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Republic of Iraq

Al-Jumhuriyah al-'Iraqiyah

CAPITAL: Baghdād

FLAG: The national flag is a tricolor of red, white, and black horizontal stripes, with three five-pointed stars in green in the center of the white stripe. In 1991 the phrase Allahu Akbar ("God is Great") was added in green Arabic scriptAllahu to the right of the middle star and Akbar to the left of the middle star.

ANTHEM: Al-Salaam al-Jumhuri (Salute of the Republic).

MONETARY UNIT: The Iraqi dinar (id) is a paper currency of 1,000 fils. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 250 fils, and notes of 250 and 500 fils and 1, 5, 10, 50, and 100 dinars. 1id = $0.00068 (or $1 = id1,475) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard, but weights and measures in general use vary, especially in domestic transactions. The unit of land is the dunam, which is equivalent to approximately 0.25 hectare (0.62 acre).

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Army Day, 6 January; 14th Ramadan Revolution Day, 8 February; Declaration of the Republic, 14 July; and Peaceful Revolution Day, 17 July. Muslim religious holidays include 'Id al-Fitr, 'Id al-'Adha', Milad an-Nabi, and Islamic New Year.

TIME: 3 pm = noon GMT.


Present-day Iraq, comprising an area of 437,072 sq km (168,754 sq mi), corresponds roughly to the former Turkish provinces of Baghdād, Al Mawşil (Mosul), and Al Başrah (Basra). Comparatively, the area occupied by Iraq is slightly more than twice the size of the state of Idaho. It extends 984 km (611 mi) ssennw and 730 km (454 mi) enewsw. Iraq is bordered on the n by Turkey, on the e by Iran, on the se by the Persian Gulf and Kuwait, on the s by Saudi Arabia, on the w by Jordan, and on the nw by Syria, with a total land boundary length of 3,650 km (2,268 mi) and a coastline of 58 km (36 mi).

Iraq's capital city, Baghdād, is located in the east central part of the country.


Iraq is divided into three distinct zones: the desert in the west and southwest; the plains; and the highlands in the northeast, which rise to 3,000 m (10,000 ft) or more. The desert is an upland region with altitudes of 600 to 900 m (2,0003,000 ft) between Damascus in Syria and Ar-Rutbah in Iraq, but declines gently toward the Euphrates (Al-Furāt) River. The water supply comes from wells and wadis that at times carry torrential floods and that retain the winter rains.

Dominated by the river systems of the Tigris (Dijlah) and Euphrates (Al-Furāt), the plains area is composed of two regions divided by a ridge, some 75 m (250 ft) above the flood plain, between Ar Ramādi and a point south of Baghdād that marks the prehistoric coastline of the Persian Gulf. The lower valley, built up by the silt the two rivers carry, consists of marshland, crisscrossed by drainage channels. At Qarmat 'Ali, just above Al Başrah, the two rivers combine and form the Shatt al Arab, a broad waterway separating Iraq and Iran. The sources of the Euphrates and Tigris are in the Armenian Plateau. The Euphrates receives its main tributaries before entering Iraq, while the Tigris receives several streams on the eastern bank within the country.


Under the influence of the monsoons, Iraq in summer has a constant northwesterly wind (shamal), while in winter a strong southeasterly air current (sharqi) develops. The intensely hot and dry summers last from May to October, and during the hottest time of the dayoften reaching 49°c (120°f) in the shadepeople take refuge in underground shelters. Winters, lasting from December to March, are damp and comparatively cold, with temperatures averaging about 10°c (50°f). Spring and autumn are brief transition periods. Normally, no rain falls from the end of May to the end of September. With annual rainfall of less than 38 cm (15 in), agriculture is dependent on irrigation.


In the lower regions of the Tigris (Dijlah) and Euphrates (Al-Furāt) and in the alluvial plains, papyrus, lotus, and tall reeds form a thick underbrush; willow, poplar, and alder trees abound. On the upper and middle Euphrates (Al-Furāt), the licorice bush yields a juice that is extracted for commercial purposes; another bush growing wild in the semiarid steppe or desert yields gum tragacanth for pharmaceutical use. In the higher Zagros Mountains grows the valonia oak, the bark of which is used for tanning leather. About 30 million date palms produce one of Iraq's most important exports.

