is primarily Arabic, although long before the advent of Islam in the 7th century ad, the area known as Mesopotamia was the center of the Babylonian and Assyrian civilizations. The Arabic influence is represented today in much of the surviving antiquities, including the Kazimayn Mosque, begun in the 11th century and completed in the 19th century; Baghdad's Abbasid Palace, built in the 12th century; and the Shrine of Samarra', constructed in the 9th century. Iraq is known for producing fine handicrafts, including rugs and carpets.

A. Literature

Modern Iraq is an important cultural powerhouse of the Arab world. Iraqi poets have been in the forefront of contemporary Arabic culture. In the 1920s and 1930s Ma'ruf al-Rusafi, Jamil Sidqi al-Zahawi, and Muhammad Mahdi al-Jawahiri became prominent among the poets of the Arab world. All three wrote in the neoclassical style, with beautiful rhymes and strict rules of meter and verse. Rusafi wrote poems about the suffering of the Iraqi people and their struggle toward independence. Jawahiri drew close to the Communist Party in the 1940s and expressed strong anticolonialist sentiment in his poetry. The early 1950s saw an explosion of poetic and other literary creativity in Iraq. Most prominent among the new generation of Iraqi poets, who engaged in blank or free verse poetry as opposed to the neoclassical style, were Badr Shakir al-Sayyab and 'Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati. Both dedicated much of their poetry to Iraq, its society, and its politics, and both engaged in symbolic-mystical writing, borrowing mythological themes from their country's ancient pre-Islamic history. A prominent female poet of the same generation is Nazik al-Mala'ika.

The quality of Iraqi poetry seems to have deteriorated since the 1970s, when government control of culture became near absolute. Poets who chose to remain in Iraq were forced to write verses in praise of Iraqi dictator Hussein. However, many Iraqi poets also compose poetry in colloquial Arabic that many people enjoy. Their poetry is easily understood, even by people who cannot read, as it is only recited, never written. It fills radio and television broadcasts and has enthusiastic listeners.

The most famous novelist in Iraq during the first half of the 20th century was Dhu al-Nun Ayyub, whose stories evolved mostly around social issues. Iraq has produced a number of good playwrights, such as Khalid al-Shawaf, who wrote in the 1940s and 1950s, and 'Adil Kazim, who wrote in the 1960s and 1970s. From the late 1930s to the late 1960s most of Iraq's greatest writers were inclined toward the political left, some of them close to the Communist Party.

B. Art and Architecture

Much like its poets, Iraq's painters and sculptors are among the best in the Arab world, and some of them are world-class. The first generation, active since the 1940s, includes Fa'iq Hasan and Isma'il al-Shaykhali. Their paintings are figurative works in the impressionist style. Other important artists of this generation are Jawad Salim, Nuri al-Rawi, Mahmud Sabri, and Tariq Mazlum. Jawad Salim was deeply influenced by Pablo Picasso's cubist style as well as by ancient Mesopotamian art and the Soviet style known as socialist realism. To a younger generation, active since the late 1950s, belong Diya al-'Azzawi and Hamid al-'Attar. Baghdad is rich in open-air sculptures and monuments designed by many of these great artists and financed by the former regime. Some of the monuments glorify Hussein, others glorify the former ruling Baath Party, but many are dedicated to the Iraqi people and the rich history of the country.

Iraqi architecture is best exemplified in the sprawling metropolis of Baghdad. The city's architecture is almost entirely new, with some islands of exquisite old buildings and compounds. There are many colonial buildings dating back to the period of British occupation and mandate (1917-1932). A few buildings date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, when the Ottomans controlled the area. Some traditional private homes built in the 18th and 19th centuries have been preserved. These buildings include the shanashil, a porch with netlike woodwork screens overlooking the street. Most of the public buildings in contemporary Baghdad are modern. Government offices are usually far from aesthetic, but there are a few beautiful modern hotels, some of which draw their inspiration from Babylonian and classical Islamic architecture. There are modern art galleries, museums, and public libraries, their designs mostly inspired by Islamic architecture. Some old mosques in the Baghdad area are impressive, in particular the gold-domed mosque in the suburb of Kazimayn, the burial place of two Shia imams (spiritual leaders).

C. Music

Iraqi singers enjoy great popularity in the Arab world. Jewish singers and musicians made an important contribution to Baghdad's culture from the 1920s to 1951, when most of them left the country. Among them were the brothers Saleh and Da'ud al-Kuwaiti. In the 1940s and 1950s the four most important types of music in Baghdad were Maqamat, Monologat, Pestat, and Budhiyat. Maqamat, a form of classical Arab music, is a kind of high-pitched, sophisticated Arab blues, accompanied by 'ud, violins, and drums. Monologat consists of nonclassical songs that include elements of humor and cynicism. Pestat is popular poetry sung to music. Budhiyat is a hymnlike type of music reminiscent of Buddhist chanting.

From the late 1940s to the late 1970s tastes in music shifted from traditional Maqamat to a mix of Maqamat and songs based on lighter, more popular Arab music. Uniquely Iraqi styles blended gradually with other Arab styles, mainly under Egyptian influence. Nazim al-Ghazali, who was popular in the 1950s and 1960s, was the main representative of this trend, although most of his songs were in the classical Maqamat style. Beginning in the late 1970s a combination of Arab and European music was introduced, creating Arab pop music.

Important singers of the late 20th century include Ilham al-Madfa'i, Kazim al-Sahir, Sa'dun Jaber, Fu'ad Salem, and Haytham Yusuf. Ilham al-Madfa'i, who lives in the United States, usually accompanies his singing with a Spanish guitar. His main contribution is in modernizing old Maqamat songs. Kazim al-Sahir, who lives in the Persian Gulf area but visits Iraq often, combines traditional Arab and modern Western singing styles. Most of his songs are personal, but some of them are political, notably "Jerusalem," "Risala ila al-'Alam" ("A Message to the World"), and "Baghdad." The music of the late Nazim al-Ghazali is still popular, as are the songs of his wife, Salima Murad (or Salima Pasha).

Bedouin songs, accompanied by a simple string instrument, the rababah, are popular in the countryside. Since the late 20th century, Bedouin music, songs, and dance have also been popular in Baghdad, owing to the rural background of the former ruling elite.

D. Libraries and Museums

The leading libraries of Iraq include the University of Al Basrah Central Library; the University of Mosul Central Library; and the library of the Iraqi Museum, the National Library, and the University of Baghdad Central Library, all in Baghdad. Public libraries are located in most of the provincial capitals.

