Iraq ( or , Arabic: ), officially the Republic of Iraq (Arabic: , , Komara Êraqê, Assyrian: ܥܝܪܐܩ), also known as Mesopotamia, is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert.
Iraq shares borders with Jordan to the west, Syria to the northwest, Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to the south. Iraq has a narrow section of coastline measuring 58 km (35 miles) on the northern Persian Gulf. The capital city, Baghdad ( ), is in the center-west of the country.
Two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, run through the centre of Iraq, flowing from north to south. These provide Iraq with agriculturally capable land and contrast with the steppe and desert landscape that covers most of Western Asia.
Historically, Iraq was known in Europe by the Greek eponym 'Mesopotamia' (Land between the rivers); after the foundation of the Kingdom of Iraq in 1932, it became known by its ancient endonym 'Iraq'. Iraq has been home to continuous successive civilizations since the 6th millennium BC. The region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is identified as the cradle of civilization and the birthplace of writing and the wheel.
Throughout its long history, Iraq has been the center of the Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Hellenistic, Parthian, Sassanid and Abbasid empires, and part of the Achaemenid, Roman, Rashidun, Umayyad, Mongol, Ottoman and British empires.
Beginning with the invasion in 2003, a multinational coalition of forces, mainly American and British, occupied Iraq.
The occupation ended when sovereignty was transferred to the Iraqi Interim Government June 2004. A new Constitution of Iraq has since been approved by referendum and a new Government of Iraq has been elected. Some dispute whether Iraq is de facto sovereign (see Iraqi sovereignty, United States-Iraq relations).
The Arabic name has been in use since before the 6th century. There are several suggested origins for the name. One dates to the Sumerian city of Uruk (Biblical Hebrew Erech) and is thus ultimately of Sumerian origin, as Uruk was the Akkadian name for the Sumerian city of , containing the Sumerian word for "city", URU. another maintains according to Professor Wilhelm Eilers, "The name al-‘Irāq, for all its Arabic appearance, is derived from Middle Persian erāq lowlands".
Mesopotamia has always been called "the land of Iraq" in Arabic, meaning "the fertile" or "deep-rooted land". During the medieval period, there was a region called ʿIrāq ʿArabī ("Arabian Iraq") for lower Mesopotamia and ʿIrāq ʿajamī ("Persian Iraq" or "Foreign Iraq"), for the region now situated in Central and Western Iran. The term historically included the plain south of the Hamrin Mountains and did not include the northernmost and westernmost parts of the modern territory of Iraq.
As an Arabic word, عراق means hem, shore, bank, or edge, so that the name by folk etymology came to be interpreted as "the escarpment", viz. at the south and east of the Jazira Plateau, which forms the northern and western edge of the "al-Iraq arabi" area.
The Arabic pronunciation is . In English, it is either (the only pronunciation listed in the Oxford English Dictionary and the first one in Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary) or (listed first by MQD), the American Heritage Dictionary, and the Random House Dictionary. is frequently heard in US media.
Iraq was home to the earliest known civilization on Earth, the Sumerian civilization, which arose in the fertile Tigris-Euphrates river valley of southern Iraq in the mid 6th millennium BC. It was here in the late 4th millennium BC, that the world's first writing system and recorded history itself were born. The Sumerian civilization flourished for over 3,000 years and was succeeded by the rise of the Akkadian Empire in the 24th century BC. Over two centuries of Akkadian dominance was followed by a Sumerian Renaissance in the 21st century BC. An Elamite invasion in 2004 BC brought the Third Dynasty of Ur to an end. By the 18th century BC a new civilization, Babylonia, had risen to dominance in central and southern Iraq while a contemporaneous civilization, Assyria, had formed in northern Iraq.
In the 6th century BC, Cyrus the Great of neighbouring Persia defeated the Neo-Babylonian Empire at the Battle of Opis and Iraq was subsumed into the Achaemenid Empire for nearly four centuries. In the late 4th century BC, Alexander the Great conquered the region, putting it under Hellenistic Seleucid rule for nearly two centuries. A Central Asian tribe of ancient Iranian peoples known as the Parthians later annexed the region, followed by the Romans, then the Sassanid Persians. The region remained a province of the Persian Empire for nine centuries, until the Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia in the 7th century AD.
The Abbasid Caliphate built the city of Baghdad in the 8th century as their capital, and it became the leading metropolis of the Arab and Muslim world for five centuries. Baghdad was the largest multicultural city of the Middle Ages, peaking at a population of more than a million, and was the centre of learning during the Islamic Golden Age. The Mongols destroyed the city during the sack of Baghdad in the 13th century.
