Iraq - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

Read about Iraq: language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate ...



Iraq, country in the Middle East that has been central to three wars since 1980. 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). The country is officially named the Republic of Iraq (Al Jumhūrīyah al-‘Iraqia in Arabic). Baghdād is the 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. Thus, the country is nearly landlocked. Its only port on the gulf, Umm Qaşr, is small and located on shallow water, and only small craft can dock there.

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 people are Arabs. 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 (see Arab-Israeli Conflict).

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 neighboring 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 oil embargo and other sanctions imposed by the United Nations (UN). A United States-led invasion overthrew Hussein’s regime in April 2003 (see U.S.-Iraq War). Hussein was captured and executed, and a new Iraqi government was formed. However, an insurgency developed in resistance to the U.S. occupation, and sectarian conflict resulted in what many observers called a civil war.


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.

Natural Regions in Iraq

Iraq is a land of both barren desert and broad, mighty rivers; of both tall mountains and low-lying swamps. The country can be divided into four major regions: Mesopotamia, the upper river plains, the northeastern mountains, and the western and southern desert.


Between the lower stretches of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers lies the great delta plain of Mesopotamia. This plain covers roughly 117,000 sq km (45,000 sq mi). The plain is flat and featureless and slopes very gently toward the south. Locally the flatness is broken by natural levees, abandoned channels, irrigation canals, and drainage ditches. The rivers have built up their beds slightly above the general level of the plain in many places. Above Baghdād the Euphrates is a few feet higher than the Tigris; below Baghdād the Tigris is slightly higher than the Euphrates. Even so, the slope of the riverbeds toward the Persian Gulf is very slight. Consequently, the plain is poorly drained, and there are extensive marshes in the southeast.

Upper River Plains

The plain of Al Jazīah (Arabic for “The Island”) lies between the upper Euphrates and Tigris rivers. This dry plateau region rises gradually to 300 to 500 m (1,000 to 1,500 ft) above sea level near the northwestern border with Turkey. The plain is undulating and rolling, and the rivers are too deeply incised below the general level of the land to be of much use for irrigation.


The mountains of northeastern Iraq are an extension of the Zagros Mountains, which lie mainly in western Iran. These peaks reach as high as 3,607 m (11,834 ft) at Mount Ebrāhīm (Kūh-e Ḩājī Ebrāhīm or Haji Ibrahim), the highest point in Iraq. The mountains of northern Iraq are intersected by deep valleys and fertile plains.


The desert that covers most of western Iraq is part of the Syrian Desert, which extends into Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia as well. Its surface is generally pebbly and rocky, broken in some places by flat-topped buttes and mesas and less frequently by areas of sand dunes. The region is crossed by numerous wadis, wide valleys that carry water only after the infrequent rains of the desert.

Rivers and Lakes in Iraq

Since ancient times, the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers have been vitally important to the region, the eastern extent of the Fertile Crescent. However, much of the Tigris-Euphrates system lies in Syria and Turkey, which draw heavily on both rivers before they reach Iraq. The two rivers flow through Iraq from northwest to southeast. They meet at Al Qurnah in southeastern Iraq to form the 170-km- (110-mi)-long Shatt al Arab. The Iraqi port city of Al Başrah is located on the Shatt al Arab, about 110 km (about 70 mi) before the river empties into the Persian Gulf.


The Euphrates begins in Turkey, crosses Syria, and enters Iraq at Abū Kamāl. The flow of the Euphrates into Iraq has been greatly reduced by dams built by Turkey and Syria. The gradient of the Euphrates above the town of Hīt, in west central Iraq, is steep. In the 2,640 km (1,640 mi) from its source in Turkey to Hīt, the river falls from 3,000 m (10,000 ft) to a low water elevation of 50 m (170 ft) above sea level, an average drop of 1 m per km (6 ft per mi). In Iraq below Hīt the fall is very slight—about 8.9 cm per km (about 3.5 in per mi).


The Tigris rises in Turkey and flows southeast to form the northernmost 5 km (3 mi) of Iraq’s border with Syria before entering Iraq. In Iraq the river falls almost 300 m (1,000 ft). At the city of Sāmarrā’, in north central Iraq, the low water elevation of the river is 60 m (190 ft) above sea level. Turkey also draws heavily on the Tigris. However, the Tigris, unlike the Euphrates, receives a number of sizable, permanent tributaries after it enters the steppe area of northern Iraq. The Great Zab, Little Zab, Al ‘Uzaym, and Diyala enter the Tigris from the Zagros Mountains.

Drainage Issues

The flow and volume of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers vary greatly with the seasons. Evaporation during the long, hot, and dry summers reduces the flow of the rivers considerably by autumn; but both rivers show an appreciable increase as winter rains fill their catchment basins. Both rivers reach a maximum volume in spring, the Tigris reaching flood stage in April and the Euphrates in May. Historically, Iraq has suffered from many disastrous floods, but since the mid-20th century, dams, barrages, and storage reservoirs have controlled the floods. 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.

The Tigris-Euphrates-Shatt al Arab system carries huge loads of chemicals and sediments in suspension, which are deposited on the plain by floods and irrigation systems. As the water evaporates, huge amounts of salts are left behind each year. As a result, the soil is increasingly saline from Baghdād south to the Persian Gulf, severely limiting agriculture in the region south of the city of Al ‘Amārah.


In the flat plains of Mesopotamia, several large areas are permanently flooded. The largest of these lakes are Buḩayrat ath Tharthār and Baḩr al Milh, in central Iraq, and Hawr al Ḩammār near the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates.

Climate in Iraq

Iraq has two seasons: a long, hot, and dry summer, lasting from May to or through October; and a relatively short, cool, and occasionally cold winter, lasting from December through March. Precipitation is sparse in almost all of Iraq. 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.

Average summer temperatures in Iraq reach 32° to 35°C (90° to 95°F). Summer daytime maximum temperatures may reach 40°C (110°F) or even 50°C (120°F). Summer nights are comfortable, as temperatures normally drop by 14 to 19 degrees C (25 to 35 degrees F). Except near rivers, marshes, and coasts, humidity is low. The summers are essentially rainless, with no rainfall in four of the summer months and less than 13 mm (.5 in) of rain in the others. Skies are clear, and both sunlight and heat are intense during the day. In the south the summers tend to be a little hotter, a little longer, and usually somewhat more humid. The mountains in the northeast are cooler and are high enough to receive occasional summer showers.

Average winter temperatures range from 4°C (40°F) in the north to 10° to 13°C (50°F to 55°F) in the south, but winter nights are often quite cold. Mosul, in the north, has recorded temperatures of -11°C (12°F), and Al Başrah, in the south, has had temperatures of -4°C (24°F). Winter days, except during occasional cold spells, are mild. Most precipitation occurs during winter in the form of rain. The first rainfall usually occurs in November, but most of the rain comes in late January or early February. Heavy snow falls in the mountains in winter.

Plant and Animal Life in Iraq

Plant life is sparse throughout Iraq. The natural vegetation consists mostly of bushes, shrubs, and grasses. Forests of oak and pine cover limited parts of the northeastern mountains. In the delta area are dense groves of date palm trees and thickets of reeds, which may grow to 6 m (20 ft) in height. Among the animals found in Iraq are gazelle and other 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.

Environmental Issues in Iraq

Devastating wars and years of economic isolation have seriously degraded Iraq’s environment. During the Persian Gulf War, much of Iraq’s infrastructure was destroyed, including equipment involved in the country’s petroleum industry. Although Iraq restored many oil wells and refineries after the end of the war, the Iraqi government contended that the international economic embargo established by the UN prevented the repair of equipment needed to safely process the toxic byproducts of oil refining. As a result, hazardous wastes are being released into the air or dumped into depleted wells.