Noteworthy museums of Iraq include the Iraq Museum, which contains relics of early Mesopotamian cultures; the Iraq Natural History Museum; and the Iraq Military Museum. All three museums are in Baghdad. Other museums include the Babylon Museum, at the site of ancient Babylon, which exhibits models, pictures, and paintings of ancient Babylon; and the Mosul Museum, containing exhibits of Assyrian art and other antiquities.

V. Economy

The modern Iraqi economy has been largely based on petroleum. Most of the few large manufacturing industries have to do with oil.

During Hussein's rule the Iraqi economy was adversely affected by four major factors: the war with Iran during the 1980s, an international oil glut in the 1980s and 1990s, the economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations (UN) after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The combined effect of all these factors was the destruction of Iraq's basic infrastructure (roads, bridges, power grids, and the like) and the country's financial bankruptcy.

Studies done at the end of the 20th century revealed that Iraq's real gross domestic product (GDP) - that is, its GDP adjusted for inflation - fell by 75 percent from 1991 to 1999. In the late 1990s the country's real GDP was estimated at about what it was in the 1940s, prior to the oil boom and the modernization of the country. As a result, per capita income and the people's calorie intake plunged from the levels of relatively better-off Third World countries to those of the desperately poor Fourth World states, such as Rwanda, Haiti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia. Other reports indicated that since the end of the Persian Gulf War all aspects of Iraq's economy have been devastated. Its valuable assets, as well as its basic social and economic infrastructure, have been squandered, eroded, or irrevocably destroyed. Iraq's best-educated people have fled, and the value of its national currency, the dinar, has continued to decline, driving prices ever upward. The government continued to finance its spending commitments by printing money, thus guaranteeing that inflation would continue unabated.

The UN sanctions created widespread unemployment, skyrocketing inflation, and severe shortages of previously imported commodities, including medicine, medical equipment, animal vaccines, farm machinery, electricity-generating equipment, and water purification supplies. As a result of these shortages and the damage done to water and sewage treatment systems during the war, the incidence of disease and malnutrition rose sharply. In 1996 the UN began to allow Iraq to swap oil for food and medical supplies, marking the country's first step away from near-total diplomatic and economic isolation since its invasion of Kuwait. However, this program was not going to solve the fundamental problems of a devastated economy and of a population impoverished by two successive wars and about a decade of severe economic sanctions. To make matters worse, Iraq's official foreign reserves (estimated at $35 billion to $40 billion at the beginning of the 1980s) were totally drained, either spent to finance the war with Iran or misallocated on projects such as building dozens of luxury palaces for Hussein and his family. On top of this, the country was sinking in a mire of foreign debt, war reparations, and other financial obligations, which were certain to keep it in economic shambles for decades to come.

A. Government Role in the Economy

The early 1970s was a time of important development for the Iraqi economy and the government's role in it. In 1972 the government nationalized the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), which had been owned by foreign oil companies. The nationalization, together with the steep rise in the price of crude oil that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) engineered in 1973, had the effect of raising Iraq's oil revenues more than eightfold - from $1 billion in 1972 to $8.2 billion in 1975. This sharp increase in revenue solidified the government's role in the economy, making the government the primary agent for transferring wealth from the petroleum industry to the rest of the economy. In this way the government acquired the unprecedented power to allocate economic resources to various sectors of the economy and among different social classes and groups. Beginning in the 1970s, the Iraqi government came to be the primary determiner of employment, income distribution, and development, both of economic sectors and of geographical regions. It carried out extensive economic planning and exercised heavy control over agriculture, foreign trade, communication networks, banking services, public utilities, and industrial production, leaving only small-scale industry, shops, farms, and some services to the private sector.

The crushing nature of the UN sanctions meant that Iraq's economic policy at the start of the 21st century focused mainly on building a coalition of nations to support the removal of the sanctions. The primary way the Iraqi government could win support from other nations was by promising lucrative post-sanction oil contracts to potential allies. Most experts believed that Russia, China, and France would have been the main beneficiaries of these promises. Meanwhile, the Hussein government focused on circumventing the sanctions, primarily through oil smuggling.

B. Labor

The Iran-Iraq War, the Persian Gulf War, and the UN sanctions crippled the Iraqi economy, resulting in an unprecedented rate of unemployment. According to World Bank statistics, in 2001 the labor force consisted of 6.64 million workers. In 1996, 66.4 percent of the labor force was employed in services, 17.5 percent in industry, and 16.1 percent in agriculture. Women accounted for 20 percent of the labor force. Before economic sanctions took effect in 1990, Iraq had many foreign workers, the majority of them Egyptian agricultural workers.

C. Agriculture

Iraq is predominantly an agricultural country. Approximately 12 percent of the land is under cultivation. Most farmland is in the region of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Agricultural production in 2002 included 1,000,000 metric tons of wheat, 500,000 metric tons of barley, and 90,000 metric tons of rice. Before the imposition of UN sanctions, exports of dates from Iraq accounted for a major share of world trade in dates. Other fruits produced include apples, figs, grapes, olives, oranges, pears, and pomegranates. Livestock raising is an important occupation for Iraq's nomadic and seminomadic tribes. Almost 10 percent of Iraq's land area is suitable for grazing. In 2002 the livestock population included 1.3 million cattle, 6.8 million sheep, 1,600,000 million goats, and 23 million poultry. In addition, the world-famous Arabian horse is extensively bred.

D. Fishing

Iraq has a small fishing industry. In 1999, 26,789 metric tons of fish were caught. Freshwater species accounted for about four-fifths of the catch.

E. Mining

Petroleum is the most important natural resource of Iraq. The country is estimated to have about 10 percent of the world's supply of proved petroleum reserves. The oil fields are located in two main regions: in the southeast, just inland from the Persian Gulf, near Ar Rumaylah, and in the north-central part of the country, near Mosul and Kirkuk. Small deposits of various other minerals are found, principally ores of iron, gold, lead, copper, silver, platinum, and zinc. Phosphates, sulfur, salt, and gypsum are fairly abundant, and seams of brown coal are numerous.