In 1257, Hulagu Khan amassed an unusually large army, a significant portion of the Mongol Empire's forces, for the purpose of conquering Baghdad. When they arrived at the Islamic capital, Hulagu demanded surrender but the last Abbasid Caliph Al-Musta'sim refused. This angered Hulagu, and, consistent with Mongol strategy of discouraging resistance, Baghdad was decimated. Estimates of the number of dead range from 200,000 to a million.
The Mongols destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate and The Grand Library of Baghdad (Arabic بيت الحكمة Bayt al-Hikma, lit., House of Wisdom), which contained countless, precious, historical documents. The city has never regained its status as major center of culture and influence. Some historians believe that the Mongol invasion destroyed much of the irrigation infrastructure that had sustained Mesopotamia for many millennia. Other historians point to soil salination as the culprit in the decline in agriculture.
The mid-14th-century Black Death ravaged much of the Islamic world. The best estimate for Middle East—Iraq, Iran, Syria, etc.—is a death rate of a third.
In 1401, warlord of Mongol descent Tamerlane (Timur Lenk) invaded Iraq. After the capture of Bagdad, 20,000 of its citizens were massacred. Timur ordered that every soldier should return with at least two severed human heads to show him (many warriors were so scared they killed prisoners captured earlier in the campaign just to ensure they had heads to present to Timur).
During the late 14th and early 15th centuries, the Black Sheep Turkmen ruled the area now known as Iraq. In 1466, the White Sheep Turkmen defeated the Black Sheep and took control. In the 16th century, most of the territory of present-day Iraq came under the control of Ottoman Empire as the pashalik of Baghdad. Throughout most of the period of Ottoman rule (1533–1918) the territory of present-day Iraq was a battle zone between the rival regional empires and tribal alliances. The Safavid dynasty of Iran briefly asserted their hegemony over Iraq in the periods of 1508–1533 and 1622–1638.
During the years 1747–1831 Iraq was ruled by the Mamluk officers of Georgian origin who succeeded in obtaining autonomy from the Sublime Porte, suppressed tribal revolts, curbed the power of the Janissaries, restored order and introduced a program of modernization of economy and military. In 1831, the Ottomans managed to overthrow the Mamluk regime and imposed their direct control over Iraq. The population of Iraq had shrunk to under 5 million by the early 20th century.
During World War I the Ottomans were driven from much of the area by the United Kingdom during the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The British lost 92,000 soldiers in the Mesopotamian campaign. Ottoman losses are unknown but the British captured a total of 45,000 prisoners of war. By the end of 1918 the British had deployed 410,000 men in the area, though only 112,000 were combat troops.
During World War I the British and French divided Western Asia in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Treaty of Lausanne, led to the advent of modern Western Asia and Republic of Turkey. The League of Nations granted France mandates over Syria and Lebanon and granted the United Kingdom mandates over Iraq and Palestine (which then consisted of two autonomous regions: Palestine and Transjordan). Parts of the Ottoman Empire on the Arabian Peninsula became parts of what are today Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
At the end of World War I, the League of Nations granted the area to the United Kingdom as a mandate. It initially formed two former Ottoman vilayets (regions): Baghdad and Basra into a single country in August 1921. Five years later, in 1926, the northern vilayet of Mosul was added, forming the territorial boundaries of the modern Iraqi state.
For three out of four centuries of Ottoman rule, Baghdad was the seat of administration for the vilayets of Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra. During the mandate, British colonial administrators ruled the country, and through the use of British armed forces, suppressed Arab and Kurdish rebellions against the occupation. They established the Hashemite king, Faisal, who had been forced out of Syria by the French, as their client ruler. Likewise, British authorities selected Sunni Arab elites from the region for appointments to government and ministry offices.
Britain granted independence to Iraq in 1935, on the urging of King Faisal, though the British retained military bases and transit rights for their forces. King Ghazi ruled as a figurehead after King Faisal's death in 1933, while undermined by attempted military coups, until his death in 1939. Ghazi was followed by his under age son, Faisal II. 'Abd al-Ilah served as Regent during Faisal's minority.
On 1 Aprl 1941, Rashid Ali al-Gaylani and members of the Golden Square staged a coup d'état and overthrew the government of 'Abd al-Ilah. During the subsequent Anglo-Iraqi War, the United Kingdom invaded Iraq for fear that the Rashid Ali government might cut oil supplies to Western nations because of his links to the Axis powers. The war started on 2 May and an armistice was signed 31 May.
A military occupation followed the restoration of the pre-coup government of the Hashemite monarchy. The occupation ended on 26 October 1947. The rulers during the occupation and the remainder of the Hashemite monarchy were Nuri al-Said, the autocratic Prime Minister, who also ruled from 1930–1932, and 'Abd al-Ilah, the former Regent who now served as an adviser to King Faisal II.