Wild animals include the hyena, jackal, fox, gazelle, antelope, jerboa, mole, porcupine, desert hare, and bat. Beaver, wild ass, and ostrich are rare. Wild ducks, geese, and partridge are the game birds. Vultures, owls, and ravens live near the Euphrates. Falcons are trained for hunting. As of 2002, there were at least 81 species of mammals and 140 species of birds throughout the country.


Three major armed conflicts since 1980 have had a significant negative effect on the nation's environment. Chemical weapons deployed at various locations along the Iran-Iraq border during the 198088 war killed thousands of people. During the 1991 Gulf War, coalition forces initiated a massive air campaign that destroyed nuclear, biological, and chemical facilities, causing toxic agents to seep into the air, soil, and waterways. Electrical plants, oil facilities, and water and sewage treatment plants were heavily damaged in both the 1991 and 2003 conflicts, contributing increased levels of air, water, and soil pollution to an already distressed environment. Plus, the Iraqi government's tactic of setting oil fires to ward off coalition forces set a broad range of toxic chemicals into the air and threatened many of the marshland ecosystems of the Tigris (Dijlah)Euphrates (Al-Furāt) river basin. Although the full environmental impact of the conflicts had not been assessed as of 2006, it was clear that the new Iraqi government was facing several challenges in restoring basic services of power, water, and sanitation to the population, as well as in addressing issues of environmental renewal.

In 2000, only about 1.8% of the total land area was forested. Desertification has long been a problem in the hot, dry climate. Salinization and soil erosion caused by river basin flooding has affected otherwise fertile agricultural lands. In 2003, there were no protected lands in the country. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 9 types of mammals, 18 species of birds, 2 types of reptiles, 1 species of amphibian, 3 species of fish, and 2 species of invertebrates. Th reatened species include the black vulture, the imperial eagle, the wild goat, the striped hyena, and the sand cat. The Saudi gazelle has become extinct.


The population of Iraq in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 28,807,000, which placed it at number 39 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 3% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 42% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 103 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 2.7%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 44,664,000. The population density was 66 per sq km (170 per sq mi), with Mesopotamia the most densely populated region.

The UN estimated that 68% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 2.52%. The capital city, Baghdād, had a population of 5,620,000 in that year. Other major cities and their estimated populations included Arbil, 2,368,000, and Al Mawşil, 1,236,000.


Immigration into Iraq was limited until the beginning of the 1970s. However, the rise in oil prices and the increase of oil exports, as well as extensive public and private spending in the mid-1970s, created a market for foreign labor. The result was a stream of foreign (mainly Egyptian) workers, whose number may have risen as high as 1,600,000 before the Gulf War. During the IranIraq war, many Egyptians worked in the public sector, filling a gap left by civil servants, farmers, and other workers who were fighting at the front. A number of Iraqis, mainly from southern Iraq and influenced by family ties and higher wages, migrated to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. To weaken local support in the north for Kurdish rebels, the government forced tens of thousands of Kurds to resettle in the south; in September 1987, a Western diplomat in Baghdād claimed that at least 500 Kurdish villages had been razed and 100,000 to 500,000 Kurds relocated.

In 1991 some 1.5 million Iraqis fled the country for Turkey or Iran to escape Saddam Hussein's increasingly repressive rule, but fewer than 100,000 remained abroad as of 2005. Most of the refugees were Kurds who later resettled in areas in Iraq not controlled by the government. In September and October of 1996, around 65,000 Iraqi Kurds fled to Iran due to internal fighting between the Iraqi Kurds.

As of 1999, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) assisted 31,400 refugees in Iraq. Of these, some 19,000 were Iranian Kurds and 11,300 were Turkish Kurds. In 2004, Iraq had 241,403 refugees, 1,353 of these were asylum seekers and 193,990 returned refugees. Some 22,000 refugees were from the Occupied Palestinian Territory, 13,353 from Turkey, and 10,230 from Iran. Nearly 350,000 Iraqis were refugees themselves in 11 countries: 150,196 in Iran, 73,489 in Germany, and more than 23,000 each in Sweden and the United Kingdom. Iraq's asylum seekers in 2004 were from Iran. However, some 22,000 Iraqis sought asylum in 24 countries: 6,510 in Jordan, 5,351 in Sweden, 4,496 in Syria, some 2,000 each in Germany and the Netherlands, and over 1,000 each in Greece and Switzerland. Also in 2004, Iraq had 900,000 internally displaced persons.

