National name: Al Jumhuriyah al Iraqiyah
President: Jalal Talabani (2005)
Prime Minister: Nuri al-Maliki (2006)
Land area: 167,556 sq mi (433,970 sq km)
Population (2007 est.): 27,499,638 (growth rate: 2.6%); birth rate: 31.4/1000; infant mortality rate: 47.0/1000; life expectancy: 69.3; density per sq mi: 164
Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Baghdad, 6,777,300 (metro. area), 5,772,000 (city proper)
Largest cities: Mosul, 1,791,600; Basra, 1,377,000; Irbil, 864,900; Kirkuk, 755,700
Monetary unit: U.S. dollar
Languages: Arabic (official), Kurdish (official in Kurdish regions), Assyrian, Armenian
Ethnicity/race: Arab 75%–80%, Kurdish 15%–20%, Turkoman, Assyrian, or other 5%
Religions: Islam 97% (Shiite 60%–65%, Sunni 32%–37%), Christian or other 3%
Literacy rate: 40% (2003 est.)
Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2005 est.): $94.1 billion; per capita $3,400. Real growth rate: –3%. Inflation: 40%. Unemployment: 25%–30%. Arable land: 13%. Agriculture: wheat, barley, rice, vegetables, dates, cotton; cattle, sheep, poultry. Labor force: 7.4 million; agriculture n.a., industry n.a., services n.a. Industries: petroleum, chemicals, textiles, leather, construction materials, food processing, fertilizer, metal fabrication/processing. Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, phosphates, sulfur. Exports: $17.78 billion f.o.b. (2004): crude oil (83.9%), crude materials excluding fuels (8.0%), food and live animals (5.0%). Imports: $19.57 billion f.o.b. (2004): food, medicine, manufactures. Major trading partners: U.S., Spain, Japan, Italy, Canada, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Germany (2004).
Communications: Telephones: main lines in use:675,000; note - an unknown number of telephone lines were damaged or destroyed during the March-April 2003 war (2003); mobile cellular: 20,000 (2002). Radio broadcast stations: after 17 months of unregulated media growth, there are approximately 80 radio stations on the air inside Iraq (2004). Television broadcast stations: 21 (2004). Internet hosts: n.a. Internet users: 25,000 (2002).
Transportation: Railways: total: 2,200 km (2004). Highways: total: 45,550 km; paved: 38,399 km; unpaved: 7,151 km (1999). Waterways: 5,275 km (not all navigable); note: Euphrates River (2,815 km), Tigris River (1,895 km), and Third River (565 km) are principal waterways (2004). Ports and harbors: Al Basrah, Khawr az Zubayr, Umm Qasr. Airports: 111; note - unknown number were damaged during the March-April 2003 war (2004 est.).
International disputes: coalition forces assist Iraqis in monitoring boundary security; Iraq's lack of a maritime boundary with Iran prompts jurisdiction disputes beyond the mouth of the Shatt al Arab in the Persian Gulf; Turkey has expressed concern over the status of Kurds in Iraq.
Iraq, a triangle of mountains, desert, and fertile river valley, is bounded on the east by Iran, on the north by Turkey, on the west by Syria and Jordan, and on the south by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It is twice the size of Idaho. The country has arid desert land west of the Euphrates, a broad central valley between the Euphrates and the Tigris, and mountains in the northeast.
The dictatorship of Saddam Hussein collapsed on April 9, 2003, after U.S. and British forces invaded the country. Sovereignty was returned to Iraq on June 28, 2004.
From earliest times Iraq was known as Mesopotamia—the land between the rivers—for it embraces a large part of the alluvial plains of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
An advanced civilization existed by 4000 B.C. Sometime after 2000 B.C. the land became the center of the ancient Babylonian and Assyrian empires. Mesopotamia was conquered by Cyrus the Great of Persia in 538 B.C. and by Alexander in 331 B.C. After an Arab conquest in 637–640, Baghdad became the capital of the ruling caliphate. The country was cruelly pillaged by the Mongols in 1258, and during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries was the object of repeated Turkish-Persian competition.
Nominal Turkish suzerainty imposed in 1638 was replaced by direct Turkish rule in 1831. In World War I, Britain occupied most of Mesopotamia and was given a mandate over the area in 1920. The British renamed the area Iraq and recognized it as a kingdom in 1922. In 1932, the monarchy achieved full independence. Britain again occupied Iraq during World War II because of its pro-Axis stance in the initial years of the war.
Iraq became a charter member of the Arab League in 1945, and Iraqi troops took part in the Arab invasion of Palestine in 1948.