The reinstated Hashemite monarchy lasted until 1958, when it was overthrown by a coup d'etat of the Iraqi Army, known as the 14 July Revolution. The coup brought Brigadier General Abdul Karim Qassim to power. He withdrew from the Baghdad Pact and established friendly relations with the Soviet Union, but his government lasted only until the February 1963 coup, when it was overthrown by Colonel Abdul Salam Arif. Salam Arif died in 1966 and his brother, Abdul Rahman Arif, assumed the presidency.
In 1968, Rahman Arif was overthrown by the Arab Socialist Baath Party. Ahmed Hasan Al-Bakir became the first Baath President of Iraq but then the movement gradually came under the control of Saddam Hussein al Tikriti, who acceded to the presidency and control of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), then Iraq's supreme executive body, in July 1979.
In 1979, Saddam Hussein took power as Iraqi President after knocking down his close friend and the leader of his party (Ahmed Hasan Al-Bakr) and killing and arresting his leadership rivals. Shortly after taking power, the political situation in Iraq's neighbor Iran changed drastically after the success of the Islamic Revolution of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which resulted in a Shi'ite Muslim theocratic state being established. This was seen as a dangerous change in the eyes of the Iraqi government, as Iraq too had a Shi'ite majority and was ruled by Hussein's government which, apart from having numerous Sunnis occupying leading positions, had a pan-Arab but non-religious ideology.
This left the country's Shiite population split between the members and supporters of the Ba'ath Party, and those who sympathized with the Iranian position. In 1980, Hussein claimed that Iranian forces were trying to topple his government and declared war on Iran. Saddam Hussein supported the Iranian Islamic socialist organization called the People's Mujahedin of Iran which opposed the Iranian government. During the Iran–Iraq War Iraqi forces attacked Iranian soldiers and civilians with chemical weapons.
Hussein's regime was notorious for its human rights abuses; a well-known example is the Al-Anfal campaign as well as attacks on Kurd civilians inside Iraq, such as the Halabja massacre, as punishment for elements of Kurdish support of Iran. The war ended in stalemate in 1988, largely due to American and Western support for Iraq. This was part of the US policy of "dual containment" of Iraq and Iran. Between half a million and 1.5 million people from both sides died in the 1980–88 war.
In 1977, the Iraqi government ordered the construction of Osirak (also spelled Osiraq) at the Al Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, 18 km (11 miles) south-east of Baghdad. It was a 40 MW light-water nuclear materials testing reactor (MTR). In 1981, Israeli aircraft bombed the facility, in order to prevent the country from using the reactor for creation of nuclear weapons.
In 1990, faced with economic disaster following the end of the Iran–Iraq War, Saddam Hussein looked to the oil-rich neighbour of Kuwait as a target to invade to use its resources and money to rebuild Iraq's economy. The Iraqi government claimed that Kuwait was illegally slant drilling its oil pipelines into Iraqi territory, a practice which it demanded be stopped; Kuwait rejected the notion that it was slant drilling, and Iraq followed this in August 1990 with the invasion of Kuwait. Upon successfully occupying Kuwait, Hussein declared that Kuwait had ceased to exist and it was to be part of Iraq, against heavy objections from many countries and the United Nations.
The UN agreed to pass economic sanctions against Iraq and demanded its immediate withdrawal from Kuwait (see United Nations sanctions against Iraq). Iraq refused and the UN Security Council in 1991 unanimously voted for military action against Iraq. The United Nations Security Council, under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, adopted Resolution 678, authorizing U.N. member states to use "all necessary means" to "restore international peace and security in the area." The United States, which had enormous vested interests in the oil supplies of the Persian Gulf region, led an international coalition into Kuwait and Iraq. The mixture of civilian and military vehicles on the Highway of Death. Estimates of Iraqi military deaths range from 8,000 to 100,000. The coalition forces entered the war with more advanced weaponry than that of Iraq, though Iraq's military was one of the largest armed forces in Western Asia at the time. Despite being a large military force, the Iraqi army was no match for the advanced weaponry of the coalition forces and the air superiority that the coalition forces provided. The coalition forces proceeded with a bombing campaign targeting military including an occupied public shelter in Baghdad.
Iraq responded to the invasion by launching SCUD missile attacks against Israel and Saudi Arabia. Hussein hoped that by attacking Israel, the Israeli military would be drawn into the war, which he believed would rally anti-Israeli sentiment in neighboring Arab countries and cause those countries to support Iraq. However, Hussein's gamble failed, as Israel reluctantly accepted a U.S. demand to remain out of the conflict to avoid inflaming tensions. The Iraqi armed forces were quickly destroyed, and Hussein eventually accepted the inevitable and ordered a withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Before the forces were withdrawn, however, Hussein ordered them to sabotage Kuwait's oil wells, which resulted in hundreds of wells being set ablaze, causing an economic and ecological disaster in Kuwait.