The production of petroleum is the mainstay of Iraq's economy. The oil wells also yield sizable quantities of natural gas. Until the early 1970s four foreign-owned companies controlled the Iraqi petroleum industry. The two leading firms were the IPC, which held concessions in the north, around Kirkuk and Mosul, and the Basra Petroleum Company, which operated in the southeast, near Al Basrah. From 1972 to 1975 all the foreign oil companies were fully nationalized by the government, and their operations were taken over by the Iraq National Oil Company and the Northern Petroleum Organization. Refineries are located at Baghdad, Al Basrah, Hadithah, Khanaqin, Kirkuk, and Al Qayyarah. A plant for processing and bottling liquefied petroleum gases is situated at At Taji, near Baghdad. Falling oil prices and the war with Iran severely hampered the petroleum industry during the 1980s. The industry was dealt another crippling blow in 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and the UN responded with an embargo on Iraqi oil. In order to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people due to the embargo, the UN in 1995 voted to allow Iraq to export limited amounts of oil so the country could buy food, medicine, and other basic goods. Such oil exports began at the end of 1996. Iraq produced an estimated 896 million barrels of petroleum and 2.8 billion cu m (97 billion cu ft) of natural gas in 2001. By comparison, in 1979, the year of its peak production, Iraq produced almost 1.3 billion barrels of petroleum.

F. Manufacturing

Manufacturing is not well developed. Besides petroleum and natural gas products, manufactures are largely limited to goods such as processed foods and beverages, textiles and clothing, metal products, furniture, footwear, cigarettes, and construction materials. Baghdad is the leading manufacturing center of Iraq.

G. Services

Important services include government social services such as health and education, financial services, and personal services.

H. Energy

Iraq generated 36 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2001. Power plants fueled by oil or natural gas produced 98 percent of the electricity. Hydroelectric facilities operate on the Tigris River and some of its tributaries.

I. Transportation

Iraq has railroad connections through Syria with Turkey and Europe. The Iraqi state railway system consists of about 2,440 km (about 1,515 mi) of track. The country has about 45,550 km (about 28,303 mi) of roads. In 1997 Iraq had 52 motor vehicles in use for every 1,000 people; the rate for passenger cars was 36.3 per 1,000. International airports serve Baghdad and Al Basrah. Al Basrah, on the Shatt al Arab, and Umm Qasr are the main ports for oceangoing vessels, and river steamers are able to navigate the Tigris from Al Basrah to Baghdad.

During the Persian Gulf War, bombing by United States-led coalition air forces demolished many transport facilities, such as bridges, ports, and airports. Some estimates suggest that the bombing destroyed more than 80 bridges. Iraq was able to rebuild some bridges and other facilities in the years after the war.

J. Communications

In 2001 Iraq had 29 telephone mainlines in use for every 1,000 inhabitants. There were 229 radio receivers and 82 television sets in use for every 1,000 people in 2000. The country had 4 dailies in 1996; ath-Thawra, issued by the Baath Party, was one of the country's largest Arabic newspapers, with a circulation of 250,000. The Hussein government controlled all radio and television broadcasting.

K. Foreign Trade

Before the UN imposed a trade embargo on Iraq following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, average annual exports were estimated at $10.4 billion and imports at about $6.6 billion. Petroleum sales accounted for almost all the export earnings; other exports were dates, raw wool, and hides and skins. Leading imports were machinery, transportation equipment, foodstuffs, and pharmaceuticals. Iraq's main trade partners were Brazil, Turkey, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

With the trade embargo in place, Iraq virtually ceased earning income from exports. In 1996, under the oil-for-food agreement, the UN permitted Iraq to export oil worth $2 billion every six months to purchase food and medicine for its civilian population. However, Iraq could not pump that much oil for a variety of reasons, such as damage to equipment and loss of skilled workers. Therefore Iraq did not export as much oil as was allowed. Consequently, in 1996 Iraq exported oil worth only $400 million and imported food and medicine worth $492 million. The UN agreed in 1998 to increase the value of the oil-for-food arrangement to $5.2 billion every six months.

L. Currency and Banking

The monetary unit is the Iraqi dinar, consisting of 1,000 fil or 20 dirham (0.31 dinars equal U.S.$1; fixed rate). Currency is issued by the Central Bank of Iraq, which also controls the banking system and foreign exchange transactions. All banks in Iraq were nationalized in 1964. In addition to the Central Bank, the system consists of the Rafidain Bank, which handles government accounts, including oil revenues, and five specialized banks: the Agricultural, Cooperative, Industrial, Mortgage, and Real Estate banks.

VI. Government

Iraq was a monarchy from 1921 to 1958, when military officers overthrew the monarchy in a bloody coup d'état and set up what they defined as a republic. From 1968 until 2003 the government was a dictatorship dominated by a single political party, the Baath Party. The people had little if any influence on the government. There were occasional elections to the legislature, and the president was once confirmed in 1995 in a public referendum, but none of these seemingly democratic procedures was truly democratic.

The provisional constitution of 1969 defines Iraq as "a sovereign people's democratic republic," dedicated to the ultimate realization of a single Arab state and to the establishment of a socialist system. The document declares Islam the state religion but guarantees freedom of religion. It defines the Iraqi people as comprising two principal nationalities, Arab and Kurdish. An amendment adopted in 1974 provides for autonomy for the Kurds in areas where they constitute a majority, but it stipulates that Iraq must remain united and undivided. The state is given a central role in "planning, directing and guiding" the economy. National resources are defined as "the property of the people."

From 1968 to 1979, under President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, the Baath Party ruled the country with an iron fist. However, within the party there was a degree of democracy: In many cases people rose to positions of power from below in a semidemocratic way. Also, at the top, discussions were conducted in a fairly free fashion. In many cases, decisions were made through a collective consultation of party leaders and after taking a vote. This limited democracy within the party ended in 1979 when Saddam Hussein replaced al-Bakr as president. Hussein forced his predecessor to resign and had 55 senior party activists and army officers executed for treason. However, there was no real evidence of treason. The reason for the purge was either opposition to Hussein's replacing al-Bakr or a dispute over the way in which Hussein would be elected. A few more executions for disloyalty from 1982 to 1986 sent a clear message that no one could question the new president's decisions and survive.

A U.S.-led invasion toppled Hussein's regime in 2003 and the United States and its allies began the process of establishing an interim Iraqi government. The rest of this section refers to the Iraqi system of government prior to the fall of Saddam Hussein.

A. Revolutionary Command Council

Before Hussein was deposed, the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) was the supreme executive, legislative, and judicial body in Iraq. It consisted of eight to ten members and was headed by a chairman, who was also the president of the republic, often the prime minister, the supreme commander of the armed forces, and the secretary general of the Baath Party. Almost all of the members of the RCC were high officials of the Baath Party. A two-thirds majority of the members of the RCC was needed to pass resolutions or enact ordinances, which had the force of law.