At age 3, King Faisal II succeeded his father, Ghazi I, who was killed in an automobile accident in 1939. Faisal and his uncle, Crown Prince Abdul-Illah, were assassinated in July 1958 in a swift revolutionary coup that ended the monarchy and brought to power a military junta headed by Abdul Karem Kassim. Kassim reversed the monarchy's pro-Western policies, attempted to rectify the economic disparities between rich and poor, and began to form alliances with Communist countries.
Kassim was overthrown and killed in a coup staged on March 8, 1963, by the military and the Baath Socialist Party. The Baath Party advocated secularism, pan-Arabism, and socialism. The following year, the new leader, Abdel Salam Arif, consolidated his power by driving out the Baath Party. He adopted a new constitution in 1964. In 1966, he died in a helicopter crash. His brother, Gen. Abdel Rahman Arif, assumed the presidency, crushed the opposition, and won an indefinite extension of his term in 1967.
Arif's regime was ousted in July 1968 by a junta led by Maj. Gen. Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr of the Baath Party. Bakr and his second-in-command, Saddam Hussein, imposed authoritarian rule in an effort to end the decades of political instability that followed World War II. A leading producer of oil in the world, Iraq used its oil revenues to develop one of the strongest military forces in the region.
On July 16, 1979, President Bakr was succeeded by Saddam Hussein, whose regime steadily developed an international reputation for repression, human rights abuses, and terrorism.
A long-standing territorial dispute over control of the Shatt-al-Arab waterway between Iraq and Iran broke into full-scale war on Sept. 20, 1980, when Iraq invaded western Iran. The eight-year war cost the lives of an estimated 1.5 million people and finally ended in a UN-brokered cease-fire in 1988. Poison gas was used by both Iran and Iraq.
In July 1990, President Hussein asserted spurious territorial claims on Kuwaiti land. A mediation attempt by Arab leaders failed, and on Aug. 2, 1990, Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait and set up a puppet government. The UN unsuccessfully imposed trade sanctions against Iraq to pressure it to withdraw. On Jan. 18, 1991, UN forces, under the leadership of U.S. general Norman Schwarzkopf, launched the Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm), liberating Kuwait in less than a week.
The war did little to dwarf Iraq's resilient dictator. Rebellions by both Shiites and Kurds, encouraged by the U.S., were brutally crushed. In 1991, the UN set up a northern no-fly zone to protect Iraq's Kurdish population; in 1992 a southern no-fly zone was established as a buffer between Iraq and Kuwait and to protect Shiites.
The UN Security Council imposed sanctions beginning in 1990 that barred Iraq from selling oil except in exchange for food and medicine. The sanctions against Iraq failed to crush its leader but caused catastrophic suffering among its people—the country's infrastructure was in ruins, and disease, malnutrition, and the infant mortality rate skyrocketed.
The UN weapons inspections team mandated to ascertain that Iraq had destroyed all its nuclear, chemical, biological, and ballistic arms after the war was continually thwarted by Saddam Hussein. In Nov. 1997, he expelled the American members of the UN inspections team, a standoff that stretched on until Feb. 1998. But in Aug. 1998, Hussein again put a halt to the inspections. On Dec. 16, the United States and Britain began Operation Desert Fox, four days of intensive air strikes. From then on, the U.S. and Britain conducted hundreds of air strikes on Iraqi targets within the no-fly zones. The sustained low-level warfare continued unabated into 2003.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President Bush began calling for a “regime change” in Iraq, describing the nation as part of an “axis of evil.” The alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction, the thwarting of UN weapons inspections, Iraq's alleged links to terrorism, and Saddam Hussein's despotism and human rights abuses were the major reasons cited for necessitating a preemptive strike against the country. The Arab world and much of Europe condemned the hawkish and unilateral U.S. stance. The UK, however, declared its intention to support the U.S. in military action. On Sept. 12, 2002, Bush addressed the UN, challenging the organization to swiftly enforce its own resolutions against Iraq, or else the U.S. would act on its own. On Nov. 8, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution imposing tough new arms inspections on Iraq. On Nov. 26, new inspections of Iraq's military holdings began.
The UN's formal report at the end of Jan. 2003 was not promising, with chief weapons inspector Hans Blix lamenting that “Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament that was demanded of it.” While the Bush administration felt the report cemented its claim that a military solution was imperative, several permanent members of the UN Security Council—France, Russia, and China—urged that the UN inspectors be given more time to complete their task. Bush and Blair continued to call for war, insisting that they would go ahead with a “coalition of the willing,” if not with UN support. All diplomatic efforts ceased by March 17, when President Bush delivered an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to leave the country within 48 hours or face war.