After the decisive military defeat, the agreement to a ceasefire on February 28, and political maneuvering, the UN Security Council continued to press its demands that Hussein accept previous UN Security Council Resolutions, as stated in UNSCR 686. By April, UNSCR 687 recognized Kuwait's sovereignty had been reinstated, and established the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM). Two days later, UNSCR 688 added that Iraq must cease violent repression of ethnic and religious minorities.
The aftermath of the war saw the Iraqi military, especially its air force, destroyed. In return for peace, Iraq was forced to dismantle all chemical and biological weapons it possessed, and end any attempt to create or purchase nuclear weapons, to be assured by the allowing UN weapons inspectors to evaluate the dismantlement of such weapons. Finally, Iraq would face sanctions if it disobeyed any of the demands.
Shortly after the war ended in 1991, Shia Muslim and Kurdish Iraqis engaged in protests against Hussein's regime, resulting in an intifada. Hussein responded with violent repression against Shia Muslims, and the protests came to an end. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 people were killed. The US, UK, France and Turkey claiming authority under UNSCR 688, established the Iraqi no-fly zones to protect Kurdish and Shiite populations from attacks by the Hussein regime's aircraft.
While Iraq had agreed to UNSCR 687, the Iraqi government sometimes worked with inspectors, but ultimately failed to comply with disarmament terms, and as a result, economic sanctions against Iraq continued. After the war, Iraq was accused of breaking its obligations throughout the 1990s, including the discovery in 1993 of a plan to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush, and the withdrawal of Richard Butler's UNSCOM weapon inspectors in 1998 after the Iraqi government claimed some inspectors were spies for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. On multiple occasions throughout the disarmament crisis, the UN passed further resolutions (see United Nations Resolutions concerning Iraq) compelling Iraq to comply with the terms of the ceasefire resolutions.
It is estimated more than 500,000 Iraqi children died as a result of the sanctions. With humanitarian and economic concerns in mind, UNSCR 706 and UNSCR 712 allowed Iraq to sell oil in exchange for humanitarian aid. This was later turned into the Oil-for-Food Programme by UNSCR 986. Over the years, U.S. land forces were deployed to the Iraq border, and U.S. bombings were carried out to try to pressure Hussein to comply with UN resolutions.
As a result of these repeated violations, US Secretary of State Madeline Albright, US Secretary of Defense William Cohen, and US National Security Advisor Sandy Berger held an international town hall meeting to discuss possible war with Iraq, which seemed to have little public support. In October 1998, U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, calling for "regime change" in Iraq, and initiated Operation Desert Fox. Following Operation Desert Fox, and end to partial cooperation from Iraq prompted UNSCR 1284, disbanding UNSCOM and replacing it with United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC).
The Bush administration made a number of allegations against Iraq, including that Iraq was acquiring uranium from Niger and that Iraq had secret weapons laboratories in trailers and isolated facilities throughout Iraq; none of these allegations have proven true. Saddam Hussein, under pressure from the U.S. and the U.N., finally agreed to allow weapons inspectors to return to Iraq in 2002, but by that time the Bush administration had already begun pushing for war.
In June 2002, Operation Southern Watch transitioned to Operation Southern Focus, bombing sites around Iraq. The first CIA team entered Iraq on July 10, 2002. This team was composed of elite CIA Special Activities Division and the U.S. Military's elite Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) operators. Together, they prepared the battle space of the entire country for conventional U.S. Military forces.
Their efforts also organized the Kurdish Peshmerga to become the northern front of the invasion and eventually defeat Ansar Al-Islam in Northern Iraq before the invasion and Saddam's forces in the north. The battle led to the killing of a substantial number of terrorists and the uncovering of a chemical weapons facility at Sargat. In October 2002, the U.S. Congress passed the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq, and in November the UN Security Council passes UNSCR 1441.
On March 20, 2003, a United States-organized coalition invaded Iraq, with the stated reason that Iraq had failed to abandon its nuclear and chemical weapons development program in violation of U.N. Resolution 687. The United States asserted that because Iraq was in material breach of Resolution 687, the armed forces authorization of Resolution 678 was revived. The United States further justified the invasion by claiming that Iraq had or was developing weapons of mass destruction and stating a desire to remove an oppressive dictator from power and bring democracy to Iraq. In his State of the Union Address on January 29, 2002, President George W. Bush declared that Iraq was a member of the "Axis of Evil", and that, like North Korea and Iran, Iraq's attempt to acquire weapons of mass destruction posed a serious threat to U.S. national security. These claims were based on documents that were provided to him by the CIA and the government of the United Kingdom. Bush added,
Iraq continues to flaunt its hostilities toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade... This is a regime that agreed to international inspections — then kicked out inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world... By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes [Iran, Iraq and North Korea] pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred.