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 (2008 estimate) is 28,221,181. The estimated overall population density is 65 persons per sq km (169 per sq mi). The density varies markedly, with the largest population concentrations close to the Tigris or Euphrates rivers. Official population figures, however, failed to reflect the growing refugee problem resulting from the U.S. invasion and the ensuing turmoil in Iraq. As of early 2007, the United Nations (UN) estimated that 2 million Iraqis had fled the country.

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 2008 the rate of population growth was 2.56 percent, the birth rate was 30.8 per 1,000 persons, and the death rate was 5.1 per 1,000 persons.

Principal Cities of Iraq

Baghdād is the capital and largest city of Iraq, with a population of 4,797,000 in 2000. Other major cities include the northern metropolises of Irbīl (population 2,369,000), Mosul (1,034,000), and Kirkūk (418,624, in 1987); the southern port city of Al Başrah (406,296); and the Shia Muslim center of An Najaf (309,010) in south central Iraq.

Ethnic Groups in Iraq

About 75 to 80 percent of the population of Iraq is Arab. Kurds, the country’s largest minority group, constitute 15 to 20 percent of the population. Most Kurds dwell in the highlands of northern Iraq, where they are in the majority. Smaller groups include Turkmen, Armenians, and Assyrians.

Languages spoken in Iraq

Arabic and Kurdish are the official languages of Iraq. Arabic is spoken by the majority of the population, and the Kurdish minority speaks Kurdish. Armenian and Assyrian are spoken in rural areas in the north and west.

Religion in Iraq

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 Karbalā’, 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 Baghdād and Al ‘Amārah. The Yazidis are a syncretic sect, which combines the beliefs of different religions. A small community of Jews lives in Baghdād.

Education in Iraq

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 41 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 a number of large universities, including the University of Baghdād (founded in 1957), the University of Al Başrah (1964), and the University of Mosul (1967). The country also has about 20 technical institutes.

Social Structure of Iraq

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 population. Few Shias were found in the middle and upper ranks of society. Poverty was particularly widespread among the Shias, even those who lived in Baghdād. The Kurds, for their part, did not enjoy even the limited representation that the Shias had in Baghdād’s corridors of power. Beginning in 1961 the Kurdish north was off-and-on in a state of revolt. After Hussein was overthrown by a U.S.-led invasion in 2003 (see U.S.-Iraq War), Iraq became increasingly divided during the U.S. occupation that followed. Many observers feared the outbreak of a civil war. Many Sunni Arabs joined or supported a guerrilla insurgency against the U.S. occupation and boycotted elections for a new parliament. An alliance between Shia Muslims and Kurds fashioned a new constitution that alienated many Sunni Muslims.

Health and Welfare in Iraq

Health standards in Iraq are low because of poor sanitary conditions and many endemic diseases. In 2005 the average life expectancy at birth was 41 years; the infant mortality rate was estimated at 45 per 1,000 live births in 2008. Iraq has 1 physician for every 1,519 people and 1 hospital bed for every 769 people. Under Hussein, most of the medical facilities were controlled by the central government. Working conditions were regulated by a social security law introduced in 1957, which also provided maternity, disability, old-age, and unemployment insurance. Following the Persian Gulf War, sanctions imposed against Iraq resulted in falling health standards.


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; Baghdād’s Abbasid Palace, built in the 12th century; and the Shrine of Sāmarrā’, constructed in the 9th century. Iraq is known for producing fine handicrafts, including rugs and carpets.

Literature in Iraq

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 Saddam 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 revolved 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.

Art and Architecture of Iraq

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, which became active in the 1940s, included 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 the cubist style of Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (see cubism), 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 painters Diya al-‘Azzawi and Hamid al-‘Attar. Baghdād is rich in open-air sculptures and monuments designed by many of these great artists and financed by the Hussein regime. Some of the monuments glorify Hussein, others glorify Hussein’s 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 Baghdād. 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 Ottoman Empire 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 Baghdād 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 Baghdād area are impressive, in particular the gold-domed mosque in the suburb of Kazimayn, the burial place of two Shia imams (spiritual leaders).

Music in Iraq

Iraqi singers enjoy great popularity in the Arab world. Jewish singers and musicians made an important contribution to Baghdād’s culture from the 1920s until 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 Baghdād 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 since the late 20th century have included Ilham al-Madfa‘i, Kazim al-Sahir, Sa‘dun Jaber, Fu’ad Salem, and Haytham Yusuf. Ilham al-Madfa‘i usually accompanies his singing with a Spanish guitar. His main contribution is in modernizing old Maqamat songs. Kazim al-Sahir 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 “Baghdād.” 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 became popular in Baghdād under Hussein’s regime, owing to the rural background of the former ruler.

Libraries and Museums in Iraq

The leading libraries of Iraq include the University of Al Başrah Central Library (founded in 1964); the University of Mosul Central Library (1067); and the Iraq Museum Library (1934), in Baghdād. Public libraries are located in most of the provincial capitals. Both the National Library (1961), in Baghdād, and the University of Baghdād Central Library (1960) were looted and partially destroyed in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq (see U.S.-Iraq War).

Baghdād is home to the Iraq Museum (1923), which houses important collections of relics of early Mesopotamian cultures. In the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, looters made off with many of the Iraq Museum’s prized artifacts and caused significant damage to the museum. Also in Baghdād are the Iraq Natural History Museum (1946) and the Iraq Military Museum (1974). Other museums include the Babylon Museum (1949), at the site of ancient Babylon south of Baghdād, which exhibits models, pictures, and paintings of ancient Babylon; and the Mosul Museum (1951), containing exhibits of Assyrian art and other antiquities.


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

Iraqi Economy Under Hussein

During the rule of dictator Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi economy was adversely affected by four major factors: the Iran-Iraq War 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 following the end of the Persian Gulf War all aspects of Iraq’s economy were devastated. Its valuable assets, as well as its basic social and economic infrastructure, were squandered, eroded, or irrevocably destroyed. Iraq’s best-educated people fled, and the value of its national currency, the dinar, continued to decline, driving prices ever upward. Under Hussein, 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 Persian Gulf 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.

Following the U.S.-Iraq War, the United States spent billions of dollars to revive Iraq’s oil industry. The U.S. expenditures were also aimed at restoring and upgrading Iraq’s oil fields and refineries. Much of the work was contracted to U.S. and other foreign oil companies. By March 2004 Iraq was producing about 2.5 million barrels of oil per day, nearly as much as it produced prior to the 2003 war. However, the continued insurgency against the U.S. occupation in Iraq targeted oil pipelines and oil workers, and these attacks drastically cut oil production. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), Iraq produced an average of 1.8 million to 2 million barrels a day through most of 2004 and 2005. In the last three months of 2005 production sank to 1.7 million barrels, and in January 2006, it declined even further to 1.5 million barrels per day. By the end of 2006 production had increased to 2.2 million barrels per day.

Government Role in the Economy of Iraq

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.

Saddam Hussein, in power from 1979 until 2003, maintained the government’s central role in the economy. 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. The Hussein government focused on circumventing the sanctions, primarily through oil smuggling.

Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. civil administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, undertook a number of unilateral initiatives to convert Iraq from a state-run economy to a market economy. Bremer ordered the privatization of all state-owned enterprises, with the exception of the oil industry, and allowed those enterprises to be wholly owned by foreign investors. The orders also allowed foreign investors to withdraw all of their profits and dividends without reinvestment in Iraq. The banking sector was also privatized, and foreign banks were allowed to enter Iraq and own up to 50 percent of an Iraqi bank.

Labor in Iraq

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 2004 the labor force consisted of 8.06 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. Following the U.S.-Iraq war of 2003, Iraq’s minister of planning and international cooperation estimated unemployment at more than 50 percent.