In 2005, the net migration rate was estimated as zero migrants per 1,000 population.


Arabs constitute about 7580% of the total population. The Kurds, an Islamic non-Arab people, are the largest and most important minority group, constituting about 1520%. A seminomadic pastoral people, the Kurds live in the northeastern Zagros Mountains, mostly in isolated villages in the mountain valleys near Turkey and Iran. Kurdish opposition to Iraqi political dominance has occasioned violent clashes with government forces. Other minorities (5%) include Turkomans, living in the northeast; Yazidis, mostly in the Sinjar Mountains; Assyrians, mainly in the cities and northeastern rural areas; and Armenians.


Arabic is the national language and is the mother tongue of an estimated 79% of the population. Kurdishthe official language in Kurdish regionsor a dialect of it, is spoken by the Kurds and Yazidis. Aramaic, the ancient Syriac dialect, is retained by the Assyrians. The Turkomans speak a Turkic dialect. Armenian is also spoken.


Islam is the national religion of Iraq, adhered to by some 97% of the population. Though the interim constitution provided for freedom of religion, that right is restricted by the government. About 6065% of Muslims belong to the Shia sect and 3237% to the Sunni sect. Traditionally, the Shia majority has been governed and generally oppressed by members of the Sunni minority. There are also some syncretic Muslim groups, such as the Yazidis, who consider Satan a fallen angel who will one day be reconciled with God. They propitiate him in their rites and regard the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Koran (Quran), as sacred.

About 3% of the population are adherents to Christianity and other religions. The Assyrians (who are not descended from the ancient Assyrians) are Nestorians. In the 19th century, under the influence of Roman Catholic missions, Christian Chaldeans joined the Uniate churches, which are in communion with Rome; their patriarch has his seat in Al Mawşil. The Sabaeans, or Mandaeans, are often called Christians of St. John, but their religious belief and their liturgy contain elements of many creeds, including some of pre-Christian Oriental origin. Since baptism is their main ritual, they always dwell near water and are concentrated on the riverbanks south of Baghdād. There are a small number of Jews.


Major cities, towns, and villages are connected by a modern network of highways and roads, which have made old caravan routes extinct. The city of Baghdād has been reshaped by the development of expressways through the city and by passes built since the 1970s. By 2002, Iraq had 45,550 km (28,304 mi) of roads, of which 38,400 km (23,861 mi) were paved. There were some 747,530 cars and 130,275 commercial vehicles in use as of 2003.

Railroads are owned and operated by the Iraqi State Railways Administration. A standard-gauge railroad connects Iraq with Jordan and Syria, and nearly all the old meter-gauge line connecting Arbil in the north with Al Başrah, by way of Kirkūk and Baghdād, has been replaced. In 2004, there were about 2,200 km (1,368 mi) of railway lines, all of it standard gauge.

Iraq had an estimated 111 airports in 2004, down from 150 in 2002. As of 2005, a total of 78 had paved runways, and there were 8 heliports. However, an unknown number of runways were damaged during the MarchApril 2003 war. Baghdād, Al Başrah, and Al Mawşil have international airports. Iraq Airways is the state-owned carrier; in the 1980s, its international flights landed only at night because of the Iraq-Iran war. The war also virtually closed Iraq's main port of Al Başrah and the new port of Umm Qasr on the Persian Gulf. Although Iraq had 5,275 km (3,281 mi) of inland waterways as of 2004, not all were navigable. Of those that were navigable, the Euphrates River (Al Furāt2,815 km or 1,864 mi), the Tigris River (Dijlah1,895 km or 1,178 mi) and the Th ird River (565 km or 351 mi) were the main waterways. In addition, the Shatt al Arab is usually navigable by maritime traffic for 130 km (81 mi). The Tigris and Euphrates have navigable sections for shallow-draft boats, and the Shatt al Al Başrah canal was navigable by shallow-draft craft before closing in 1991 because of the Gulf War. Expansion of Iraq's merchant marine, which totaled 1,470,000 gross registered tonnage (GRT) in 1980, was halted by the war with Iran and again by the Persian Gulf War. By 2005, the merchant marine totaled only 14 ships with 1,000 GRT or more, for a total capacity of 83,221 GRT.