However, according to a comprehensive U.S. government report, no complete, fully functional weapons of mass destruction have been found since the invasion. There are accounts of Polish troops obtaining antiquated warheads, dating from the 1980s, two of which contained trace amounts of the nerve gas cyclosarin, but U.S. military tests found that the rounds were so deteriorated that they would "have limited to no impact if used by insurgents against coalition forces."  Iraq was also home to 1.8 tons of low-enriched uranium, miscellaneous other nuclear materials, and chemical weapons paraphernalia; the nuclear material was under the supervision of the IAEA until the beginning of the war.
Following the invasion, the United States established the Coalition Provisional Authority to govern Iraq. Government authority was transferred to an Iraqi Interim Government in June 2004, and a permanent government was elected in October 2005. More than 140,000 troops, mainly Americans, remain in Iraq.
Some studies have placed the number of civilians deaths as high as 655,000 (see The Lancet study), although most studies estimate a lower number; the Iraq Body Count project indicates a significantly lower number of civilian deaths than that of The Lancet Study, though IBC organizers acknowledge that their statistics are an undercount as they base their information off of media-confirmed deaths. The website of the Iraq body count states, "Our maximum therefore refers to reported deaths - which can only be a sample of true deaths unless one assumes that every civilian death has been reported. It is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media."
After the invasion, al-Qaeda took advantage of the insurgency to entrench itself in the country concurrently with an Arab-Sunni led insurgency and sectarian violence.
On December 30, 2006, Saddam Hussein was hanged. Hussein's half-brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Hassan and former chief judge of the Revolutionary Court Awad Hamed al-Bandar were likewise executed on January 15, 2007; as was Taha Yassin Ramadan, Saddam's former deputy and former vice-president (originally sentenced to life in prison but later to death by hanging), on March 20, 2007. Ramadan was the fourth and last man in the al-Dujail trial to die by hanging for crimes against humanity.
At the Anfal genocide trial, Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid (aka Chemical Ali), former defense minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed al-Tay, and former deputy Hussein Rashid Mohammed were sentenced to hang for their role in the Al-Anfal Campaign against the Kurds on June 24, 2007. Al-Majid was again sentenced to death for the 1991 suppression of a Shi'a uprising along with Abdul-Ghani Abdul Ghafur on December 2, 2008.
Acts of sectarian violence have led to claims of ethnic cleansing in Iraq, and there have been many attacks on Iraqi minorities such as the Yezidis, Mandeans, Assyrians and others. A U.S. "troop surge" became a contentious political issue in US politics and the 2008 US presidential election.
Although violence declined from the summer of 2007, the U.N. reported of a cholera outbreak in Iraq.
The mandate of the multinational force in Iraq, last extended by UN resolution 1790, ended on December 31, 2008.
In June 2009, U.S. troops formally withdrew from Baghdad streets, in accordance with former U.S. President George W. Bush's security pact with Iraq known as a Status of Forces Agreement. The SOFA pact stated, among other things, that U.S. troops will withdraw from Iraq's cities by June 30, 2009, and will leave the country on Dec. 31, 2011. Throughout the country, as the citizens of Iraq celebrated with fireworks, television programs declared June 30 as National Soverignty Day. In the months following the American forces leaving Baghdad and other cities, however, violence spiked in Iraq. As Iraqi security forces struggled to suppress the sudden influx of crime, the number of kidnappings, robberies, bomb assaults, and shootings increased dramatically. According to the Associated Press, Iraqi military spokesman Major General Qassim al-Moussawi said investigations found that 60 to 70 percent of the criminal activity is carried out by former insurgent groups or by gangs affiliated with them — partly explaining the brutality of some of the crimes. The withdrawal of U.S. forces currently remains in doubt amid the rising violence, and the deaths of hundreds of Iraqi soldiers and citizens have added to the growing concern that the promised drawdown may be delayed in the face of escalating crime and violence. Although United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the withdrawal caused a change of chemistry with “a real sense of empowerment on the part of the Iraqis,” U.S. troops continue to be embedded with Iraqi forces.