Mining in Iraq

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 Kirkūk. 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. Refineries are located at Baghdād, Al Başrah, Ḩadīthah, Khānaqīn, Kirkūk, and Al Qayyārah. A plant for processing and bottling liquefied petroleum gases is situated at At Tājī, near Baghdād.

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 Kirkūk and Mosul, and the Basra Petroleum Company, which operated in the southeast, near Al Başrah. 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.

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 478 million barrels of petroleum and 1.5 billion cu m (53 billion cu ft) of natural gas in 2003. By comparison, in 1979, the year of its peak production, Iraq produced almost 1.3 billion barrels of petroleum.

Agriculture of Iraq

Although oil dominates its economy, Iraq is also an agricultural country. Approximately 13 percent of the land is under cultivation. Most farmland is in the region of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The most important crops are wheat, barley, and 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 peoples. Sheep, goats, cattle, and poultry are the most commonly raised livestock animals. In addition, the world-famous Arabian horse is extensively bred.

Manufacturing in Iraq

Despite efforts by Hussein to reduce the country’s dependence on oil, Iraq’s manufacturing industry 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. Baghdād is the leading manufacturing center of Iraq.

Services in Iraq

Many Iraqis work for the government in social services such as health and education. Financial and personal services are also important income earners.

Energy in Iraq

Power plants fueled by oil or natural gas produce 98 percent of Iraq’s electricity. Hydroelectric facilities operate on the Tigris River and some of its tributaries.

Transportation in Iraq

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’s road network is well developed: About 84 percent of roads are paved. International airports serve Baghdād and Al Başrah. Al Başrah, on the Shatt al Arab, and Umm Qaşr, on the Persian Gulf, are the main ports for oceangoing vessels, and river steamers are able to navigate the Tigris from Al Başrah to Baghdād.

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.

Communications in Iraq

Much of Iraq’s telecommunication network was also destroyed in the Persian Gulf War. After Hussein’s overthrow in 2003, the new Iraqi administration began rebuilding and upgrading the country’s telephone mainline and mobile telephone systems. The Iraqi Media Network oversees the operation of a number of television and radio stations. Under Hussein’s rule, only a small number of newspaper and periodicals were printed, but since his overthrow, dozens of new publications have been founded.

Foreign Trade in Iraq

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.

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.

After Hussein’s overthrow in 2003, the UN ended the Iraqi trade embargo. The U.S.-led transitional authority established the Trade Bank of Iraq to oversee the return of unfettered foreign trade.

Currency and Banking of Iraq

The monetary unit is the Iraqi dinar, consisting of 1,000 fil or 20 dirham (1,467.40 dinars equal U.S.$1; fixed rate). Currency is issued by the Central Bank of Iraq, which was entirely state-run and controlled the banking system and foreign exchange transactions until Hussein’s overthrow in 2003. The banking sector was subsequently privatized, and foreign banks were allowed to enter Iraq and own up to 50 percent of an Iraqi bank.


From 1968 until 2003 the Iraqi government was a dictatorship dominated by a single political party, the Baath Party. From 1979 until 2003, the Baath Party and the government were controlled by Saddam Hussein. Under Hussein, the people had little if any influence on the government. There were occasional elections to the legislature, and Hussein was once confirmed as president in 1995 in a public referendum, but none of these seemingly democratic procedures was truly democratic. Until 2003 Iraq was governed by a 1969 constitution that defined 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.

Post-Hussein Government in Iraq

A U.S.-led invasion toppled Hussein’s regime in 2003, and the United States began the process of establishing an interim Iraqi government. The U.S.-led coalition established the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), headed by U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III. The CPA selected a 25-member Iraqi governing council, with seats distributed among the country’s different religious and ethnic groups as well as existing political organizations.

Interim Constitution of 2004

The Iraqi governing council approved an interim Iraqi constitution, also known as the transitional administrative law, in March 2004. The constitution was hailed as one of the most democratic in the region, consisting of a bill of rights that guaranteed personal freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

The interim constitution was approved despite the opposition of 12 Shia members of the 25-member council, who objected to several provisions they considered undemocratic. These provisions were also opposed by the most powerful religious leader in Iraq, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a Shia cleric. Sistani objected to the fact that the interim constitution was drafted by a handpicked council and said it would not be legitimate until it was approved by a democratically elected national assembly.

Shia dissenters argued particularly against a provision requiring a two-thirds vote by at least three of Iraq’s provinces in favor of the permanent constitution. The Kurds, who currently have autonomy (self-rule) in three provinces, sought this provision as a way of guaranteeing continued autonomy and other democratic rights for the Kurdish minority. The Shia dissenters objected that this provision gave too much veto power over the constitution to a minority of voters, including Arab Sunnis, many of whom were supporters of Saddam Hussein.

Interim Government

On June 1, 2004, the Iraqi governing council announced the formation of a new interim government and dissolved itself. This new government was led by a prime minister and a president. The leaders were assisted by a deputy prime minister, two vice presidents, and a cabinet. On June 28 Bremer dissolved the CPA and formally transferred sovereignty to the new Iraqi interim government.

General elections to select a transitional National Assembly were held at the end of January 2005. A Shia coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance (UAI), won 51 percent of the vote, followed by the Kurdistān Alliance (a coalition of the Kurdistān Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistān) with 26 percent and interim prime minister Allawi’s political group with 14 percent. About 58 percent of registered Iraqi voters participated in the election, which was boycotted by most of the nation’s Sunnis. Sunni Arabs had only 17 seats in the 275-member parliament, although they represented about 20 percent of the population. In April the National Assembly selected Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as Iraq’s new president, and Talabani named Shia leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari the country’s new prime minister.

Permanent Constitution

The newly elected parliament finalized the language of a permanent constitution in the summer of 2005. Although extra Sunni Arab members were appointed to the committee, they were largely marginalized. The resulting document said that Islam is the religion of state, that the civil parliament may pass no legislation contrary to the established rules of Islam, and that Iraqis may opt to be judged by their religious community’s canon law in matters of personal status. At the same time, the document guaranteed civil liberties.

The new charter also provided for a weak central government and allowed provinces to band together into provincial confederacies, and to claim 100 percent of new petroleum and natural gas finds in their territories. This very loose federalism and the prospect that the Kurds and Shiites might monopolize future oil wealth, depriving the Sunni Arabs of their share, enraged the Sunni Arabs. On October 15, 2005, the three largely Sunni Arab provinces of Anbar, Nineveh, and Salahuddin rejected the constitution, but it passed elsewhere in the country, and the margin of rejection in one Sunni province was less than two-thirds, allowing it to pass.

Political Divisions of Iraq

Iraq is divided into 18 provinces, of which 3 are officially designated as a Kurdish autonomous region. The Kurdish autonomous region, first established in 1970, has an elected 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.

Political Parties of Iraq

The leading political organization in Iraq under Saddam Hussein was the Arab Baath Socialist Party (see Baath Party), which bases its policies on pan-Arab and socialist principles. Other political groups included the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), the Kurdistān Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistān (PUK), and a few other Kurdish parties. The two most important Shia opposition parties were the Da‘wa Party and the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which was subsequently renamed the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). Until Hussein’s overthrow, all these opposition parties were illegal outside the Kurdish autonomous region. Following the U.S. invasion, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), a coalition of Shia groups including the Da‘wa Party and SIIC, emerged as the dominant political force in Iraq. The Kurdistān Alliance, a coalition of the Kurdistān Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistān, emerged as the second most powerful political force and the most important political grouping among the Kurds. Among Sunnis, the Iraqi Accord Front, a fundamentalist religious coalition, was the leading electoral force. The Baath Party remained a legal and open party.

Defense of Iraq

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 2004 the Iraqi army had about 79,000 members (including a large active reserves); the air force, 200 members; and the navy, 700 members.