Virtually all the members of the RCC were also members of a Baath Party leadership body known as the Regional Leadership (RL). The RL consisted of about 20 of the most senior party officials, who also had responsibilities in the various branches and bureaus of the party. Whenever a crucial political decision was made, the public was informed that it had been made in a joint meeting of the RCC and the RL. In practice, however, the most important decisions were made either by Hussein alone or by him in consultation with very few (three to five) people. The decision was then brought to an RCC meeting or a joint RCC-RL meeting for formal approval.

B. Executive

The RCC selected the president, who was the official head of state. The president appointed all government, civil service, and military personnel and approved the budget. Most of the president's power came from his role as chairman of the RCC. There was no fixed term for president.

A council of ministers headed by a prime minister was the country's main administrative body. Hussein served as prime minister for most of the time he was president, except for the short period from 1991 to 1994. The RCC appointed and dismissed ministers.

C. Legislature

From 1958 to 1980 Iraq had no national legislature. In 1980 a National Assembly was established. It was made up of 250 members popularly elected to four-year terms. A candidate for the National Assembly had to demonstrate "loyalty to the principles of the Baath (1968) revolution" - meaning, the goals of the Baath Party - to an electoral commission.

The legislature's main task was to ratify or reject legislation proposed by the RCC. Except in a few minor cases, however, the National Assembly was a mere rubber stamp. Draft laws suggested by the National Assembly had to be approved by the RCC before they became laws, and the RCC could enact ordinances that had the force of law. Nevertheless, the National Assembly created a semblance of democratic procedures.

D. Judiciary

The Iraqi judicial system, originally influenced by Ottoman and French law, largely served the interests of the ruling Baath Party. The country's civil and criminal courts largely stopped functioning with the collapse of the Hussein government in April 2003.

Iraqi religious courts were abolished after the revolution of 1958 but reinstated by the Baath regime in the 1980s. These try cases of personal status, such as divorce cases and disputes involving waqf, which are gifts of land or property made by a Muslim and intended for religious, educational, or charitable use. There are Sunni, Shia, and Christian religious courts.

E. Political Divisions

Iraq is divided into 18 provinces, of which three are officially designated as a Kurdish autonomous region. The Kurdish autonomous region, established in 1970, has an elected 50-member legislature. This region came under UN and coalition protection after the Persian Gulf War, to prevent Hussein from taking military action against rebellious Kurds. However, infighting among Kurdish groups rendered the government largely ineffective. In 1998 two rival Kurdish parties signed an agreement, brokered by the United States, that provided for a transitional power-sharing arrangement. However, the agreement has not been implemented, and each of the two parties governs its own slice of Kurdish territory.

F. Political Parties

The leading political organization in Iraq under Saddam Hussein was the Arab Baath Socialist Party, which bases its policies on pan-Arab and socialist principles. Other political groups include the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and a few other Kurdish parties. The two most important Shia opposition parties are the Da'wa Islamic Party and the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI). Until Hussein's overthrow, all these opposition parties were illegal outside the Kurdish autonomous region.

G. Defense

Under the Hussein government, military training in Iraq was compulsory for all males when they reached the age of 18; it consisted of about two years in active service and an additional period in the reserve. In 2001 the Iraqi army had about 350,000 members (including a large active reserves); the air force, 20,000 members; and the navy, 2,000 members.

H. International Organizations

Iraq is a charter member of the United Nations (UN) and a founding member of the Arab League. The country is also a founding member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which promotes solidarity among nations where Islam is an important religion, and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

VII. History

The territory of modern Iraq is roughly equivalent to that of ancient Mesopotamia, which fostered a succession of early civilizations. Of these, the earliest known was the civilization of Sumer, which arose probably in the 4th millennium bc and had its final flowering under the 3rd Dynasty of Ur at the close of the 3rd millennium bc. Periods of control by Babylonia and Assyria followed. In 539 bc Cyrus the Great of Persia gained control of the region, which remained under Persian rule until the conquest by Macedonian king Alexander the Great in 331 bc. After Alexander's death the Greek Seleucid dynasty reigned in Mesopotamia for some 200 years, infusing the region with Hellenistic culture. A long period followed under new Persian dynasties (Arsacids, Sassanids) until Arabs who were adherents of Islam overran the region in the 7th century ad.

The Arab-Islamic conquest of what is now Iraq started in 633 ad and culminated in 636 at the Battle of Qadisiyya, a village on the Euphrates south of Baghdad. At that battle an Islamic Arab army decisively defeated a Persian army that was six times larger. The Arab army moved quickly to Ctesiphon, the capital of the Sassanian Empire, where in 637 it seized a huge Persian treasure trove. Many tribes in the conquered land were Christian Arabs. Some of them converted to Islam, and the others were allowed to stay provided they paid a poll tax.

From the mid-8th century to 1258 Baghdad was the capital of the Abbasid caliphate, or Islamic realm. The Abbasid period was a golden age of Islamic power and culture. During that period Baghdad became the second largest city in the known world, after Constantinople, and the most important center of science and culture. For a time, the Abbasid realm was a mighty military power, its borders reaching southern France in the west and the borders of China in the east. In the mid-9th century the Abbasid caliphate began a slow decline. Turkic warrior slaves known as Mamluks became so prominent at the caliph's court that they almost monopolized power. In 945 the Buwayhids, an Iranian Shia dynasty, conquered Baghdad. However, they allowed the Abbasid caliph to remain in office as a symbol of continuity and legitimacy. In 1055 the Seljuks, a Turkish Sunni clan, drove out the Buwayhids and reestablished Sunni rule in Baghdad. The Seljuks respected the Abbasid caliph but allowed him to be only a figurehead. At the end of the 11th century Seljuk power started to decline.

In 1258 Baghdad was conquered and sacked by Hulagu, grandson of the great Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan. Hulagu killed all the scholars in Baghdad and erected a pyramid from their skulls. He destroyed the elaborate irrigation system that the Abbasids had established. Iraq became a neglected frontier area ruled from the Mongol capital of Tabriz in Iran. In 1335 the last great Mongol ruler of this region died, and anarchy prevailed. The Turkic conqueror Tamerlane sacked Baghdad in 1401, again massacring many of its inhabitants. He, too, built a pyramid of skulls. Tamerlane's invasion and conquest marked the end of Baghdad's greatness.