Iraq mainly consists of desert, but near the two major rivers (Euphrates and Tigris) are fertile alluvial plains, as the rivers carry about 60 million cubic metres (78 million cu. yd) of silt annually to the delta. The north of the country is mostly composed of mountains; the highest point being at 3,611 metres (11,847 ft) point, unnamed on the map opposite, but known locally as Cheekah Dar (black tent). Iraq has a small coastline measuring 58 km (35 miles) along the Persian Gulf. Close to the coast and along the Shatt al-Arab (known as arvandrūd: اروندرود among Iranians) there used to be marshlands, but many were drained in the 1990s.
The local climate is mostly desert, with mild to cool winters and dry, hot, cloudless summers. The northern mountainous regions (Kurdistan region ههرێمی کوردستان) have cold winters with occasional heavy snows, sometimes causing extensive flooding.
With its of proved oil reserves, Iraq ranks third in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Iran in the amount of Oil reserves; yet the United States Department of Energy estimates that up to 90% of the country remains unexplored. These regions could yield an additional . Iraq's oil production costs are among the lowest in the world, but only about 2,000 oil wells have been drilled in Iraq, compared with about 1 million wells in Texas alone.
The ancient Sumerian cities in Mesopotamia had collapsed largely because of crop failure due to high soil salinity, and during the period from 2100 BC to 1700 BC, it is estimated that the population in this area declined by nearly three fifths.
Iraq's environment has deteriorated over a period of decades. As a result of the construction of a large number of upstream dams in Iran, Syria and Turkey, combined with reduced rainfall over a period of years, has contributed to both to drought and to higher levels of salinity in the Shatt Al-Arab, destroying farms, threatening livestock and causing civilians in southern areas to flee their areas.
The federal government of Iraq is defined under the current Constitution as an Islamic, democratic, federal parliamentary republic. The federal government is composed of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as well as numerous independent commissions. Aside from the federal government, there are regions (made of one or more governorates), governorates, and districts within Iraq with jurisdiction over various matters as defined by law.
Currently, Kurdistan is the only legally defined region within Iraq, with its own government and quasi-official militia, the Peshmerga. Basra Governorate is preparing to hold a referendum to establish a Basrah Region. Iraq itself is divided into eighteen governorates (or provinces) (Arabic: muhafadhat, singular – muhafadhah, Kurdish: پاریزگه Pârizgah). The governorates are subdivided into districts (or qadhas).
The following governorates are within the region Iraqi Kurdistan:
Iraq was under Baath Party rule from 1968 to 2003; in 1979 Saddam Hussein took control and remained president until 2003 after which he was unseated by a US-led invasion.
On October 15, 2005, more than 63% of eligible Iraqis came out across the country to vote on whether to accept or reject the new constitution. On October 25, the vote was certified and the constitution passed with a 78% overall majority, with the percentage of support varying widely between the country's territories. The new constitution had overwhelming backing among the Shia and Ķurdish communities, but was overwhelmingly rejected by Arab Sunnis. Three majority Arab Sunni provinces rejected it (Salah ad Din with 82% against, Ninawa with 55% against, and Al Anbar with 97% against).
Under the terms the constitution, the country conducted fresh nationwide parliamentary elections on December 15 to elect a new government. The overwhelming majority of all three major ethnic groups in Iraq voted along ethnic lines, turning this vote into more of an ethnic census than a competitive election, and setting the stage for the division of the country along ethnic lines.
Iraqi politicians have been under significant threat by the various factions that have promoted violence as a political weapon. The ongoing violence in Iraq has been incited by an amalgam of religious extremists that believe an Islamic Caliphate should rule, old sectarian regime members that had ruled under Saddam that want back the power they had, and Iraqi nationalists that are fighting the U.S. military presence.
Iraq has a number of ethnic minority groups: Kurds, Assyrians, Mandeans, Iraqi Turkmen, Shabaks and Roma. These groups have not enjoyed equal status with the majority Arab populations throughout Iraq's eighty-five year history. Since the establishment of the "no-fly zones" following the Gulf War of 1990–1991, the situation of the Kurds has changed as they have established their own autonomous region. The remainder of these ethnic groups continue to suffer discrimination on religious or ethnic grounds.
In 2008, according to the Failed States Index, Iraq was the world's fifth most politically unstable country. On November 17, 2008, the U.S. and Iraq agreed to a Status of Forces Agreement, as part of the broader Strategic Framework Agreement. This agreement notably states "the Government of Iraq requests" U.S. forces to remain in Iraq to "maintain security and stability in Iraq," and that Iraq has jurisdiction over military contractors, and US personnel when not on US bases or on-duty.