Following the U.S. invasion, the U.S. civil administrator for Iraq dissolved the Iraqi military and outlined plans for a new force that would be limited to about 40,000 members. While establishing and training this new Iraqi force, the United States continued to station more than 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq following the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis in June 2004. The 2004 interim constitution called for the dissolution of private militias, such as those maintained by Kurds and some Shia political parties, although it allowed the Kurds to maintain their militia for an interim period.

International Organizations in Iraq

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).


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 and incorporated it into the Persian Achaemenid empire. Achaemenid rule lasted until the military conquests of Macedonian king Alexander the Great in 331 BC. After Alexander’s death the Greek Seleucid dynasty reigned in Mesopotamia, infusing the region with Hellenistic culture. About 100 years later the area was absorbed into the Parthian Empire (see Parthia), which except for two brief interludes of Roman rule survived until a new Persian force, the Sassanids, conquered the region in AD 227. Their rule stretched from eastern Persia to the Syrian Desert and Anatolia.

Arab Islamic Conquest

In the 7th century Arab adherents of the new religion of Islam began conquering large parts of the Middle East and North Africa (see Spread of Islam). 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 Baghdād. At that battle an Islamic Arab army decisively defeated a Sassanid army that was six times larger. The Arab army moved quickly to Ctesiphon, the capital of the Sassanid Empire, where in 637 it seized a huge Persian treasure trove. The region was then absorbed into the expanding caliphate, or Islamic empire. 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 tax.

From the mid-8th century to 1258 Baghdād was the capital of the Abbasid caliphate. The Abbasid period was a golden age of Islamic power and culture. During that period Baghdād 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 Baghdād. However, they allowed the Abbasid caliph to remain in office as a symbol of continuity and legitimacy. In 1055 the Seljuks, a Turkic Sunni clan, drove out the Buwayhids and reestablished Sunni rule in Baghdād. 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.

Mongol and Persian Rule

In 1258 Baghdād was conquered and sacked by Hulagu, grandson of the great Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan. Hulagu had the caliph executed along with large numbers of Muslim clerics. Mongol horse cavalry and governmental neglect wrought havoc with the elaborate irrigation system that the Abbasids had established. Iraq became a neglected frontier area ruled from the Mongol capital of Tabrīz in Persia. In 1335 the last great Mongol ruler of this region died, and anarchy prevailed. The Turkic conqueror Tamerlane sacked Baghdād in 1401, again massacring many of its inhabitants.

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 Baghdād 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.

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. Local Kurdish dynasties held sway over the mountainous north. Many of the nomadic Arab tribes were never fully brought under Ottoman control. Under the influence of the Shia shrine cities of An Najaf and Karbalā’, which grew in importance in this period, large numbers of Arab tribespeople began adopting the Shia branch of Islam, a process that probably produced a Shia majority in what is now Iraq by the end of the 1800s. In the second half of the 18th century the Mamluks established effective control over the territory from Al Başrah to north of Baghdād. 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, Baghdād, and Al Başrah, 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 Baghdād, 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 Mesopotamia 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 Başrah. Meanwhile, Germany was planning the construction of a railroad in the Middle East—to run “from Berlin to Baghdād”—and, overcoming British opposition, obtained a concession from the Ottoman government to build a railroad from Baghdād 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 Indian army division landed at Al Fāw, near Iraq’s southern tip, and quickly occupied Al Başrah. 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. This first expedition was too small and met defeat at Kut-al-Imara in April 1916. A second invasion, under General Frederick Stanley Maude, proved more successful. The British army gradually pushed northward against heavy Ottoman opposition, entering Baghdād 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 what is now Iraq.

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 Ḩijāz (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 (known as Lawrence of Arabia), 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, Baghdād, and Al Başrah) 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, which they did through air raids and bombings that left some 9,000 dead. The British government concluded that it would be expedient to give up plans for direct British rule 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 Baghdād, Al Başrah, 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 British retained some control until 1932, and launched large numbers of bombing raids in the 1920s as a way of controlling the tribes.

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 Sunni Arab 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. Pan-Arabism was less popular among the Shia of the south, who favored a distinctly Iraqi nationalism, since they knew they would be a small minority in a pan-Arab federation, whereas they were the majority in Iraq.

Independent Kingdom of Iraq

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 Baghdād 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.

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. Iraq’s parliament, with an elected lower house, conducted lively debates but lacked much real power.

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.

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 Başrah. 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 Muslim 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.

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 this 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. Iraq initially only fielded 5,000 men, although it later tripled this number. 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 cease-fire 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.

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) Kirkūk-Bāniyās (Syria) pipeline of the Iraq Petroleum Company was formally opened.

The first parliamentary elections based on direct suffrage took place on January 17, 1953, but on a nonparty basis. A pro-Western government dominated by powerful Sunni Arab landlords was formed. King Faisal II formally assumed the throne on May 2, 1953, his 18th birthday. Iraq’s society was hobbled by an extremely unequal social structure in which a few thousand wealthy, mainly Sunni Arab families owned half the arable land. Large numbers of Iraqis were sharecroppers or landless peasants.

Pro-Western Pacts

In February 1955 Iraq concluded the Baghdād Pact, a mutual-security treaty with Turkey fostered by the United States as a way of creating a Middle Eastern bulwark against Soviet influence in the area. 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).

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 cease-fire, 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.

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.

As the peasant population began to move to the cities and receive an education, significant numbers of Iraqis from a poor background began to join or sympathize strongly with mass radical parties. Vast inequalities of wealth and opportunity fanned these discontents. The three most important parties were the Communist Party of Iraq, the secular Arab nationalist Baath Socialist Party, and the Shiite Da`wa Party. The Da`wa was founded in the late 1950s as a response to the other two parties, and aimed at creating an Islamic state.

Arab Union

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 Baghdād 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.

Republic of Iraq

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 Baghdād Pact, which was then renamed the Central Treaty Organization. In June 1959 Iraq also withdrew from the sterling bloc (a group of countries whose currencies are tied to the British pound sterling). The Kassem government’s initial refusal to allow Communists into the government produced massive protests in 1959. Kassem eventually relented and began a land reform program to redress the maldistribution of wealth. Steady petroleum revenues and other economic advances allowed a doubling of the urban population in the 1960s.

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.

Rise of the Baath Party

On February 8, 1963, Kassem was overthrown by a group of officers, most of them members of the Baath Party. Kassem 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 Jordanian-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 of 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.

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

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 Baghdād was announced publicly in 1975. The petroleum wealth largely went to Baath Party members and officials, and was spent disproportionately on the Sunni Arab areas. Average per capita income rose in Iraq during the 1970s, as the country began to industrialize in earnest. The Baath Party began cracking down on its rival, the Shiite Da`wa Party, occasionally arresting party activists. A major Shiite urban revolt in 1977 in the slums of East Baghdād caused the regime to share slightly more of the petroleum income with Shiites, providing increased social services.

Kurdish Revolt

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.

Saddam Hussein’s Rule

In July 1979 President al-Bakr retired and was succeeded by Saddam Hussein, believed to have been the true holder of power in Iraq for years. Hussein purged the Baath Party of al-Bakr loyalists, executing 55 senior party activists and army officers for 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 series of executions for disloyalty from 1982 to 1986 sent a clear message that no one could question the new president’s decisions and survive.

Iran-Iraq War

In 1979 Islamic revolutionaries in Iran led by Ayatollah Khomeini 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. Iraqi Shiites grew restive and some supported Khomeini, who was also a Shia Muslim. The Baath Party cracked down hard on the Da`wa Party leadership, making membership in the party a capital crime and executing its chief theorist, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr. Many Iraqi Shiite activists fled to Iran. 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 waterway.