Ottoman Turkish and Iranian rulers vied for supremacy in Iraq until the Ottoman Empire finally secured control in the 17th century. The region was brought under Persian control in 1508. The Ottoman Turks conquered much of it in 1534. The Persians recaptured Baghdad and large parts of Iraq in 1623, holding them until 1638, when Iraq was again brought under Ottoman rule. For almost three centuries thereafter Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire.

A. Ottoman Supremacy

The history of modern Iraq begins with the last phase of Ottoman rule, during the 19th century. Until the 1830s Ottoman rule in Iraq was tenuous, and real power shifted between powerful tribal chieftains and local Mamluk rulers. Many of the nomadic Arab tribes were never fully brought under Ottoman control. Local Kurdish dynasties held sway over the mountainous north. In the second half of the 18th century the Mamluks established effective control over the territory from Al Basrah to north of Baghdad. The Mamluks imposed central authority and introduced a functioning government. In 1831 the province of Iraq, then subdivided into the three vilayets, or administrative districts, of Mosul, Baghdad, and Al Basrah, came under direct Ottoman administration. From 1831 to 1869 a series of governors came and went in rapid succession.

From 1869 to 1872 Midhat Pasha, one of the Ottoman Empire's ablest and most scrupulous officials, at long last imposed effective central control throughout the region. He modernized Baghdad, in everything from transportation to sanitation to education, and he imposed his rule on the tribal countryside. The Arabs began to experience the burdens of the new and more efficient methods of Ottoman administration, particularly with regard to tax collection. Local resentment of the centralized authority of the empire developed, giving rise to a strong spirit of Arab nationalism.

In the latter part of the 19th century Britain and Germany became rivals in the commercial development of the Mesopotamian area. The British first became interested in Iraq as a direct overland route to India. In 1861 they established a steamship company for the navigation of the Tigris to the port of Al Basrah. Meanwhile, Germany was planning the construction of a railroad in the Middle East - to run "from Berlin to Baghdad" - and, overcoming British opposition, obtained a concession from the Ottoman government to build a railroad from Baghdad to the Persian Gulf. Despite this defeat, the British government managed to consolidate its position in the Persian Gulf area by concluding treaties of protection with local Arab chieftains. British financiers were also successful in obtaining a concession in 1901 to exploit the oil fields of Iran. In 1909 the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company) was formed to develop this new industry.

In November 1914, after the Ottoman Empire entered World War I (1914-1918) as an ally of Germany and Austria-Hungary, a British army division landed at Al Faw, near Iraq's southern tip, and quickly occupied Al Basrah. The main reason for the landing was Britain's need to defend the Anglo-Persian Oil Company's oil fields and refineries nearby in Iran. The British army gradually pushed northward against heavy Ottoman opposition, entering Baghdad in March 1917. The British and the Ottoman Turks signed an armistice agreement in October 1918, but the British army continued to move north until it captured Mosul in early November. With the capture of Mosul, Britain exerted its control over nearly all of Iraq.

B. British Mandate

Early in the war, in order to ensure the interest of the Arabs in a military uprising against the Ottoman Turks, the British government promised a group of Arab leaders that their people would receive independence if a revolt proved successful. In June 1916 an uprising occurred in Al Hijaz (the Hejaz), led by Faisal al-Husein, later Faisal I, first king of Iraq. Under the leadership of British general Edmund Allenby and the tactical direction of British colonel T. E. Lawrence, the Arab and British forces achieved dramatic successes against the Ottoman army and succeeded in liberating much Arabian territory. After signing the armistice with the Ottoman government in 1918, the British and French governments issued a joint declaration stating their intention to assist in establishing independent Arab nations in the Arab areas formerly controlled by the Ottoman Empire.

At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, the Allies (the coalition of the victorious nations in World War I, including Britain and France) made Iraq (the territory encompassing the three former Ottoman vilayets of Mosul, Baghdad, and Al Basrah) a Class A mandate entrusted to Britain. Under the mandate system, a territory that had formerly been held by Germany or the Ottoman Empire was placed nominally under the supervision of the League of Nations, and the administration of the mandate was delegated to one of the victorious nations until the territory could govern itself. Class A mandates were expected to achieve independence in a few years. In April 1920 the Allied governments confirmed the creation of the British mandate in Iraq at a conference in San Remo, Italy. In July 1920, when the Iraqi Arabs learned of the decision, they began an armed uprising against the British, then still occupying Iraq. The British were forced to spend huge amounts of money to quell the revolt, and the government of Britain concluded that it would be expedient to terminate its mandate in Mesopotamia. The British civil commissioner, their top administrator in Iraq, thereupon drew up a plan for a provisional government of the new state of Iraq: It was to be a kingdom, with a government directed by a council of Arab ministers under the supervision of a British high commissioner. Faisal was invited to become the ruler of the new state. In August 1921 a plebiscite elected Faisal king of Iraq; he won 96 percent of the votes cast in the election.

The new king had to build a local power base in Iraq. He accomplished this task primarily by winning the support of Iraqi-born military officers who had served in the Ottoman army and of Sunni Arab business and religious leaders in Baghdad, Al Basrah, and Mosul. To win support in the Shia south, in the center-north among the Sunni Arab tribes, and among the Kurds, the king with British support gave tribal chieftains wide powers over their tribes, including judicial powers and responsibility for tax collection in their tribal domains. The Sunni Arab urban leaders and some Kurdish chieftains came to dominate the government and the army, while the Shia Arab chieftains and, to a lesser extent, the Sunni Arab chieftains came to dominate the parliament, enacting laws that benefited themselves. The lower classes had no say in the affairs of the state. They included poor peasants and, in the towns, a growing layer of Western-educated young men who were economically vulnerable and depended on the government for jobs. This latter group, known as the efendiyya, grew more and more restive. Both the ruling elite and the efendiyya embraced the ideas of the pan-Arab movement, which sought to join all the Arab lands into one powerful state. Pan-Arabism was seen as a way of uniting most of the diverse Iraqi population through a common Arab identity. The elite advocated achieving pan-Arabism through diplomacy with British consent, while the efendiyya developed a revolutionary and radically anti-British ideology.

