Nation in SW Asia, bordered by several Middle East nations, including Iran to the E, Turkey to the N, Syria and Jordan to the W, and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to the S, and with an outlet on the Persian Gulf. The SW part is desert; the rest is the region of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which join to form the Shatt-al-Arab near the Persian Gulf. Iraq’s population is divided into three major groups—the Kurds in the N, the Sunni Arabs in the central region, and the Shiite Arabs in the S. While mostly Muslim in beliefs, each group has differing beliefs and a history of antagonism toward one another. The present nation takes in much the same area as Mesopotamia, home of some of the earliest civilizations including Akkad, Assyria, Babylonia, and Sumer. The Arabs conquered the region in the seventh century a.d., and in the eighth century the Abbasid Caliphate made Baghdad its capital. The caliphate lasted until 1258. In the 16th century the Ottoman Empire took Mesopotamia.
The British invaded Iraq in World War I, put down a revolt of those seeking independence from Turkey in 1920, and in 1921 accepted a League of Nations mand ate to administer the area. Great Britain established a monarchy with Faisal I as king. In 1941, during World War II, pro-German forces seized the government, but the British restored control. Faisal II, who had ruled from 1939, was murdered in 1958, and the monarchy was overthrown. In 1963 there was another successful coup by the Ba’ath Party, a socialist group. There have been several more coups and attempted coups since.
Iraq joined other Arab nations in losing wars against Israel in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973. Seeking self-rule, the Kurds of northeastern Iraq fought the government in the 1960s and again in 1974. In 1979, Saddam Hussein took control of the government. He immediately purged all political rivals. In 1980, a conflict over the Shatt-al-Arab escalated into full-scale war between Iraq and Iran. Both countries used poison gas as the battles resembled World War I trench warfare more that modern automated warfare. Hussein also used poison gas on Kurdish rebels in Iraq. The Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988. Hussein continued to build up his military, and in 1990, Iraq launched a surprise invasion of Kuwait starting the Gulf War, occupying the country and announcing the annexation of the country as an Iraqi province. The UN imposed trade sanctions on Iraq and called for Iraqi withdrawal. In early 1991, the United States and allies began air strikes from Saudi Arabia onto Iraqi targets. Iraq retaliated with Scud missile attacks on Saudi and Israeli cities. After a large buildup of forces, coalition troops liberated Kuwait and encircled the Iraqi forces in Iraq. Hussein remained in power, however, as the allied force let the elite Republic Guard remain intact.
No-fly zones were established in northern and southern Iraq, and the the Kurdish and Shiite populations in those areas, encouraged by the government’s military defeat, rose in rebellion, but were crushed by government forces. In 1994, Iraq again massed troops on the Kuwaiti border, but a show of force by the United States and other allies forced a withdrawal. In 1996, Iraq and the UN negotiated an oil for food program where Iraqi oil would be exchanged for humanitarian goods. The program brought needed food and medicine into the country, but some of the money was also diverted to Iraq’s military. In 1997, UN inspectors began looking for evidence that Iraq was secretly developing weapons of mass destruction. In 1999, after Iraq stopped cooperating with UN inspectors, the United States and Britain began air attacks on Iraqi targets.
In 1991, after the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the United States, American government officials started to make preparations for war in Iraq, starting a diplomatic and public relations campaign pushing evidence of Iraq’s weapons program and alleged terrorist ties. In 2002, Hussein won a referendum on his rule, extending his presidency seven years, supposedly by 100% of the vote. In December of 2002, UN inspectors announced that they had found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In March of 2003, the United States, Britain, and allied forced invaded Iraq and quickly occupied the country, while Hussein and his supporters surrendered or went into hiding. While the regime change was an initial success, and Hussein was captured, no weapons of mass destruction were found and American credibility was damaged. American credibility was further damaged by news of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American military police at the Abu Ghraib prison. An armed insurgency, especially in the “Sunni Triangle” area around Baghdad, has developed in Iraq that has made it difficult for postwar reconstruction to take place. In 2005, a democratically elected assembly has begun to formulate a new constitution for Iraq. Baghdad is the capital. Basra and Mosul are other important cities.