The quarrel flared into a full-scale war (see Iran-Iraq War). Iraq quickly overran a large part of the Arab-populated province of Khūzestān (Khuzistan) in Iran and destroyed the Ābādān refinery. In June 1981 Iraq sustained a humiliating blow, but not from Iran. A surprise air attack by Israel destroyed a nuclear reactor near Baghdād. 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 Tehrān, the capital of Iran, Iraqi Shia expatriates formed the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which developed a paramilitary wing, the Badr Corps. Badr conducted guerrilla attacks inside Iraq against the Baath. The Da`wa Party leadership was also active in Tehrān and was involved in anti-U.S. terrorist actions in Kuwait and Lebanon in reprisal for U.S. support and weapons sales to Iraq. In 1988 Iraq and Iran signed a cease-fire, ending the war.

As Hussein negotiated the cease fire with Iran, the Iraqi government again moved to suppress the Kurdish insurgency. In 1988 the Iraqi military used a variety of chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians, especially in the Iraqi town of Ḩalabjah, killing approximately 5,000 people. During the late 1980s Iraq rebuilt its military machine, in part through bank credits and technology obtained from Western Europe and the United States.

Persian Gulf War

In 1990 Hussein revived Iraq’s long-standing territorial dispute with Kuwait, its ally during the war with Iran. Iraq claimed 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 cease-fire; 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 Shia in the south and Kurds in the north. Shia activists from the underground Da`wa Party and the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq overthrew the Baath throughout the southern provinces. Although the United States had called for Iraqis to rise up to overthrow Saddam Hussein, the U.S. military did not intervene when he used helicopter gunships to put down the rebellion, killing tens of thousands.

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, although the Shia continued to suffer from severe repression. In the 1990s most Iraqi Shia followed the spiritual guidance of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. His rival, Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, gained the allegiance of poor slum dwellers and tribesmen, as he spread a puritanical version of Shiism not far removed from that of Ayatollah Khomeini’s in Iran. Al-Sadr was assassinated by agents of the Iraqi state in 1999, and was succeeded by his young son Muqtada.

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.

Kurdish Strife

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 Shia 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 Kurdistān (PUK) and the Kurdistān 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 Irbīl. 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 Sulaymānīyah. 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.


A UN trade embargo remained in place after the Persian Gulf 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.

By the mid-1990s Iraq was suffering an economic crisis. 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.

Weapons Inspections

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 pulled out the weapons inspectors and 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 some 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. Other inspectors declared that 85 percent of the original stockpiles had been destroyed.

U.S. Invasion

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 diplomatic pressure from the UN and military pressure from the United States, Iraq accepted a UN resolution ordering the immediate return of weapons inspectors to Iraq. In March 2003 UN weapons inspectors concluded with regard to chemical and biological weapons, “No proscribed activities, or the result of such activities from the period of 1998-2002 have, so far, been detected through inspections.” The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also reported in early March that there was no sign of a renewed nuclear weapons program. Hans Blix, who led the UN weapons inspection team, reported that Iraq was not in full compliance with UN Security Council resolutions, but Blix asked for more time to complete his mission. The United States objected to the request for more time, arguing that Hussein had failed to comply fully with UN resolutions since 1991. Earlier, in February 2003, President Bush had privately told Spain’s prime minister José María Aznar that he had lost patience with the UN and that U.S. forces would be in Baghdād by the end of March. The Bush administration argued that Iraq was continuing to hide significant quantities of banned chemical and biological weapons. Its efforts, however, to obtain UN Security Council approval for military measures against Iraq were unsuccessful.

The United States, with the support of Britain and several other nations, built up a military force in the Persian Gulf in preparation for an invasion of Iraq. Other 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 alleged stockpiles of banned weapons (see U.S.-Iraq War). 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. Baghdād fell to U.S. forces in April. Hussein remained at large, but was no longer in power. (In December 2003 U.S. forces captured Hussein at a farm near Tikrīt. He was later put on trial and executed for crimes against humanity.)

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Baghdād, widespread looting took place throughout the capital. Criminal gangs broke into government offices, stealing equipment and setting fires. The Iraq Museum, which housed priceless artifacts from early Mesopotamian culture, was extensively looted. Although U.S. forces guarded the building of the Oil Ministry, they did nothing to intervene against the general looting. As a result of the criminal anarchy that ensued, many Iraqis became disillusioned early on with the U.S. occupation.

In addition, U.S. forces were stretched thin throughout Iraq because of the limited number of troops taking part in the invasion. U.S. generals had recommended a large invasion force of about 400,000 troops, rather than the 160,000 troops that were eventually deployed. As a result, numerous weapons caches throughout the country were left unguarded and ultimately fell into the hands of insurgents.

Post-Hussein Iraq

After U.S. president George Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1, the United States and its allies established the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), headed by U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III. The CPA undertook a number of sweeping measures that later proved extremely controversial. Bremer ordered the disbandment of the Iraqi army, which left hundreds of thousands of Iraqis unemployed and angry. He also refused to hire even low-ranking members of the Baath Party, even though they represented Iraq’s most experienced administrators. Many had joined the Baath Party to keep or obtain jobs with the government, rather than for ideological reasons. The CPA’s inclination to privatize state-run industries also created concern among many Iraqis.

The CPA soon established a 25-member Iraqi governing council, with seats distributed among the country’s different religious and ethnic groups as well as existing political organizations. The council was heavily weighted toward Shia and Kurdish representatives and did not include any representatives from the former Baath Party. Many council members were exiles, including some who had been exiled in Iran, who returned to Iraq following the downfall of the Hussein regime. Bremer’s plan to appoint a committee to draft a permanent constitution for Iraq was derailed by a legal ruling (fatwa) from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who insisted that the country’s charter be drafted by delegates elected by the Iraqi people. The young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the son of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, took an even harder line, mounting continual demonstrations demanding immediate U.S. withdrawal of its troops and organizing his youth cadres into a militia called the Mahdi Army.

The interim governing council was charged with drafting a new constitution that would pave the way for elections and a new Iraqi government. Coalition forces and Iraqis who cooperated with them faced persistent guerrilla resistance in the form of sniper attacks and roadside bombs directed against coalition troops, and also terrorist bombings directed against civilians. One such suicide bomb destroyed the UN’s Baghdād headquarters on August 19, 2003, killing Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN secretary general’s special representative in Iraq, and 21 others. On August 29, a huge blast in the Shiite holy city of An Najaf killed Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Many of SCIRI’s leaders had returned from exile in Iran, where they escaped the repression of Saddam Hussein’s government, and they emerged as a major force in Shia politics.

A U.S. team known as the Iraq Survey Group, charged with surveying Iraq’s weapons stockpiles and programs, released an interim report in October stating that it had failed to find any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. The team said it had found evidence of illegal activities related to WMD programs but could not find any buildings or other facilities used in an ongoing way to produce weapons of mass destruction. The team’s leader, David Kay, resigned from the Survey Group in January 2004, saying U.S. intelligence agencies were probably wrong about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction. However, Kay suggested that in view of the chaos in Hussein’s government, the danger existed that if Iraq ever did develop weapons of mass destruction, individual scientists or military officers might furnish such weapons to terrorists.

Interim Constitution

The U.S. administration of Iraq faced so much resistance from Sunni Arab guerrillas and from Shiite parties that by fall of 2003 it was clear that it could not hope to continue. Bremer’s plan, announced November 15, 2003, to hold elections for an Iraqi parliament and transfer sovereignty to it by July 1, 2004, ran into opposition from Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani. Bremer had wanted the U.S.-installed provincial council members to elect the parliament. Sistani insisted on a one-person, one-vote open election, and wanted United Nations involvement in midwifing the new state. The Bush administration gave in to Sistani’s demands after he called out large street demonstrations in January 2004, but postponed the elections until early 2005.