Iraq's economy is dominated by the oil sector, which has traditionally provided about 95% of foreign exchange earnings. In the 1980s financial problems caused by massive expenditures in the eight-year war with Iran and damage to oil export facilities by Iran led the government to implement austerity measures, borrow heavily, and later reschedule foreign debt payments. Iraq suffered economic losses from the war of at least US$100 billion. After hostilities ended in 1988, oil exports gradually increased with the construction of new pipelines and restoration of damaged facilities. A combination of low oil prices, repayment of war debts (estimated at around US$3 billion a year) and the costs of reconstruction resulted in a serious financial crisis which was the main short term motivation for the invasion of Kuwait.
On November 20, 2004, the Paris Club of creditor nations agreed to write off 80% ($33 billion) of Iraq's $42 billion debt to Club members. Iraq's total external debt was around $120 billion at the time of the 2003 invasion, and had grown by $5 billion by 2004. The debt relief will be implemented in three stages: two of 30% each and one of 20%.
At the end of 2005, and in the first half of 2006, Iraq implemented a restructuring of about $20 billion of commercial debt claims on terms comparable to that of its November 2004 Paris Club agreement (i.e. with an 80% writeoff). Iraq offered to its larger claimants a U.S. dollar denominated bond maturing in 2028. Smaller commercial claimants received a cash settlement of comparable value.
There have been attempts by the international community to improve and repair the infrastructure of Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, when much was destroyed. Iraq was governed, after the 2003 invasion, by the Coalition Provisional Authority and, after June 28, 2004 by a series of Iraq-led governments (see Politics of Iraq). During this period efforts were made to repair and replace damaged Iraqi infrastructure, including: water supply systems, sewage treatment plants, electricity production, hospitals and health clinics, schools, housing, and transportation systems. Reconstruction efforts have also encompassed the promotion of economic development and government institutions such as the criminal justice system.
While reconstruction efforts have produced some successes, problems have arisen with the implementation of internationally funded Iraq reconstruction efforts. These include inadequate security, pervasive corruption, insufficient funding and poor coordination among international agencies and local communities. Many suggest that the efforts were hampered by a poor understanding of Iraq on the part of the occupiers.
Much reconstruction work in Iraq has been carried out by the Iraqi people in their own communities using local resources. A major benchmark for international assistance was the Madrid Conference on Reconstruction held in Spain October 23–24, 2003 and attended by representatives over 25 nations. Funds assembled at this conference and from other sources have been administered by the United Nations and the World Bank. This assistance has primarily funded large-scale projects.
United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq focuses on implementing the International Compact with Iraq, to aid economic and political development in Iraq.
Around 75%-80% of Iraq's population is Arab; the other major ethnic groups are the Kurds at 15%-20%, the Assyrians, the Iraqi Turkmen and others (5%), who mostly live in the north and northeast of the country. Around 20,000 indigenous Maʻdān people live in southern Iraq. The Iraqi population includes a community of around 20,000 Armenians, a small community of Circassians, and a community of 2500 Chechens. In southern Iraq there is a community of Iraqis of African descent, a legacy of the slavery practiced in the Islamic Caliphate beginning before the Zanj Rebellion of the 9th century AD, and Basra's role as a key port.
Arabic and Kurdish are official languages. Assyrian and Turkmen are official languages in areas where the Assyrians and Iraqi Turkmen are located respectively. Armenian and Persian are also spoken but to a lesser extent. English is the most commonly-spoken European language.
No official figures exist, due to the politically sensitive nature of the subject, recent violence, and Ba'athist views on information and religion. Religious composition includes:
Two estimates of the Muslim proportions of the population are:
Linguistically, the adherents of Shia Islam in Iraq predominantly speak Arabic and a bilingual minority speak Persian, while the Iraqi Turkmen speak Turkmeni and the Feyli Kurds speak Feyli, a dialect of Kurdish, almost all belong to the Twelver school. Adherents of Sunni Islam include Arabic speakers, Iraqi Turkmen (who are mostly Hanafi school), and Kurds (who are Shafi school).
It is estimated that around 60%–65% of Iraqis follow Shia Islam, and around 35%–40% follow Sunni Islam, however the question of religious demographics is controversial and some Iraqis who follow Sunni Islam dispute these figures, including an ex-Iraqi ambassador, referring to American sources. claiming that many reports only include Arab Sunnis as "Sunni", missing out the Kurdish and Turkmen Sunnis. Most Kurds are Sunnis, although the Feyli Kurds are largely Shi'a.
Ethnic Assyrians (most of whom are adherents of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Syriac Orthodox Church and the Assyrian Church of the East) account for most of Iraq's Christian population, along with Armenians. Estimates for the numbers of Christians suggest a decline from 8–10% in the mid-20th century to 5% at the turn of the century, to 3% in 2008. About 600,000 Iraqi Christians have fled to Syria, Jordan or other countries or relocated to Kurdish-controlled areas. There are also small populations of Bahá'ís, Mandaeans, Shabaks, and Yezidis. The Iraqi Jewish community, numbering around 150,000 in 1941, almost entirely left the country.