C. Monarchy Established

The integrity of the newly established state was challenged by various groups with separatist aspirations, such as the Shias of the Euphrates River area and the Kurdish tribes of the north. These groups acted in conjunction with Turkish armed forces endeavoring to reclaim the lands in the Mosul area for Turkey. The British were thus forced to maintain an army in Iraq, and agitation against the British mandate continued. King Faisal I formally requested that the mandate under which Iraq was held be transformed into a treaty of alliance between the two nations. Although Britain did not end the mandate, in June 1922 a 20-year treaty of alliance and protection between Britain and Iraq was signed. The treaty required that the king heed British advice on all matters affecting British interests and that British officials serve in specific Iraqi government posts. In return, Britain provided military assistance and other aid to Iraq. The British also created an Iraqi national army, which became an indispensable tool of domestic control in the hands of the ruling elite.

In the spring of 1924 a constituent assembly was convened. It passed an organic law establishing the permanent form of the government of Iraq. The king was given great, but not absolute, power. He could dismiss parliament, call for new elections, and appoint the prime minister. Elections for the first Iraqi parliament were held in March 1925. In the same year a concession was granted to an internationally owned oil company to develop the oil reserves of the Baghdad and Mosul regions. In 1927 Faisal I requested that the British support Iraq's application for admission to the League of Nations. The British refused to take such action at that time, but in June 1930 a new treaty of alliance between Britain and Iraq included a recommendation by Britain that Iraq be admitted to the League of Nations as a free and independent state in 1932. The recommendation was made that year, and the British mandate was formally terminated. In October 1932 Iraq joined the League of Nations as an independent sovereign state. Faisal I died in 1933 and was succeeded by his son, Ghazi, a radical pan-Arab and anti-British figure.

D. Foreign Agreements

In 1931 the exploitation of the oil reserves in Iraq was further advanced by an agreement signed by the Iraqi government and the Iraq Petroleum Company, an internationally owned organization composed of Royal-Dutch Shell, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, French oil companies, and the Standard Oil companies of New York and New Jersey. The agreement granted the Iraq Petroleum Company the sole right to develop the oil fields of the Mosul region, in return for which the company guaranteed to pay the Iraqi government annual royalties. In 1934 the company opened an oil pipeline from Mosul to Tripoli, Lebanon, and a second one to Haifa, in what is now Israel, was completed in 1936.

In 1936 Iraq, under King Ghazi, moved toward a pan-Arab alliance with the other nations of the Arab world. A treaty of nonaggression, reaffirming a fundamental Arab kinship, was signed with the king of Saudi Arabia in the same year.

E. Military Coup

Iraq experienced its first military coup d'état in 1936, when the army overthrew the pan-Arab Sunni government. The coup opened the door to future military involvement in Iraqi politics. Its leaders included a Kurdish general and a Shia politician. The moderate coalition government they put in power was accepted by the king and remained in office until 1939. In April 1939 King Ghazi was killed in an automobile accident, leaving his three-year-old son, Faisal II, the titular king under a regency.

F. World War II

In accordance with its treaty of alliance with Britain, Iraq broke off diplomatic relations with Germany early in September 1939, at the start of World War II (1939-1945). During the first few months of the war Iraq had a pro-British government under General Nuri as-Said as prime minister. In March 1940, however, Said was replaced by Rashid Ali al-Gailani, a radical nationalist, who embarked at once on a policy of noncooperation with the British. The British pressured the Iraqis to cooperate with them. This pressure precipitated a military revolt on April 30, 1941, and a new pro-German government headed by Gailani was formed. Alarmed at this development, the British landed troops at Al Basrah. Declaring this action a violation of the treaty between Britain and Iraq, Gailani mobilized the Iraqi army, and war between the two countries began in May. Later that month the government of Iraq conceded defeat. The armistice terms provided for the reestablishment of British control over Iraq's transport, a provision of the 1930 treaty of alliance. Shortly afterward, a pro-British government headed by Said was formed.

In 1942 Iraq became an important supply center for British and United States forces operating in the Middle East and for the transshipment of arms to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). On January 17, 1943, Iraq declared war on Germany, the first independent Islamic state to do so. Meanwhile, Iraq's continuing assistance to the Allied war effort made possible a stronger stand by Arab leaders on behalf of a federation of Arab states. After the war ended, Iraq joined with other Arab states in forming the Arab League, a regional association of sovereign states.

G. War with Israel

Throughout 1945 and 1946 the Kurdish tribes of northeastern Iraq were in a state of unrest - supported, it was believed, by the USSR. The British, fearing Soviet encroachment on the Iraqi oil fields, moved troops into Iraq. In 1947 Said began to advocate a new proposal for a federated Arab state. This time he suggested that Transjordan (present-day Jordan) and Iraq be united, and he began negotiations with the king of Transjordan regarding the effectuation of his proposal. In April 1947 a treaty of kinship and alliance was signed by the two kingdoms, providing for mutual military and diplomatic aid.

Immediately following the declaration of independence by Israel in May 1948, the armies of Iraq and Transjordan invaded the new state. Throughout the rest of the year Iraqi armed forces continued to fight the Israelis, and the nation continued to work politically with the kingdom of Transjordan. In September Iraq joined Abdullah ibn Hussein, king of Transjordan, in denouncing the establishment of an Arab government in Palestine as being "tantamount to recognizing the partition of Palestine" into Jewish and Arab states, which Iraq had consistently opposed. With the general defeat of the Arab forces attacking Israel, however, the government of Iraq prepared to negotiate an armistice, represented by Transjordan. On May 11, 1949, a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Transjordan was signed, but Iraqi units continued to fight Israelis in an Arab-occupied area in north-central Palestine. Transjordanian troops replaced the Iraqi units in this area under the terms of the armistice agreement, signed on April 3, 1949.

H. Oil Accords and Elections

Royalties paid to the government of Iraq by the Iraq Petroleum Company increased substantially under accords reached in 1950 and 1951. By the terms of an even more advantageous arrangement, concluded in February 1952, Iraq obtained 50 percent of the profits. In 1953 the 911-km (566-mi) Kirkuk-Baniyas (Syria) pipeline of the Iraq Petroleum Company was formally opened.

The first parliamentary elections based on direct suffrage took place on January 17, 1953. A pro-Western, pan-Arab government was formed. King Faisal II formally assumed the throne on May 2, 1953, his 18th birthday.

I. Pro-Western Pacts

In February 1955 Iraq concluded the Baghdad Pact, a mutual-security treaty with Turkey. Advancing plans to transform the alliance into a Middle Eastern defense system, the two countries urged the other Arab states, the United States, Britain, and Pakistan to adhere to the pact. Britain joined the alliance in April; Pakistan became a signatory in September and Iran in November. That month the five nations established the Middle East Treaty Organization (METO).