In March 2004 the Iraqi governing council approved an interim constitution, or transitional administrative law (TAL), for Iraq. The temporary constitution included a bill of rights, guaranteeing individual rights of free speech and freedom of religion. Islamic fundamentalists rejected the TAL, however, because it was drafted under foreign occupation and because it failed to declare that Islamic law is the only source of legislation. More moderate Muslim leaders, such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and other senior Shia clerics, objected to portions of the transitional law that allowed a large minority group, such as the Kurds, to have veto power over government decisions and a permanent constitution.

Violent Insurgency

In March 2004 terrorist bombings in Karbalā’ and Baghdād killed more than 100 Iraqis and wounded hundreds more, including Shia Muslims who were commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, who died in 680 AD, on the holy day of Ashura. The perpetrators were widely believed to be supporters of al-Qaeda. From April 2003 to March 2004, about 90 percent of the attacks against coalition and Iraqi security forces were carried out in the region north and west of Baghdād known as the Sunni Arab triangle. The Kurdish zone in northern Iraq was largely peaceful, with the exception of the ethnically divided oil province of Kirkūk. Southern Iraq, where mostly Shia Muslims live, saw increased organization of militias attached to religious parties. Although they often established order, they also imposed puritan standards, closing video and liquor shops and banning musical performance.

April 2004 proved to be a particularly bloody month. In late March 2004, Sunni Arab guerrillas in the city of Al Fallūjah killed four private security guards, three of them Americans and one a South African, and a jubilant crowd mutilated their bodies. Coalition forces responded by surrounding the city of Al Fallūjah and calling for the arrest of those responsible for the contractors’ deaths. An invasion of the city began, but heavy bombardment and initial fighting resulted in some 600 dead, many of them civilians. Members of the interim governing council threatened to resign if the action was not stopped, and a hue and cry broke out among the Iraqi public. The United States withdrew its military forces and attempted to have city elders and ex-Baath officers restore calm.

Earlier, on March 27, U.S. forces closed a newspaper aligned with radical Shia Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for printing news stories that blamed the United States for a rocket attack on a Shia shrine in the Baghdād suburb of Kadhimiyah. The closure sparked protest demonstrations, including some minor violence. The CPA then issued arrest warrants against Sadr and one of his aides, signed by an Iraqi judge, accusing the two men of the murder of Ayatollah Abd al-Majid Kho’i in April 2003.

Sadr eluded arrest and then launched a widespread uprising to underline that he would not go quietly. His militiamen took control of police stations in East Baghdād, as well as of Shiite cities in the south, including the holy cities of An Najaf and Karbalā’. In response, coalition forces laid siege to both towns. By the end of the month, U.S. military commanders estimated that they had killed 1,000 Mahdi Army militiamen and lost 131 troops, the highest death toll for any single month in the conflict up to that point. The Associated Press and The Brookings Institution reported that 1,361 Iraqis, including civilians, insurgents, and Iraqi security forces, were killed during the fighting in April, which was concentrated in central and southern Iraq and the area around Al Fallūjah. Sistani brokered a truce in late May between the United States and Sadr’s forces. Sadr’s Mahdi Army was finally expelled from An Najaf by U.S. marines and by civil demonstrations called for by Sistani in late August 2004. Thereafter Sadr turned to civil politics, under pressure from Sistani and other Shiite leaders. In late 2004, following the U.S. presidential election won by Bush, U.S. forces returned to Al Fallūjah and laid siege to the city. An estimated 1,200 insurgents and more than 50 U.S. soldiers died during the three-week operation, which destroyed large parts of the city and displaced most of the city’s population of more than 200,000 people.

Estimates of the number of Iraqi civilians killed since the war began have varied widely, and no official count has been undertaken. The British-based Iraq Body Count, which bases its casualty figures on media reports, put the number of dead Iraqi civilians at between approximately 28,000 and 31,000 at the end of 2005. Many of the deaths derived from U.S. military action against guerrillas, which produced “collateral damage,” as well as from guerrilla attacks on Iraqi police and civilians. The Iraqi Ministry of Health estimated that from April to September of 2004, coalition military forces killed twice as many Iraqis, including civilians, as did guerrilla action. But the armed resistance to the new order also was responsible for large numbers of deaths. The Iraq Interior Ministry estimated that 8,175 Iraqi civilians and police officers were killed by insurgents from August 2004 to May 2005.

Transition to Iraqi Sovereignty

On June 1, 2004, the Iraqi governing council announced the formation of a new interim government and dissolved itself. This new government was led by an ex-Baathist secularist named Iyad Allawi and a Sunni Muslim president, Sheik Ghazi al-Yawar, with a charge to prepare for the scheduled January 30, 2005, elections. On June 28 Bremer dissolved the Coalition Provisional Authority, formally transferred sovereignty to the new Iraqi government, and left the country. However, coalition military forces remained in place in Iraq.

General elections to select a transitional Iraqi National Assembly were held at the end of January 2005. A Shia coalition, backed by Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani and including the Da`wa Party and the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI, which was later renamed the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, or ISCI), won 51 percent of the vote, followed by the Kurdistān Alliance (a coalition of the Kurdistān Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistān) with 26 percent and interim prime minister Allawi’s political group with 14 percent. About 58 percent of registered Iraqi voters participated in the election, which was boycotted by most of the nation’s Sunnis. Sunni Arabs had only 17 seats in the 275-member parliament, although they represent about 20 percent of the population. In April the National Assembly selected Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as Iraq’s new president, and Talabani named Shia leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari the country’s new prime minister. The ruling United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), a coalition of mainly fundamentalist Shia parties including SCIRI, established warm relations with the clerical regime in Iran. The Shiite religious parties also won control of 11 of Iraq’s provincial governments, including Baghdād.

In the summer of 2005, a parliamentary committee finalized the language of a permanent constitution. Although extra Sunni Arab members were appointed to the committee, they were largely marginalized. The resulting document said that Islam is the religion of state, that the civil parliament may pass no legislation contrary to the established rules of Islam, and that Iraqis may opt to be judged by their religious community’s canon law in matters of personal status. At the same time, the document guaranteed a variety of civil liberties.

The new charter also provided for a very weak federal central government and allowed provinces to band together into provincial confederacies, and to claim 100 percent of new petroleum and natural gas finds in their territories. This very loose federalism and the prospect that the Kurds and Shiites might monopolize future oil wealth, depriving the Sunni Arabs of their share, enraged the Sunni Arabs. On October 15 three largely Sunni Arab provinces rejected the constitution, but it passed elsewhere in the country, and the margin of rejection in one Sunni province was less than two-thirds, allowing it to pass.

On December 15, Iraq held yet another parliamentary election. Turnout was high, and this time the Sunni Arab population voted in some numbers. Despite predictions that the secular list of former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi would do well, the Shiite religious coalition—the UIA—again gained the largest single bloc of seats, with 128 out of 275. This time the UIA was joined by the Muqtada al-Sadr faction, which gained a large numbers of seats. Kurds again supported the Kurdistān Alliance, which gained 53 seats. A Kurdish Muslim religious party won 5 seats and said it would vote with the other Kurds, giving them 58 seats altogether. The Kurds were the only group to vote primarily for secular parties. The attempt of secular parties to appeal across religious and ethnic boundaries was roundly rebuffed by voters.

Among Sunnis, the fundamentalist religious coalition, the Iraqi Accord Front, did best, winning 44 seats. Sunnis vowed to overturn the provisions in the constitution allowing for a very loose federalism and new provincial confederacies. Sunni Arab willingness to vote and work through parliament did not signal an end to the guerrilla war, which clandestine Sunni Arab groups continued to wage against U.S. troops and against Iraqi police, army, and Shiite civilians. Most of the civilian politicians would have been killed if they had dared openly venture into the Sunni Arab areas. The government controlled little of the country. Local militias were the de facto authority in most cities, although sometimes they were incorporated into the municipal police. Waves of bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and burglaries were common in about half the country.

