The Republic of Iraq is a Middle Eastern country in southwestern Asia encompassing the ancient region of Mesopotamia at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. It shares borders with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to the south, Jordan to the west, Syria to the north-west, Turkey to the north, and Iran to the east. It controls a very narrow section of coastline at Umm Qasr on the Persian Gulf. A new transitional government was elected in January 2005, following a March 2003 invasion led by British and American forces which drove the former leader Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath Party from power.
Main article: History of Iraq
Modern Iraq became a British mandate at the end of World War I, and was granted independence from British control in 1932. It was formed out of three former Ottoman Willayats (regions): Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. The British installed Hashemite monarchy lasted until 1958, when it was overthrown by one of a series of coups, the last of which in 1968 brought the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party to power. The Ba'ath's key figure was Saddam Hussein who acceded to the presidency and control of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), Iraq's all powerful executive decision making body, in July 1979, killing off many of his opponents in the process. Saddam's absolute and particularly bloody control lasted throughout the Iran-Iraq War (1980–1988), which ended in stalemate, despite vast quantities of western-produced weaponry; the al-Anfal campaign of the late 1980s, which led to the gassing of thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 resulting in the Gulf War and the UN imposed economic sanctions and no-fly zones which followed. The American-led 2003 invasion of Iraq removed Saddam Hussein's regime from power, replacing it with an interim American-backed Provisional Authority, and then an Interim Government. On January 30, 2005, Iraq held its first free elections in over 50 years, bringing a new situation to Iraq, which had been mostly dominated by its Sunni minority from its founding. A coalition of Kurds and Shiites came to power (both groups were repressed by Saddam's Government). The current situation remains volatile, however, and re-establishment of security and combatting insurgents has become an uphill struggle.
Main article: Politics of Iraq
From 1979 to 2003, Iraq was under Ba'ath Party rule, under the leadership of President Saddam Hussein. The unicameral Iraqi parliament, the National Assembly or Majlis al-Watani, had 250 seats and its members were elected for 4-year terms. Like in presidential elections, no non-Ba'ath candidates were allowed to run.
In November 2003, the US-managed Coalition Provisional Authority announced plans to turn over sovereignty to an Iraqi Interim Government by mid-2004. The actual transfer of sovereignty occurred on June 28, 2004. The interim president is Sheikh Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, and the interim prime minister Iyad Allawi.
On January 30, 2005, the Iraqi people voted in an election conducted by their transitional government which elected a 275-member Transitional National Assembly. The Assembly will:
- Serve as Iraq's national legislature. It has named a Presidency Council, consisting of a President and two Vice Presidents. (By unanimous agreement, the Presidency Council will appoint a Prime Minister and, on his recommendation, cabinet ministers.)
- Draft Iraq's new constitution, which will be presented to the Iraqi people for their approval in a national referendum in October 2005. Under the new constitution, Iraq will elect a permanent government in December 2005.
Under the Iraqi transitional constitution, signed March 2004, the country's executive branch is now led by a three-person presidential council. The election system for the council effectively ensures that all three of Iraq's major ethnic groups are represented. The constitution also includes basic freedoms like freedom of religion, speech, and assembly, and in many ways has been hailed as more liberal than the U.S. constitution. Controversially, however, it states that all laws that were in effect on the transfer date cannot be repealed. Furthermore, since the coalition forces are currently an official occupying power under the United Nations, coalition troops can remain in control of the country indefinitely despite the transfer of sovereignty. Since Iraqi forces are currently considered ill-equipped to police and secure the country, it is expected that coalition troops will remain in the country for many years to come. However, these rules will be set aside once the Transitional National Assembly is seated.
On April 5, the Iraqi National Assembly appointed Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader, President. It also appointed Adel Abdul Mehdi , a Shiite Arab, and Ghazi al-Yawar, the former Interim President and a Sunni Arab, as Vice Presidents. These three men comprise the presidency council, which will appoint a prime minister, who must then be approved by the National Assembly.
Main article: Governorates of Iraq
Iraq is divided into 18 governorates or provinces (Arabic: muhafazat, singular - muhafazah, Kurdish: پاریزگه Pārizgah). Particularly in Iraqi government documents the term governorate is preferred:
The constitutionally recognized Kurdistan Autonomous Region includes parts of a number of northern provinces, and is largely self-governing in internal affairs.
Map of Iraq
Main article: Geography of Iraq
Large parts of Iraq consist of desert, but the area between the two major rivers Euphrates and Tigris is fertile, with the rivers carrying about 60 million cubic meters of silt annually to the delta. The north of the country is largely mountainous, with the highest point being Haji Ibrahim at 3,600 m. Iraq has a small coastline with the Persian Gulf. Close to the coast and along the Shatt al-Arab there used to be marshlands, but many of these were drained in the 1990s.