On March 20, the war against Iraq began at 5:30 A.M. Baghdad time (9:30 P.M. EST, March 19) with the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom. By April 9, U.S. forces took control of the capital, signaling the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime. Although the war had been officially declared over on May 1, 2003, Iraq remained enveloped in violence and chaos. Iraqis began protesting almost immediately against the delay in self-rule and the absence of a timetable to end the U.S. occupation. In July, the U.S. administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer, appointed an Iraqi governing council.
Months of searching for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction yielded no hard evidence, and both administrations and their intelligence agencies came under fire. There were also mounting allegations that the existence of these weapons was exaggerated or distorted as a pretext to justify the war. In fall 2003, President Bush recast the rationale for war, no longer citing the danger of weapons of mass destruction, but instead describing Iraq as “the central front” in the war against terrorism. A free and democratic Iraq, he contended, would serve as a model for the rest of the Middle East.
Continued instability in 2003 kept 140,000 American troops (at a cost of $4 billion a month), as well as 11,000 British and 10,000 coalition troops in Iraq. The U.S. launched several tough military campaigns to subdue Iraqi resistance, which also had the effect of further alienating the populace. The rising violence prompted the Bush administration to reverse its Iraq policy in Nov. 2003: the transfer of power to an interim government would take place in July 2004, much earlier than originally planned.
After eight months of searching, the U.S. military captured Saddam Hussein on Dec. 13. The deposed leader was found hiding in a hole near his hometown of Tikrit and surrendered without a fight. In Dec. 2006, he was executed by hanging, found guilty of crimes against humanity for the execution of 148 Shiite men and boys from the town of Dujail. He was executed before being tried for innumerable other crimes associated with his rule.
In Jan. 2004, the CIA's chief weapons inspector, David Kay, stated that U.S. intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction “was almost all wrong.” When the final report on the existence of these weapons in Iraq was issued in Oct. 2004, Kay's successor, Charles Duelfer, confirmed that there was no evidence of an Iraqi weapons production program.
The turmoil and violence in Iraq increased throughout 2004. Civilians, Iraqi security forces, foreign workers, and coalition soldiers were subject to suicide bombings, kidnappings, and beheadings . By April, a number of separate uprisings had spread throughout the Sunni triangle and in the Shiite-dominated south. In September alone there were 2,300 attacks by insurgents. In October, U.S. officials estimated there were between 8,000 and 12,000 hard-core insurgents and more than 20,000 “active sympathizers.” Loosely divided into Baathists, nationalists, and Islamists, all but about 1,000 were thought to be indigenous fighters.
Reconstruction efforts, hampered by bureaucracy and security concerns, had also fallen far short of U.S. expectations: by September, just 6% ($1 billion) of the reconstruction money approved by the U.S. Congress in 2003 had in fact been used. Electricity and clean water were below prewar levels, and half of Iraq's employable population was still without work. In April, the U.S. reversed its policy of banning Baath Party officials from positions of responsibility—the U.S. had fired all high-ranking members and disbanded the Iraqi army, affecting about 400,000 positions, depleting Iraq of its skilled workforce, and further embittering the Sunni population.
In late April, the physical and sexual abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad came to light when photographs were released by the U.S. media. The images sparked outrage around the world. In August, the Schlesinger report's investigation into Abu Ghraib (the furthest reaching of many Pentagon-sponsored reports on the subject) called the prisoner abuse acts of “brutality and purposeless sadism,” rejected the idea that the abuse was simply the work of a few aberrant soldiers, and asserted that there were “fundamental failures throughout all levels of command, from the soldiers on the ground to Central Command and to the Pentagon.”
On June 28, 2004, sovereignty was officially returned to Iraq. Former exile and Iraqi Government Council member Iyad Allawi became prime minister of the Iraqi interim government, and Ghazi al-Yawar, a Sunni Muslim, was chosen president.
On July 9, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a unanimous bipartisan “Report on Pre-War Intelligence on Iraq,” concluding that “most of the major key judgments” on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were “either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence report.” The report also stated that there was no “established formal relationship” between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. The following week, Britain's Butler report on pre-Iraq intelligence echoed the American findings.