Increased Sectarian Violence

The UIA-led coalition selected Nouri Kamal al-Maliki of the Da`Wa Party as prime minister of Iraq. During 2006 al-Maliki faced numerous crises, including increased sectarian violence that brought Iraq to the brink of all-out civil war. In particular the February 2006 bombing by suspected Sunni insurgents of the Askariyah Shrine in Sāmarrā, one of Shia Islam’s holiest sites, set off a wave of intense violence as Shia militias retaliated against Sunnis, including attacks on dozens of Sunni mosques. But sectarian violence pitted not just Sunnis against Shias. Shia militias also clashed with each other, including battles in southern Iraq between the SCIRI-commanded Badr Corps and the Mahdi Army organized by al-Sadr. Bombings and other attacks carried out by Sunni insurgents targeted the Iraqi army and police, while the Shia-led Iraq Interior Ministry was accused of widespread human rights violations, including torture and mass executions of Sunni Muslims. Shia-organized death squads reportedly killed thousands of Sunnis suspected of involvement in the insurgency.

The effectiveness of an organization known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which did not exist prior to the U.S. invasion and probably did not have any actual ties to the al-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden, was curtailed to some extent by the killing of its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in June 2006. Nevertheless, the carnage in Iraq became so severe that an epidemiological study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, based on a cluster survey carried out by Iraqi physicians, concluded that more than 600,000 Iraqis had died as a result of violence since the U.S.-British invasion of 2003. The finding was controversial, however, and was disputed by other sources. Iraq’s Health Ministry in 2006 put the total number of civilians killed by violence at 100,000 to 150,000, but this survey reportedly did not include Sunni deaths. In early 2008 the World Health Organization and the Iraq Health Ministry in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that 151,000 Iraqis, both civilians and fighters, died violently from March 2003 to June 2006. The study was reportedly the largest to date, based on a survey of 10,000 Iraqi households.

Political Developments Under al-Maliki

In political developments the Iraq parliament passed a federalism measure in October 2006 that would allow provinces to join together in autonomous regions. The measure was backed by the UIA, which was headed by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the SIIC, formerly SCIRI. It was opposed by al-Maliki, al-Sadr, the Sunni-led Iraqi Accord Front, and the Shia-led Fadhila (Islamic Virtue) Party. Implementation of the measure was to be delayed for 18 months due to objections from Sunnis, who feared it would lead to a partition of the country. Under the measure the oil-rich north could become a Kurdish autonomous region and the oil-rich south could become a Shia autonomous region, while the central part of the country where most Sunnis live would be left without any significant oil fields.

Iraq braced for more violence in November 2006 after a special court set up jointly by U.S. and Iraqi authorities to try Saddam Hussein found the former ruler guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to death. Hussein was convicted of ordering the executions of 148 men and boys in the mainly Shia town of Dujail in retaliation for a 1982 assassination attempt on Hussein that apparently originated in Dujail. In December Iraq’s Supreme Court upheld the sentence, and Hussein was executed by hanging. A cellphone videotaping of the execution, which showed guards mocking Hussein as he went to the gallows, threatened to worsen sectarian tensions in Iraq.

In early 2007 the United Nations reported that 2 million Iraqis had fled Iraq and another 727,000 had become displaced within Iraq. Sectarian conflict resulted in the displacement of Sunnis and Shias from neighborhoods, especially in Baghdād, where Sunnis and Shias formerly lived together peaceably. By September 2007 most reports indicated that the refugee situation had worsened. An estimated 2.5 million Iraqis had fled the country, with many living in neighboring Jordan and Syria, while an estimated 2.1 million Iraqis had been uprooted from their homes and were internally displaced within Iraq as a result of sectarian violence and threats of violence. See also U.S.-Iraq War.

The quality of life for Iraqis continued to deteriorate with most Iraqis having limited access to electricity and clean drinking water. The relief agency Oxfam estimated in July 2007 that about 70 percent of Iraqis were without adequate water supplies, an increase from 50 percent in 2003. Due to the lack of sanitation, a cholera epidemic broke out in September 2007. In October the World Health Organization (WHO) documented 14 deaths from more than 3,300 confirmed cases of cholera. An additional 30,000 cases of diarrhea could have been a milder form of cholera, WHO reported. In some cases Iraq’s water supplies were not being adequately treated with chlorine because insurgents had used chlorine for making bombs and U.S. forces had placed shipments of chlorine under tight control.

In early August 2007 the al-Maliki government came under serious strain as 17 cabinet ministers either withdrew from the government, submitted their resignations, or refused to attend cabinet meetings. Among the defectors were cabinet ministers belonging to the Iraqi Accord Front, the main Sunni bloc in the government. (By April 2008, however, the Iraqi Accord Front had agreed to return to the cabinet.) Al-Maliki came under intense criticism from abroad, with several U.S. senators, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, calling for his resignation. U.S. president George Bush continued to back al-Maliki publicly, but some political observers believed that Bush’s support was lukewarm.

Iraq’s governing coalition appeared fragile, especially after a key Shia group signaled that it could no longer accept a compromise proposal for a proposed oil law. Passage of a new oil law was one of the principal benchmarks set by the Bush administration and the U.S. Congress for signs of progress in Iraq. In September 2007 Iraq’s oil minister disputed an oil exploration contract signed by the Kurdish regional government with the Hunt Oil Company of Dallas, Texas, saying it violated the spirit of a proposed federal oil law that the cabinet had submitted to Iraq’s parliament. Just days later the Sadr Movement headed by Muqtada al-Sadr, with 32 seats in the parliament, formally withdrew from the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the governing coalition, after earlier quitting the cabinet. The smaller Fadhila Party, which had also been part of the UIA, had withdrawn from the alliance in March. The combined defections left the UIA with 70 seats in parliament. Since the UIA was still the largest bloc and because the Sadr Movement signaled that it would not challenge al-Maliki’s leadership, the UIA was expected to continue to govern but al-Maliki’s hold on power was precarious.

Many Iraqis reacted with anger to what they saw as threats to Iraq’s sovereignty during two incidents in September 2007. The first was the passage in the U.S. Senate of a nonbinding resolution that called for decentralizing Iraq by creating three semiautonomous regions—a Kurdish north, a Shia south, and a Sunni area in central Iraq. A joint statement by the Sunni-led Iraqi Accord Front and several Shia parties condemned the resolution, calling it an attempt to partition Iraq and a signal that the United States planned a long-term occupation. The second incident involved a shooting spree by Blackwater USA security guards that killed 17 Iraqis and wounded 27 others in western Baghdād (see Private Military Firms). Iraqis were incensed that a U.S. decree gave the private contractors immunity from Iraqi law. An Iraqi government investigation into the incident concluded that the shooting was unprovoked, and the government demanded that the guards be brought to trial.

As 2007 ended, there were signs of growing impatience with the U.S. occupation from the various Shia religious parties making up the Iraqi government. In October the acting head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) pledged to oppose long-term U.S. military bases in Iraq. The ISCI had earlier agreed to end fighting between its Badr Corps and the Mahdi Army of al-Sadr in a pact that was negotiated with the help of the Iranian government headed by Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei. Despite charges from U.S. military forces that Iran was arming militias and providing insurgents with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) for use against U.S. troops, the Iraqi government continued to maintain warm ties with Iran. However, in a significant development, the ISCI eliminated from its party platform a pledge that it takes its guidance from Khamenei, saying instead that it recognized the spiritual leadership of Iraq’s Ayatollah al-Sistani. Political observers said that the ISCI leadership was trying to make the party more acceptable to Iraq’s Shias, many of whom disagree with any notion that Khamenei has transnational authority.