Some of the earliest known human settlements have been found in present-day Iraq. Habitations, shrines, implements, and pottery found on various sites can be dated as early as the 5th millennium bc. Some sites bear names that are familiar from the Bible, which describes the region of the Tigris (Dijlah) and Euphrates (Al Furāt) rivers as the location of the Garden of Eden and the city of Ur as the birthplace of the patriarch Abraham. Scientific exploration and archaeological research have amplified the biblical accounts.

Recorded history in Mesopotamia (the ancient name of Iraq, particularly the area between the Tigris and Euphrates) begins with the Sumerians, who by the 4th millennium bc had established city-states. Records and accounts on clay tablets prove that they had a complex economic organization before 3200 bc. The reign of Sumer was challenged by King Sargon of Akkad (r.c.2350 bc); a Sumero-Akkadian culture continued in Erech (Tall al-Warka') and Ur (Tall al-Muqayyar) until it was superseded by the Amorites or Babylonians (about 1900 bc), with their capital at Babylon. The cultural height of Babylonian history is represented by Hammurabi (r.c.1792c.1750 bc), who compiled a celebrated code of laws. After Babylon was destroyed by the Hittites about 1550 bc, the Hurrians established the Mitanni kingdom in the north for about 200 years, and the Kassites ruled for about 400 years in the south.

From Assur, their stronghold in the north, the Assyrians overran Mesopotamia about 1350 bc and established their capital at Nineveh (Ninawa). Assyrian supremacy was interrupted during the 11th and 10th centuries bc by the Aramaeans, whose language, Aramaic, became a common language in the eastern Mediterranean area in later times. Assyrian power was finally crushed by the Chaldeans or Neo-Babylonians, who, in alliance with the Medes in Persia, destroyed Nineveh in 612 bc. Nebuchadnezzar II (r.c.605c.560 bc) rebuilt the city-state of Babylon, but it fell to the Persians, under Cyrus of the Achaemenid dynasty, in 539 bc. Under his son Cambyses II, the Persian Empire extended from the Oxus (Amu Darya) River to the Mediterranean, with its center in Mesopotamia. Its might, in turn, was challenged by the Greeks. Led by the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great, they defeated the Persians by 327 bc and penetrated deep into Persian lands. The Seleucids, Alexander's successors in Syria, Mesopotamia, and Persia, built their capital, Seleucia, on the Tigris, just south of Baghdād. They had to yield power to the Parthians, who conquered Mesopotamia in 138 bc.

The Arabs conquered Iraq in ad 637. For a century, under the "Orthodox" and the Umayyad caliphs, Iraq remained a province of the Islamic Empire, but the 'Abbasids (7501258) made it the focus of their power. In their new capital, Baghdād, their most illustrious member, Harun al-Rashid (ar-Rashid, r.786809), became, through the Arabian Nights, a legend for all time. Under Harun and his son Al-Ma'mun, Baghdād was the center of brilliant intellectual and cultural life. Two centuries later, the Seljuk vizier Nizam al-Mulk established the famous Nizamiyah University, one of whose professors was the philosopher Al-Ghazali (Ghazel, d.1111). A Mongol invasion in the early 13th century ended Iraq's flourishing economy and culture. In 1258, Genghis Khan's grandson Hulagu sacked Baghdād and destroyed the canal system on which the productivity of the region had depended. Timur, also known as Timur Lenk ("Timur the Lame") or Tamerlane, conquered Baghdād and Iraq in 1393. Meanwhile, the Ottoman Turks had established themselves in Asia Minor and, by capturing Cairo (1517), their sultans claimed legitimate succession to the caliphate. In 1534, Süleyman the Magnificent conquered Baghdād and, except for a short period of Persian control in the 17th century, Iraq remained an Ottoman province until World War I.