In November 2006, the UNHCR estimated that 1.8 million Iraqis had been displaced to neighboring countries, with nearly 100,000 Iraqis fleeing to Syria and Jordan each month, while another 1.6 million were displaced internally. A May 2007 article noted that in the previous seven months, only 69 people from Iraq had been granted refugee status in the United States.
In addition to the 2 million Iraqis who fled to neighboring countries, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates the number of people currently displaced within the country at 1.9 million.
In 2007, the U.N. said that about 40% of Iraq's middle class is believed to have fled and that most are fleeing systematic persecution and have no desire to return. Refugees are mired in poverty as they are generally barred from working in their host countries.
In recent times the diaspora seems to be reversing with the increased security of the last few months, and the Iraqi government claims that so far 46,000 refugees have returned to their homes in October 2007 alone. More than half of Iraqi Christians have fled to neighboring countries since the start of the war, and few plan to return.
Some important cultural institutions in the capital include the Iraqi National Orchestra – rehearsals and performances were briefly interrupted during the Occupation of Iraq but have since returned to normal, the National Theatre of Iraq – The theatre was looted during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, but efforts are underway to restore the theatre. The live theatre scene received a boost during the 1990s when UN sanctions limited the import of foreign films. As many as 30 movie theatres were reported to have been converted to live stages, producing a wide range of comedies and dramatic productions.
Institutions offering cultural education in Baghdad include the Academy of Music, Institute of Fine Arts and the Music and Ballet school Baghdad. Baghdad also features a number of museums including the National Museum of Iraq - which houses the world's largest and finest collection of artifacts and relics of Ancient Iraqi civilizations; some of which were stolen during the Occupation of Iraq.
Football is the most popular sport in Iraq. Football is a considerable uniting factor in Iraq following years of war and unrest. Basketball, swimming, weightlifting, bodybuilding, boxing, kick boxing and tennis are also popular sports.
The Iraqi Football Association () is the governing body of football in Iraq, controlling the Iraqi National Team and the Iraqi Premier League (also known as Dawri Al-Nokba). It was founded in 1948, and has been a member of FIFA since 1950 and the Asian Football Confederation since 1971. The Iraqi National Football Team are the 2007 AFC Asian Cup Champions after defeating Saudi Arabia in the final.
Tabbouleh, a popular Levantine salad. Iraqi cuisine has a long history going back some 10,000 years - to the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians and Ancient Persians. Tablets found in ancient ruins in Iraq show recipes prepared in the temples during religious festivals - the first cookbooks in the world. Ancient Iraq, or Mesopotamia, was home to many sophisticated and highly advanced civilizations, in all fields of knowledge - including the culinary arts. However, it was in the medieval era when Baghdad was the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate that the Iraqi kitchen reached its zenith. Today, the cuisine of Iraq reflects this rich inheritance as well as strong influences from the culinary traditions of neighbouring Turkey, Iran and the Greater Syria area.
Some characteristic ingredients of Iraqi cuisine include - vegetables such as aubergine, tomato, okra, onion, potato, courgette, garlic, peppers and chilli, cereals such as rice, bulghur wheat and barley, pulses and legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and cannellini, fruits such as dates, raisins, apricots, figs, grapes, melon, pomegranate and citrus fruits, especially lemon and lime. Other Iraqi culinary essentials include butter, olive oil, olives, tamarind, vermicelli, tahini, pistachios, almonds, honey, date syrup, yogurt and rose water, cheeses such as baladi, feta and halloumi, and herbs and spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, fenugreek, cumin, oregano, saffron, baharat, sumac and za'atar. Similarly with other countries of Western Asia, chicken and especially lamb are the favourite meats. Most dishes are served with rice - usually Basmati, grown in the marshes of Southern Iraq. Bulghur wheat is used in many dishes - having been a staple in the country since the days of the Ancient Assyrians.
Meals begin with appetizers and salads - known as Mezze. Some popular dishes include Kebab (often marinated with garlic, lemon and spices, then grilled), Shawarma (grilled meat sandwich wrap, similar to Döner kebab), Bamia (lamb, okra and tomato stew), Quzi (lamb with rice, almonds, raisins and spices), Falafel (fried chickpea patties served with amba and salad in pita), Kibbeh (minced meat ground with bulghur or rice and spices), Masgouf (grilled fish with pepper and tamarind), and Maqluba (a rice, lamb, tomato and aubergine dish). Stuffed vegetable dishes such as Dolma and Mahshi are also popular.
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