The Iraqi government’s ties with Iran went beyond the fact that both are Shia. Economic trade between the two countries was also extensive. In October 2007 Iraq announced that it had awarded $1.1 billion in contracts to Iranian and Chinese companies to build two electrical power plants. The announcement proved particularly embarrassing for the U.S. occupation force, which has been unable to provide Iraq with a consistent supply of electricity.

Among Iraq’s Sunnis, 22 resistance groups announced in October that they had formed a political coalition and a unified command. Former Iraqi prime minister Allawi said he had opened negotiations with the leader of one of the groups, Izzat al-Douri, a former Baath Party official who was generally recognized as the leader of the largely secular Sunni insurgency. Douri was reportedly open to a ceasefire if the United States declared a timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal.

The Bush administration, however, rejected any notion of a timetable and announced in November 2007 that it had negotiated an agreement with al-Maliki for a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq. Iraqi government officials indicated that the “declaration of principles” provided for at least 50,000 U.S. troops to remain in Iraq for the long term. Officials for both the Bush and al-Maliki governments indicated that since the agreement was not a treaty, no approval was required by the respective legislatures of the two countries, although substantial opposition to a long-term U.S. military presence exists in both legislative bodies. In mid-November 2007 Bush signed into law the 2008 Defense Appropriations Act, which stipulates that the United States cannot establish permanent military bases in Iraq nor can it exercise control over Iraq’s oil resources. However, Bush issued a signing statement saying that he was free to disregard several of the law’s provisions.

Iraq’s Relations with Neighboring Turkey and Iran

As 2008 began, Iraq’s relations with Turkey, its neighbor to the north, were seriously strained, while relations with neighboring Iran to the east continued to improve, particularly following a historic visit to Iraq by Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Turkish army staged an eight-day incursion into the northern Kurdistān region of Iraq in late February in an attempt to crush guerrillas loyal to the Kurdistāan Workers Party (PKK). The PKK guerrillas had been staging cross-border raids into Turkey from their bases in northern Iraq and had killed a number of Turkish soldiers. The PKK seeks some form of autonomy for Kurds living in Turkey and enjoys some popular support among Iraq’s Kurds. Iraq’s cabinet demanded an immediate withdrawal of Turkey’s military forces, saying the incursion violated Iraq’s sovereignty. United States secretary of defense Robert M. Gates also called for Turkey’s withdrawal, which took place the next day on March 1.

March also saw the first state visit to Iraq by an Iranian head of state since the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Ahmadinejad’s visit with Iraq’s principal leaders in the capital, Baghdād, complete with motorcade and welcoming ceremonies, contrasted sharply with those of U.S. president George W. Bush, who remained confined to U.S. military bases during his trips. The Iranian leader’s trip, however, prompted protests by Sunnis who reportedly fear that Iran will attempt to dominate Iraq. And there were also indications that some Shia were wary of Iran’s growing influence with the Iraqi government and political parties in the governing coalition.

U.S.-Iraq Security Pact

The increased presence of U.S. troops in Iraq that began in 2007 was credited in 2008 with a significant reduction in U.S. casualties and a lowering of violence in Iraq (see U.S.-Iraq War). Some observers attributed the success of the so-called surge to factors other than an increase in the number of U.S. troops. More important, according to these observers, was the ability of the U.S. military to divert the Sunni insurgency from attacks on Shias, U.S. forces, and the Iraqi government to attacks on Al-Qaeda in Iraq, also known as Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. This group, which sprang up after the U.S. invasion, consisted of Iraqi Sunnis and foreign fighters united around an extreme form of Islamic fundamentalism. They were known as Salafi jihadists and carried out terrorist attacks, mainly against civilians. Much of what had been the mainly Baathist-led Sunni insurgency went on the U.S. military payroll and formed “Awakening Councils” in an attempt to crush Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

In addition, Shiite militias had succeeded in 2006 and 2007 in ethnically cleansing a majority of Sunni Arabs from Baghdād, turning mixed neighborhoods into solely Shiite enclaves. Hundreds of thousands of Sunni Arabs were expelled from the capital to Syria, Jordan, or other provinces of Iraq. As neighborhoods became homogeneous and the capital became perhaps 80 percent Shiite, sectarian killing subsided. But the reduction in violence was only relative. Iraq continued to be plagued by suicide bombings and sectarian attacks throughout 2008.

As the end of 2008 neared, the United Nations mandate that allowed for the U.S. occupation was set to expire. Rather than renew the UN mandate for another year, the Bush administration again revived the idea of a security pact with Iraq. Only now its ability to dictate the terms was considerably weakened, owing both to the growing strength of the Iraqi army and the continued opposition to the war within the United States. As negotiations proceeded in October 2008, U.S. officials agreed to a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal and other guarantees of Iraqi sovereignty.

A final agreement was reached on November 17, 2008. It called for all U.S. combat troops to withdraw from Iraqi cities and towns by June 30, 2009. The U.S. forces would then be confined to U.S. military bases in the countryside except when joint U.S.-Iraqi military missions were required. All U.S. military operations were to be approved by the Iraqi government and overseen by a Joint Military Operations Coordination Committee (JMOCC). The United States also agreed not to use Iraqi land, air, or sea to carry out attacks against other countries. Under the agreement, all U.S. forces would be withdrawn from all of Iraq by December 31, 2011.

The security pact made all U.S. military and civilian personnel subject to Iraqi law when off-duty and outside designated U.S. facilities. Addressing a number of sensitive issues that strained U.S.-Iraqi relations, such as the shooting of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater USA contractors, the pact stipulated that Iraq would have the primary right to exercise jurisdiction over U.S. contractors and contract employees. It also prohibited the United States from arresting or detaining Iraqi civilians without the approval of the Iraqi government, and it called for a full accounting of Iraqi detainees held by the United States. The United States held about 16,000 Iraqis as prisoners in detention camps.

Iraq’s cabinet approved the agreement by a 27-1 vote. Two members of the Iraqi Accord Front, the Sunni fundamentalist coalition, voted for the accord, while one member voted against. The Da’Wa (Islamic Mission) Party of al-Maliki unanimously approved, as did the Kurdistan Alliance and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. The accord prompted protests by followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, who demanded an unconditional U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Following the Cabinet approval, Iraq’s parliament voted in favor. Out of 275 legislators nearly 200 were present for the vote, and of those about 150 voted to approve. The spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shias, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, expressed “concerns” about the pact but said he would leave it to a popular referendum to decide. Iraq’s three-member presidency council approved the pact in December. It was to go into effect on January 1, 2009, although it still must be approved by a popular, nationwide vote to be held by July 30, 2009.

As Iraq headed into 2009, it anticipated provincial elections in January, the same month Barack Obama was to be inaugurated in the United States. During his presidential campaign, Obama had pledged to withdraw all U.S. combat forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office.

Provincial Elections and a New U.S. Administration

As the United Nations (UN) mandate for Iraq expired on January 1, 2009, one of the first stages of the new U.S.-Iraq security agreement went into effect with Iraqi forces taking responsibility for the security of the Green Zone, the heavily fortified area in Baghdād where the U.S. Embassy is located. Prime Minister al-Maliki hailed the transfer as Iraq’s “day of sovereignty.” The incoming administration of U.S. president Barack Obama also indicated that it would adhere to its campaign pledge of beginning U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq. In early February, al-Maliki stated that the Iraqi government looked favorably upon the Obama administration’s plans to withdraw troops earlier than called for in the U.S.-Iraq security pact. See also U.S.-Iraq War.

Final results from the provincial elections, which were held January 31 to elect provincial governors and legislators, indicated that al-Maliki’s Da’Wa Party won the most votes of any party in nine provinces. The coalition of Da’Wa and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), however, was still expected to govern in the predominantly Shia provinces. Parties associated with the radical Islamic cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also did well. In the four largely Sunni provinces, a mix of tribal, secular nationalist, and Sunni Islamist parties all won significant shares of the vote.

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