Late in 1914, the Ottoman Empire sided with the Central Powers, and a British expeditionary force landed in Iraq and occupied Al Başrah. The long campaign that followed ended in 1918, when the whole of Iraq fell under British military occupation. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire stimulated Iraqi hopes for freedom and independence, but in 1920, Iraq was declared a League of Nations mandate under UK administration. Riots and revolts led to the establishment of an Iraqi provisional government in October 1920. On 23 August 1921, Faisal I (Faysal), the son of Sharif Hussein (Husayn ibn-'Ali) of Mecca, became king of Iraq. In successive stages, the last of which was a treaty of preferential alliance with the United Kingdom (June 1930), Iraq gained independence in 1932 and was admitted to membership in the League of Nations.

Faisal died in 1933, and his son and successor, Ghazi, was killed in an accident in 1939. Until the accession to the throne of Faisal II, on attaining his majority in 1953, his uncle 'Abdul Ilah, Ghazi's cousin, acted as regent. On 14 July 1958, the army rebelled under the leadership of Gen. 'Abd al-Karim al-Qasim (Kassim). Faisal II, Crown Prince 'Abdul Ilah, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Sa'id (as-Sa'id) were killed. The monarchy was abolished, and a republic established. Iraq left the anticommunist Baghdād Pact, which the monarchy had joined in 1955. An agrarian reform law broke up the great landholdings of feudal leaders, and a new economic development program emphasized industrialization. In spite of some opposition from original supporters and political opponents, tribal uprisings, and several attempts at assassination, Qasim managed to remain the head of Iraq for four and a half years. On 9 February 1963, however, a military junta, led by Col. 'Abd as-Salam Muhammad 'Arif, overthrew his regime and executed Qasim.

Since 1961, Iraq's Kurdish minority has frequently opposed with violence attempts by Baghdād to impose authority over its regions. In an attempt to cope with this opposition, the Bakr government passed a constitutional amendment in July 1970 granting limited political, economic, and cultural autonomy to the Kurdish regions. But in March 1974, Kurdish insurgents, known as the Pesh Merga, again mounted a revolt, with Iranian military support. The Iraqi army countered with a major offensive. On 6 March 1975, Iraq and Iran concluded an agreement by which Iran renounced support for the Kurds and Iraq agreed to share sovereignty over the Shatt al Arab estuary. The new regime followed a policy based on neutralism and aimed to cooperate with Syria and Egypt and to improve relations with Turkey and Iran. These policies were continued after 'Arif was killed in an airplane crash in 1966 and was succeeded by his brother, 'Abd ar-Rahman 'Arif. Th is regime, however, was overthrown in July 1968, when Gen. (later Marshal) Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr, heading a section of the Ba'ath Party, staged a coup and established a new government with himself as president. In the 1970s, the Ba'ath regime focused increasingly on economic problems, nationalizing the petroleum industry in 197273 and allocating large sums for capital development. Bakr resigned in July 1979 and was followed as president by his chosen successor, Saddam Hussein (Husayn) al-Takriti.

Tensions between Iraq and Iran rose after the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the accession to power of Saddam Hussein. In September 1980, Iraq sought to take advantage of the turmoil in Iran by suddenly canceling the 1975 agreement and mounting a full-scale invasion. Iraqi soldiers seized key points in the Khuzistan region of southwestern Iran, captured the major southern city of Khorramshahr, and besieged Abadan, destroying its large oil refinery. The Iraqi army then took up defensive positions, a tactic that gave the demoralized Iranian forces time to regroup and launch a slow but successful counterattack that retook Khuzistan by May 1982. Iraq then sought peace and in June withdrew from Iranian areas it had occupied. Iran's response was to launch major offensives aimed at the oil port of Al Başrah. Entrenched in well-prepared positions on their own territory, Iraqi soldiers repelled the attacks, inflicting heavy losses, and the war ground to a stalemate, with tens of thousands of casualties on each side.