The local climate is mostly a desert clime with mild to cool winters and dry, hot, cloudless summers. The northern mountainous regions experience cold winters with occasional heavy snows, sometimes causing extensive flooding. The capital Baghdad is situated in the centre of the country, on the banks of the Tigris. Other major cities include Basra in the south and Mosul in the north. Iraq is considered to be one of the fifteen lands that comprise the so-called "Cradle of Humanity".
Main article: Economy of Iraq
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, onerous repayment of the war debts (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.
Iraq's seizure of Kuwait in August 1990, subsequent international economic sanctions, and damage from military action by an international coalition beginning in January 1991 drastically reduced economic activity. Although government policies supporting large military and internal security forces and allocating resources to key supporters of the Ba`ath Party government have hurt the economy, implementation of the United Nations' oil-for-food programm in December 1996 was to have improved conditions for the average Iraqi citizen. For the first six, six-month phases of the programm, Iraq was allowed to export limited amounts of oil in exchange for food, medicine, and some infrastructure spare parts. Subsequent investigation of the programm has revealed significant corruption, with highly placed U.N. officials being bribed, Ba'ath Party officials receiving lucrative kickbacks, and much of the aid money from oil sales being redirected into weapons research and acquisition by the Iraqi military.
In December 1999, the UN Security Council authorised Iraq to export under the program as much oil as required to meet humanitarian needs. Iraq changed its oil reserve currency from US dollar to euro in 2000. Oil exports were more than three-quarters of the pre-war level. However, 28% of Iraq's export revenues under the programm are deducted to meet UN Compensation Fund and UN administrative expenses. The drop in GDP in 2001 was largely the result of the global economic slowdown and lower oil prices. Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the economy has to a great extent shut down and attempts are underway to revive it from the damages of the war and rampant crime.
During his year as the supreme authority in Iraq, Ambassador Paul Bremer issued a series of orders designed to restructure Iraq's broadly socialist economy in line with neo-liberal thinking. Order 39 laid out the framework for the privatization of everything in Iraq aside from the oil reserves themselves, and permitted 100% foreign ownership of Iraqi assets. Other orders established a flat tax of 15% and permitted foreign corporations to repatriate 100% of profits earned in Iraq. Opposition from senior Iraqi officials together with the poor security situation meant that Bremer's privatization plan was not implemented during his reign, though his Orders remain in place.
The second attempt to liberalize Iraq's economy is linked to the Iran-Iraq war debt. The creditors who financed the Iran-Iraq war had presented post-Saddam Iraq with a bill of nearly US$130 billion of debt and past-due-interest, which had not been serviced during the 13 years of sanctions. The Jubilee Iraq campaign argued that these debts were odious (or illegitimate) given that they came from loans to a dictator fighting a war which caused the Iraqi people a great deal of harm, and should therefore be written off unconditionally. The creditors however only offered a partial reduction and rescheduling of their claims in return for an Iraqi commitment to implement an International Monetary Fund economic program. This deal, with the Paris Club cartel of creditors including the US and Britain, was signed on 20 November 2004. The following day the interim Iraqi National Assembly issued a strongly worded resolution rejecting the Paris Club's terms and declaring that the debt was odious.
Main article: Demographics of Iraq
Almost 72% of Iraq's population consists of Arabic speakers (mainly Iraqi but some Hejazi); the other major ethnic group are the Kurds (25%), who live in the north and north-east of the country. The Kurds differ from Arabs in many ways including culture, history, clothing, and language. Other distinct groups are Assyrians, Turkomans, Iranians, Lurs, Armenians (3%) and Yezidis (possible descendants of the ancient Sumerian culture, part of the Kurdish population). About 2,500 Jews and 20,000 - 50,000 Marsh Arabs live in Iraq.
Arabic and Kurdish are official languages and English is the most commonly spoken Western language. East Aramaic is also used by the country's Assyrian population.
There are more Arab Iraqi Muslims members of the Shiite sect than there are Arab Iraqi Muslims of the Sunni sect, but there is a large Sunni population as well, made up of mostly Arabs, Kurds, and Turkomans, (Shiite 60% of total population). Small communities of Christians, Baha'is, Mandaeans, Shabaks, and Yezidis also exist. Most Kurds are Sunni Muslims.
Demographic information from the 2004 edition of the CIA's The World Factbook:
- Ethnic groups: Arab 70%-75%, Kurdish 20%-25%, Turkoman, Assyrian or other 5%
- Religions: Muslim 93-95% (Shi'ite 60%, Sunni 40%), Christian,Yezidi or other 5-7%
Main article: Culture of Iraq
- Events: 2005 in Iraq, 2004 in Iraq, 2003 Invasion of Iraq, Post-invasion Iraq, 2003-2005
- Geography: List of places in Iraq, Communications of Iraq, Transportation in Iraq, Arab Tribes in Iraq
Politics: Military of Iraq, Foreign relations of Iraq, Human rights violations in Iraq, Iraqi insurgency
- History: List of Kings of Iraq, List of Presidents of Iraq, List of Prime Ministers of Iraq
- Others: Postage stamps and postal history of Iraq