Iraq's Jan. 30, 2005, elections to select a 275-seat national assembly went ahead as scheduled, and a total of 8.5 million people voted, representing about 58% of eligible Iraqis. A coalition of Shiites, the United Iraq Alliance, received 48% of the vote, the Kurdish parties received 26% of the vote, and the Sunnis just 2%—most Sunni leaders had called for a boycott. In April, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, became president, and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a religious Shiite, prime minister. The elections, however, did not stem the insurgency, which grew increasingly sectarian during 2005 and predominantly involved Sunni insurgents targeting Shiite and Kurdish civilians in suicide bombings. The death toll for Iraqi civilians is estimated to have reached 30,000 since the start of the war.
By December 2005, more than 2,100 U.S. soldiers had died in Iraq and more than 15,000 had been wounded. The absence of a clear strategy for winning the war beyond “staying the course” caused Americans' support for Bush's handling of the war to plummet. The U.S. and Iraqi governments agreed that no firm timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops should be set, maintaining that this would simply encourage the insurgency. Withdrawal would take place as Iraqi security forces grew strong enough to assume responsibility for the country's stability. “As Iraqis stand up, Americans will stand down,” Bush stated. But the training of Iraqi security forces went far more slowly than anticipated. A July 2005 Pentagon report acknowledged that only “a small number” of Iraqi security forces were capable of fighting the insurgency without American help.
In Aug. 2005, after three months of fractious negotiations, Iraqi lawmakers completed a draft constitution that supported the aims of Shiites and Kurds but was deeply unsatisfactory to the Sunnis. In October the constitutional referendum narrowly passed, making way for parliamentary elections on Dec. 15 to select the first full-term, four-year parliament since Saddam Hussein was overthrown. In Jan. 2006, election results were announced: the United Iraqi Alliance—a coalition of Shiite Muslim religious parties that had dominated the existing government—made a strong showing, but not strong enough to rule without forming a coalition. It took another four months of bitter wrangling before a coalition government was finally formed. Sunni Arab, Kurdish, and secular officials continued to reject the Shiite coalition's nomination for head of state—interim prime minister al-Jaafari, a religious Shiite considered a divisive figure incapable of forming a government of national unity. The deadlock was finally broken in late April when Nuri al-Maliki, who, like Jaafari, belonged to the Shiite Dawa Party, was approved as prime minister.
On Feb. 23, Sunni insurgents bombed and seriously damaged the Shiites' most revered shrine in Iraq, the Askariya Shrine in Samarra. The bombings ignited ferocious sectarian attacks between Shiites and Sunnis. More than a thousand people were killed over several days, and Iraq seemed poised for civil war. Hope in Prime Minister Maliki's ability to unify the country quickly faded when it became clear that he would not abandon his political ties with Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric who led the powerful Madhi militai. Maliki seemed unwilling or incapable of reining in the rapidly proliferating Shiite death squads, which have kidnapped, tortured, and murdered thousands of civilians.
In February, a U.S. Senate report on progress in Iraq indicated that, despite the U.S. spending $16 billion on reconstruction, every major area of Iraq's infrastructure was below prewar levels. Incompetence and fraud characterized numerous projects, and by April the U.S. special inspector general was pursuing 72 investigations into corruption by firms involved in reconstruction.
In May a number of news stories broke about a not-yet-released official military report that U.S. Marines had killed 24 innocent Iraqis “in cold blood” in the city of Haditha the previous Nov. 19. The alleged massacre, which included women and children, was said to have been revenge for a bombing that killed a marine. The marines are also alleged to have covered up the killings. The military did not launch a criminal investigation until mid-March, four months after the incident, and two months after TIME magazine had reported the allegations to the military. Several additional sets of separate allegations of civilian murders by U.S. troops have also surfaced.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the most-wanted terrorist in the country, was killed by a U.S. bomb. Zarqawi was responsible for many of the most brutal and horrific attacks in Iraq. But his death seemed to have no stabilizing effect on the country. The UN announced that an average of more than 100 civilians were killed in Iraq each day. During the first six months of the year, civilian deaths increased by 77%, reflecting the serious spike in sectarian violence in the country. The UN also reported that about 1.6 million Iraqis were internally displaced, and up to 1.8 million refugees have fled the country.
At the end of July, the U.S. announced it would move more U.S. troops into Bagdad from other regions of Iraq, in an attempt to bring security to the country's capital, which had increasingly been subject to lawlessness, violence, and sectarian strife. But by October, the military acknowledged that its 12-week-old campaign to establish security in Baghdad had been unsuccessful.
In September, a classified National Intelligence Estimate—a consensus view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, signed off by Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte—concluded that the “Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse.” By this time, many authorities characterized the conflict as a civil war—as one political scientist put it, the level of sectarian violence is “so extreme that it far surpasses most civil wars since 1945.” The White House, however, continued to reject the term: it would be difficult to justify the role of American troops in an Iraqi civil war, which would require the U.S. to take sides.