J. Suez Crisis

In July 1956 Jordan (as Transjordan had been renamed) accused Israel of deploying an invasion army near Jerusalem, whereupon Iraq moved forces to the Jordanian border. That same month, in response to Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal, which Britain and France had controlled, the Iraqi government expressed unequivocal support of Egypt. In the ensuing Suez Crisis, Egypt was invaded by Israel, Britain, and France in October 1956. Within a week, however, the United Nations, at the urging of both the USSR and the United States, demanded a ceasefire, forcing Britain, France, and Israel to withdraw from the lands they had captured. In early November, Iraqi and Syrian troops occupied positions in Jordan in accordance with terms of a mutual-defense agreement.

K. Eisenhower Doctrine and Arab Federations

In January 1957 Iraq endorsed the recently promulgated Eisenhower Doctrine. This doctrine stated that the United States would supply military assistance to any Middle Eastern government whose stability was threatened by Communist aggression.

In February 1958, following a conference between Faisal II and Hussein I, king of Jordan, Iraq and Jordan were federated. The new union, later named the Arab Union of Jordan and Iraq, was established as a countermeasure to the United Arab Republic (UAR), a federation of Egypt and Syria formed in February of that year. The constitution of the newly formed federation was proclaimed simultaneously in Baghdad and Amman on March 19, and the document was ratified by the Iraqi parliament on May 12. Later that month Nuri as-Said, former prime minister of Iraq, was named premier of the Arab Union.

L. Republic Proclaimed

The UAR, bitterly antagonistic to the pro-Western Arab Union, issued repeated radio calls urging the people, police, and army of Iraq to overthrow their government. On July 14, 1958, in a sudden coup d'état led by the Iraqi general Abdul Karim Kassem, the country was proclaimed a republic. King Faisal II, the crown prince, and Said were among those killed in the uprising. On July 15 the new government announced the establishment of close relations with the UAR and the dissolution of the Arab Union. However, Kassem made attempts to gain the confidence of the West by maintaining the flow of oil.

In March 1959 Iraq withdrew from the Baghdad Pact, which was then renamed the Central Treaty Organization ; in June 1959 Iraq withdrew from the sterling bloc (a group of countries whose currencies are tied to the British pound sterling).

Following the termination of the British protectorate over the emirate of Kuwait in June 1960, Iraq claimed the area, asserting that Kuwait had been part of the Iraqi state at the time of its formation. British forces entered Kuwait in July at the invitation of the Kuwaiti ruler, and the UN Security Council declined an Iraqi request to order their withdrawal.

Meanwhile, on the domestic front, the Iraqi government claimed in 1961 and 1962 that it had suppressed Kurdish revolts in northern Iraq. The Kurdish unrest persisted, however. The long conflict was temporarily settled in early 1970, when the government agreed to form a Kurdish autonomous region, and Kurdish ministers were added to the cabinet.

M. Military Coups

On February 8, 1963, Kassem was overthrown by a group of officers, most of them members of the Baath Party; he was assassinated the following day. Abdul Salam Arif became president, and relations with the Western world improved. In April 1966 Arif was killed in a helicopter crash and was succeeded by his brother, General Abdul Rahman Arif.

During the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War (1967), Iraqi troops and planes were sent to the Jordan-Israeli border. Iraq subsequently declared war on Israel and closed its oil pipeline supplying the Western nations, which it accused of siding with Israel. At the same time diplomatic relations with the United States were severed. In July 1968 Baath Party officers overthrew General Arif's government. Major General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, a former prime minister, was appointed head the newly established Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), the country's supreme executive, legislative, and judicial body.

In the following years Iraq maintained general hostility toward the West and friendship with the USSR. The positions of individual Arab countries with regard to Israel caused some friction between Iraq and its neighbors. In 1971 Iraq closed its border with Jordan and called for its expulsion from the Arab League because of Jordan's efforts to crush the Palestinian guerrilla movement operating inside its borders.

From 1972 to 1975 Iraq fully nationalized the foreign oil companies operating in Iraq. The country enjoyed a massive increase in oil revenues starting in late 1973 when international petroleum prices began a steep rise. The discovery of major oil deposits in the vicinity of Baghdad was announced publicly in 1975.

Iraq aided Syria with troops and matériel during the Arab-Israeli War of 1973. Calling for continued military action against Israel, Iraq denounced the ceasefire that ended the 1973 conflict and opposed the interim agreements negotiated by Egypt and Syria with Israel in 1974 and 1975.

N. War with Iran

In early 1974 heavy fighting erupted in northern Iraq between government forces and Kurdish nationalists, who rejected as inadequate a new Kurdish autonomy law based on the 1970 agreement. The Kurds, led by Mustafa al-Barzani, received arms and other supplies from Iran. After Iraq agreed in early 1975 to make major concessions to Iran in settling their border disputes, Iran halted aid to the Kurds, and the revolt was dealt a severe blow. In July 1979 President Bakr was succeeded by General Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim and fellow member of the Arab Baath Socialist Party.

In 1979 Islamic revolutionaries in Iran succeeded in overthrowing the country's secular government and established an Islamic republic there. Tension between the Iraqi government and Iran's new Islamic regime increased during that year, when unrest among Iranian Kurds spilled over into Iraq. Sunni-Shia religious animosities exacerbated the conflict. In September 1980 Iraq declared its 1975 agreement with Iran, which drew the border between the countries down the middle of the Shatt al Arab, null and void and claimed authority over the entire river. The quarrel flared into a full-scale war, the Iran-Iraq War. Iraq quickly overran a large part of the Arab-populated province of Khuzestan (Khuzistan) in Iran and destroyed the Abadan refinery. In June 1981 a surprise air attack by Israel destroyed a nuclear reactor near Baghdad. The Israelis charged that the reactor was intended to develop nuclear weapons for use against them. In early 1982 Iran launched a counteroffensive, and by May it had reclaimed much of the territory conquered by Iraq in 1980. In the ensuing stalemate, each side inflicted heavy damage on the other and on Persian Gulf shipping. After a ceasefire with Iran came into effect in August 1988, the Iraqi government again moved to suppress the Kurdish insurgency. During the late 1980s the nation rebuilt its military machine, in part through bank credits and technology obtained from Western Europe and the United States.