Attempts by the UN and by other Arab states to mediate the conflict were unsuccessful; in the later stages of the war, Iraq accepted but Iran regularly rejected proposals for a compromise peace. Although most Arab states supported Iraq, and the Gulf oil states helped finance Iraqi military equipment, the war had a destabilizing effect both on the national economy and on the ruling Ba'ath Party. France also aided Iraq with credits to buy advanced weapons (notably, Super Étendard fighters and Exocet missiles), and it provided the technology for Iraq to construct the Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdād. (In June 1981, this installation was destroyed in a bombing raid by Israel, which claimed that the facility would be used to produce nuclear weapons, a charge Iraq denied.) Other Western countries provided supplies, financing, and intelligence to Iraq but denied the same to Iran.

In February 1986, the Iranians made their biggest gain in the war, crossing the Shatt al Arab and capturing Fao (Al-Faw) on the southernmost tip of land in Iraq. In early 1987, they seized several islands in the Shatt al Arab opposite Al Başrah. The war soon spread to Persian Gulf shipping, as both sides attacked oil tankers and ships transporting oil, goods, and arms to the belligerents or their supporters.

The war ended on 20 August 1988 after Iran accepted a UN cease-fire proposal on 18 July. Having suffered enormous casualties and physical damage plus a massive debt burden, Baghdād began the postwar process of reconstruction. Before and after the war, there were scores to settle, primarily against the Kurds, some of whom had helped Iran and were the victims of Iraqi poison gas attacks. Many border villages were demolished and their Kurdish populations relocated.

When Iraq's wartime allies seemed unwilling to ease financial terms or keep oil prices high and questioned Iraq's rearmament efforts, Saddam Hussein turned bitterly against them. Kuwait was the principal target. After threats and troop movements, Iraq reasserted its claim (which dated from the days of the monarchy) to that country and on 2 August 1990, invaded and occupied it. Saddam Hussein was unflinching in the face of various peace proposals, economic sanctions, and the threatening buildup of coalition forces led by the United States.

A devastating air war led by the United States began on 17 January 1991 followed by ground attack on 24 February. Iraq was defeated, but not occupied. Despite vast destruction and several hundred thousand casualties, Saddam's regime remained firmly in control. It moved to crush uprisings from the Shia in the south and Kurds in the north. To protect those minorities, the United States and its allies imposed no-fly zones that gave the Kurds virtually an independent state, but afforded much less defense for the rebellious Arabs in the south whose protecting marshes were being drained by Baghdād. There were several clashes between allied and Iraqi forces in both areas.

In 1996, in an effort to boost morale in Iraq and bolster its image abroad, Iraq conducted its first parliamentary elections since 1989. However, only candidates loyal to Saddam Hussein were allowed to run. A government screening committee reviewed and approved all 689 candidates, who either belonged to Hussein's Ba'ath Party or were independents that supported the 1968 coup that brought the party to power.

The Iraqi economy continued to decline throughout the 1990s, with the continuation of the UN sanctions, imposed in 1990, which prohibited Iraq from selling oil on the global market in major transactions and froze Iraqi assets overseas. The deteriorating living conditions imposed on the Iraqi population prompted consideration of emergency measures. In 1996 talks were held between Iraq and the United Nations on a proposed "oil for food" humanitarian program that would permit Iraq to sell a limited quantity of oil in order to purchase food and basic supplies for Iraqi citizens. The United States and Britain wanted money earmarked for Iraq's Kurdish provinces funneled through the existing United Nations assistance program there. They also raised the issue of equity with respect to Iraq's existing rationing system. In December 1996, the UN agreed to allow Iraq to export $2 billion in oil to buy food and medical supplies. Iraq began receiving 400,000 tons of wheat in the spring of 1997.

Since the end of the Gulf War, Iraq had demonstrated cooperation with UNSCOM, the special UN commission charged with monitoring weapons of mass destruction. However, Saddam Hussein refused to dismantle his country's biological weapons and had stopped cooperating with UNSCOM by August 1997, leading to increasing tension and a US military buildup in the region by early 1998. Personal intervention by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan helped diffuse the situation temporarily. However, renewed disagreements arose in the latter half of the year, ultimately leading to a December bombing campaign (Operation Desert Fox) by US and UK forces, with the goal of crippling Iraq's weapons capabilities. In late 1998 the US Congress also approved funding for Iraqi opposition groups, in hopes of toppling Saddam Hussein politically from within.