The increasingly unpopular war and President Bush's strategy of “staying the course” were believed responsible for the Republican loss of both Houses of Congress in November mid-term elections, and for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld immediately thereafter. In December, the bipartisan report by the Iraq Study Group, led by former secretary of state James Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, concluded that “the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating” and “U.S. forces seem to be caught in a mission that has no foreseeable end.” The report's 79 recommendations included reaching out diplomatically to Iran and Syria and having the U.S. military intensify its efforts to train Iraqi troops. The report heightened the debate over the U.S. role in Iraq, but President Bush kept his distance from it, indicating that he would wait until Jan. 2007 before announcing a new Iraq strategy. On Dec. 31, 2006, the U.S. death toll in Iraq reached 3,000, and at least 50,000 Iraqi civilians had died in the conflict—the UN reported that more than 34,000 Iraqis were killed from the violence in 2006.
In a January 2007 televised address, President Bush announced that a "surge" of 20,000 additional troops would be deployed to Baghdad to try to stem the sectarian fighting. He also said Iraq had committed to a number of "benchmarks," including increasing troop presence in Baghdad and passing oil-revenue-sharing and jobs-creation plans.
An encouraging development occurred in late February, when the Iraqi cabinet passed a draft law on oil revenues that called on the government to distribute oil revenues to regions based on their populations and allowed regions to negotiate contracts with foreign companies to explore and develop oil fields. Hopes for an oil revenue law were dashed in September, however, when reports indicated that the compromise had fallen apart.
In June, three Iraqi army officials, including Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam Hussein who was known as "Chemical Ali, were convicted and sentenced to death for carrying out the murder of about 50,000 Kurds in 1988—what was called the Anfal campaign.
The stability of the Iraqi government further deteriorated in August, when the Iraqi Consensus Front, the largest Sunni faction in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's cabinet, resigned, citing the Shiite-led government's failure to stem violence by militias, follow through with reforms, and involve Sunnis in decisions on security. August also saw the deadliest attack of the war. Two pairs of truck bombs exploded about five miles apart in the remote, northwestern Iraqi towns of Qahtaniya and Jazeera. At least 500 members of the minority Yazidi community were killed and hundreds more are wounded.
A National Intelligence Estimate released in September said the Iraqi government had failed to end sectarian violence even with the surge of American troops. The report also said, however, that a withdrawal of troops would "erode security gains achieved thus far." By September, the level of fatalities in Iraq had decreased, and President Bush said progress was indeed being made in Iraq, citing the fact that relative peace and stability had come to the once restless Anbar Province in large part because several Sunni tribes had allied themselves with the U.S. in its fight against radical Sunni militants.
In highly anticipated testimony, Gen. David Petraeus told members of Senate and House committees in September that the U.S. military needs more time to meet its goals in Iraq. He said the number of troops in Iraq may be reduced from 20 brigades to 15, or from 160,000 troops to 130,000, beginning in July 2008.
On Septmber, 16, 17 Iraqi civilians, including a couple and their infant, were killed when employees of private security company Blackwater USA, which was escorting a diplomatic convoy, fired on a car that failed to stop at the request of a police officer. The killings sparked furious protests in Iraq, and Prime Minister Maliki threatened to evict Blackwater employees from Iraq. In November, FBI investigators reported that 14 of the 17 shootings were unjustified and the guards were reckless in their use of deadly force.
Although 2007 culminated as the deadliest year in Iraq for U.S. soldiers, the U.S. military reported in November that for several consecutive weeks, the number of car bombs, roadside bombs, mines, rocket attacks, and other violence had fallen to the lowest level in nearly two years. In addition, the Iraqi Red Crescent reported that some 25,000 refugees (out of about 1.5 million) who had fled to Syria had returned to Iraq between September and the beginning of December. However, many of these returning refugees found their homes occupied by squatters. In addition, previously diverse neighborhoods had become segregated as a result of the sectarian violence.
On January 8, 2008, Parliament passed the Justice and Accountability Law, which will allow many Baathists to resume the government jobs they lost after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. It also will pay pensions to many former Baathists who will not be permitted to return to their positions. The measure creates a new committee to determine if lower-level Baathists, former members of Saddam Hussein's party, are eligible to be reinstated to their previous posts. Passage of the law, which must be approved by the presidential council, would be the first major benchmark of political progress reached by the Iraqi government. The law, however, was criticized for being quite vague and confusing, and its many loopholes may exclude more Baathists from government jobs than it allows.