O. Persian Gulf War and Aftermath

In 1990 Iraq revived a long-standing territorial dispute with Kuwait, its ally during the war with Iran, claiming that overproduction of petroleum by Kuwait was injuring Iraq's economy by depressing the price of crude oil. Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait on August 2 and rapidly took over the country. The UN Security Council issued a series of resolutions that condemned the occupation, imposed a broad trade embargo on Iraq, and demanded that Iraq withdraw unconditionally by January 15, 1991.

When Iraq failed to comply, a coalition led by the United States began intensive aerial bombardment of military and infrastructural targets in Iraq and Kuwait in January 1991. The ensuing Persian Gulf War proved disastrous for Iraq, which was forced out of Kuwait in about six weeks. Coalition forces invaded southern Iraq, and tens of thousands of Iraqis were killed. Many of the country's armored vehicles and artillery pieces were destroyed, and its nuclear and chemical weapons facilities were severely damaged. In April, Iraq agreed to UN terms for a permanent ceasefire; coalition troops withdrew from southern Iraq as a UN peacekeeping force moved in to police the Iraq-Kuwait border. Meanwhile, Hussein used his remaining military forces to suppress rebellions by Shias in the south and Kurds in the north. Hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees fled to Turkey and Iran, and U.S., British, and French troops landed inside Iraq's northern border to establish a Kurdish enclave with refugee camps to protect another 600,000 Kurds from Iraqi government reprisals. In addition, international forces set up "no-fly zones" in both northern and southern Iraq to ensure the safety of the Kurdish and Shia populations.

The UN trade embargo remained in place after the war. The Security Council laid out strict demands on Iraq for lifting the sanctions, including destruction of its chemical and biological weapons, cessation of nuclear weapons programs, and acceptance of international inspections to ensure that these conditions were met. Iraq resisted these demands, claiming that its withdrawal from Kuwait was sufficient compliance. UN weapons inspectors entered Iraq in mid-1991 and began destroying chemical and biological weapons and production facilities in mid-1992.

In June 1993 the United States launched a widely criticized cruise missile attack against Iraq in retaliation for a reported assassination plot against former U.S. president George Bush. In November 1994 Hussein signed a decree formally accepting Kuwait's sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity. The decree effectively ended Iraq's claim to Kuwait as a province of Iraq.

In 1994 Iraq continued its efforts to crush internal resistance with an economic embargo of the Kurdish-populated north and a military campaign against Shia rebels in the southern marshlands. The Shias were quickly subdued, but the crisis in the Kurdish region, which had long suffered from internal rivalries, was prolonged. Kurds had often disputed over land rights, and as their economic and political security deteriorated in the early 1990s, the conflicts became more extreme. In the mid-1990s clashes between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led to a state of civil war.

In August 1996 leaders of the KDP asked Hussein to intervene in the war. He sent at least 30,000 troops into the Kurdish enclave protected by international forces, capturing the PUK stronghold of Irbil. The international forces decided to leave the enclave rather than intervene in the dispute between rival Kurdish factions. The KDP was quickly installed in power. The United States responded to Hussein's incursion with two missile strikes against southern Iraq, but the following month Iraq again helped KDP fighters, this time taking the PUK stronghold of As Sulaymaniyah. By 1997 the KDP ruled most of northern Iraq.

In September 1998 the PUK and KDP signed an agreement calling for the establishment of a joint regional government. Although implementation of the agreement proceeded more slowly than planned, it resulted in an end to the fighting between the two groups.

Meanwhile, the economic crisis in Iraq worsened in the mid-1990s. Prices were high, food and medicine shortages were rampant, and the free-market (unofficial) exchange rate for the dinar was in severe decline. Although the sanctions continued, in April 1995 the UN Security Council voted unanimously to allow Iraq to sell limited amounts of oil to meet its urgent humanitarian needs. Iraq initially rejected the plan but then accepted it in 1996; it began to export oil at the end of that year. In 1998 the UN increased the amount of oil Iraq was allowed to sell, but Iraq was unable to take full advantage of this increase because its production capabilities had deteriorated under the sanctions.

P. Recent Developments

Beginning in the late 1990s Iraq increasingly faced the possibility of another military crisis. Iraq's interference with UN weapons inspectors almost led to punitive U.S. air strikes against Iraq in early 1998, a step that was averted by a last-minute compromise brokered by UN secretary general Kofi Annan. In December of that year, in response to reports that Iraq was continuing to block inspections, the United States and Britain launched a four-day series of air strikes on Iraqi military and industrial targets. In response, Iraq declared that it would no longer comply with UN inspection teams. In the following years, British and U.S. planes periodically struck Iraqi missile launch sites and other targets.

Despite interference by Iraqi authorities, UN weapons inspectors succeeded in destroying thousands of chemical weapons, hundreds of missiles, and numerous weapon production facilities before leaving Iraq in late 1998. But inspectors believed that Hussein still possessed many more chemical weapons, and expressed concerns that Iraq had inadequately reported the scale of its biological weapons program and stockpile.

In 2002 U.S. president George W. Bush insisted that Iraq prove that it had disarmed as required under the terms that ended the Persian Gulf War. In November 2002, after months of heightened pressure from the United States and the UN, Iraq accepted a UN resolution ordering the immediate return of weapons inspectors to Iraq. In early 2003 the Bush administration argued that Iraq was violating the UN resolution by not complying fully with the inspectors and continuing to hide banned chemical and biological weapons. The United States, with the support of Britain and several other nations, built up a military force in the Persian Gulf in preparation for a possible war against Iraq. Many countries, including France, Germany, and Russia, opposed military action, arguing that diplomacy and inspections should be given more time to work. After the UN Security Council failed to reach consensus regarding military action against Iraq, U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq in March 2003 with the goals of removing Hussein from power and destroying the country's banned weapons. By mid-April U.S.-led forces had swept across southern Iraq and Kurdish forces, with the help of the U.S. military, had captured the major cities of the north. Baghdad fell to U.S. forces, effectively ending the regime of Saddam Hussein, whose whereabouts were unknown. The United States and its allies then began the process of rebuilding the country and establishing an interim Iraqi government.

Contributed by: Wajeeh Elali, B.Comm., M.B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
Professor of Management, McGill University. Author of The Financial Implications of Economic Sanctions Against Iraq and other books.

"Iraq," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2003 © 1997-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Website © 2002-19 National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education.

This website is compliant with the XHTML 1.0 standard as defined by the W3C.

Valid XHTML1.0!