In 1999 the oil for food program was expanded to allow for the sale of $5.25 billion in oil by Iraq over a six-month period to buy goods and medicine. By 2000, most observers agreed that the decade-long UN sanctions, while impoverishing Iraq and threatening its population with a major humanitarian crisis, had failed in their goal of weakening Saddam's hold on power.

The situation in Iraq intensified in 2002. In his January 2002 State of the Union Address, US president George W. Bush labeled Iraq, along with Iran and North Korea, part of an "axis of evil"states that threatened the world with weapons of mass destruction and sponsored terrorism. Throughout 2002, the United States, in partnership with the United Kingdom, brought the issue of the need to disarm the Iraqi regime of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to the forefront of international attention. On 8 November 2002, the UN Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1441, calling upon Iraq to disarm itself of all biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons and weapons capabilities, to allow for the immediate return of UN and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) weapons inspectors (they had been expelled from the country in 1998), and to comply with all previous UN resolutions regarding the country since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. UN and IAEA weapons inspectors returned to Iraq, but the United States and the United Kingdom were neither satisfied with their progress nor with Iraq's compliance with the inspectors. The United States and the United Kingdom began a military buildup in the Persian Gulf region (eventually 250,000 US and 45,000 British troops would be stationed there), and pressed the UN Security Council to issue another resolution authorizing the use of force to disarm the Iraqi regime. This move was met by stiff opposition from France, Germany, and Russia (all members of the Security Council at the time, with France and Russia being permanent members with veto power); the diplomatic impasse ended on 17 March 2003, when the United States, the United Kingdom, and Spain withdrew from the Security Council the resolution they had submitted that February that would have authorized the use of military force. War began on 19 March 2003, and by early April, the Iraqi regime had fallen.

The postwar period proved to be a diffi cult one for the United States and the United Kingdom, as their troops attempted to prevent looting and violence, to disarm Iraqis, and to begin the process of reconstruction. Especially contentious was the issue of the formation of a new Iraqi government: Iraqi exiles returned to the country, attempting to take up positions of power; Kurds demanded representation in a new political structure; and Shias (who make up some 60% of the Iraqi population) agitated for recognition and power. The United States initially installed retired US Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner as head of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance to oversee Iraq's civil administration while a new government was to be installed. Garner was replaced by former US State Deparment official L. Paul Bremer III in May 2003 in what some called an effort to put a civilian face on the reconstruction effort. Many Iraqi political figures in June labeled the allied campaign to remove the Saddam Hussein regime more like an "occupation" than a "liberation," and called for elections to a national assembly that would produce a new constitution for the country.

On 13 December 2003, Saddam Hussein was found alive hiding in a hole 2.5-m (8-ft) deep near his hometown of Tikrit. He was taken into custody, and beginning in October 2005, was put on trial for the killing of 143 Shias from Dujail, in retaliation for a failed assassination attempt in 1982.

In June 2004, the United States disbanded the Coalition Provisional Authority led by Bremer and transferred sovereignty back to Iraq in the form of an interim government, headed by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. On 30 January 2005, Iraqi voters elected a 275-member Transnational National Assembly. The Assembly was given the tasks of serving as Iraq's national legislature and forming a constitution. In April 2005, the National Assembly appointed Jalal Talabani, a prominent Kurdish leader, president. Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shia, whose United Iraq Alliance Party won the most votes in the January elections, was named prime minister. A constitution was written and presented to the people in a national referendum held on 15 October 2005: more than 63% of eligible voters turned out to vote. The constitution passed with a 78% majority, although three provinces voted against it, two of them by a two-thirds majority. Under election rules, had two-thirds of voters in each of the three provinces voted against the constitution, it would have failed. The vote was sharply divided along ethnic and sectarian lines: Shias and Kurds generally supported the document. As it was, the constitution was largely drafted by Shias and Kurds, who together make up some 80% of the population. The Iraqi insurgency is largely composed of Sunni Arabs.

On 15 December 2005, the country turned out in new parliamentary elections to elect a permanent government. Turnout was high; 10.9 million out of 15.6 million registered voters cast ballots across the country. Some fraud was detected, but in general the elections were held in a free and democratic manner. Official results were announced in January 2006, showing that the Shia and Kurdish coalitions once again dominated the voting, although they came up short of the two-thirds majority needed to form a government of their own. Sunni Arab parties won 58 of the 275 seats, which was the second-largest bloc of seats, giving them a much larger voice than they had in the January 2005 elections. In all, four main coalitions won 250 of the 275 seats in the parliament, which was elected for a term lasting until 2009. Of the remaining 25 seats, most were won by smaller groups with ideological or geographic links to the winning coalitions. The United Iraqi Alliance, the alliance of the main Shia parties, took 128 seats. The Kurdistan Alliance, an alliance of the primary Kurdish parties, won 53 seats. The Iraqi Consensus Front, an alliance of predominantly Sunni parties, took 44 seats, and the Iraqi List, an alliance of the main secular parties, won 25 seats.

Although the election held the fragile promise of a stable government, by the end of February 2006, sectarian violence had reached new levels. On 22 February 2006, Sunni insurgents bombed the important Shia Askariya Shrine in Sunni-dominated Sāmarrā; the shrine's gold dome was reduced to rubble by explosives. Th ousands of Shias took to the streets in both peaceful demonstrations and retaliatory attacks: the sectarian violence that ensued left at least 138 people dead in two days, and political negotiations over the new government in ruins. Civil war was not an unthinkable future for Iraq as of mid-2006.


The coup d'état of 14 July 1958 established an autocratic regime headed by the military. Until his execution in February 1963, 'Abd al-Karim al-Qasim ruled Iraq, with a council of state and a cabinet. On 27 July 1958, a fortnight after taking over, Qasim's regime issued a provisional constitution, which has been repeatedly amended to accommodate changes in the status of the Kurdish regions. Since the 1968 coup, the Ba'ath Party ruled Iraq by means of the Revolutionary Command Council, "the supreme governing body of the state," which selected the president and a cabinet composed of military and civilian leaders. The president (Saddam Hussein from 19792003) served as chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, which exercised both executive and legislative powers by decree. He was also prime minister, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and secretary-general of the Ba'ath Party. A national assembly of 250 members that was elected by universal suffrage in 1980, 1984, 1989, 1996, and 2000, had little real power. Most senior officials were relatives or close associates of Saddam Hussein; nevertheless, their job security was not great.

The precarious nature of working in the regime of Saddam Hussein, even for relatives, was made evident in 1995 when two of his sons-in-law defected to Jordan along with President Hussein's daughters. The defection was widely reported in the international media and considered a great embarrassment to the regime as well as a strong indicator of how brutal and repressive its machinations were. After a promise of amnesty was delivered to the defectors by Iraq, the men returned and were executed shortly after crossing the border into Iraq.

In the aftermath of the Iraq war which began in March 2003, Iraq was effectively ruled by the US-installed Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, and then by a Coalition Provisional Authority. In December 2003, Saddam Hussein was captured and brought into US custody; beginning in October 2005, he went on trial for the killing of 143 Shias from Dujail. In June 2004, sovereignty was transferred back to Iraq and an interim Iraqi government was installed, led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. On 30 January 2005, Iraqi voters elected a 275-member Transnational National Assembly. In April 2005, the National Assembly appointed Jalal Talabani, a prominent Kurdish leader, president. Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shia, was named prime minister. A constitution was written and presented to the people in a national referendum held on 15 October 2005: more than 63% of eligible voters turned out to vote. The constitution passed with a 78% majority.

Under the 2005 constitution, the government is broken down into four branches: legislative, executive, judicial, and independent associations. In the legislative branch, two councils were created: a Council of Representatives, the main law-making body, and the Council of Union, whose primary task is to examine bills related to regions and provinces. The executive branch is composed of a president, who is not directly elected and whose powers are primarily ceremonial; a deputy president; a prime minister, who as head of government is appointed by the president from the leader of the majority party in the Council of Representatives; and a cabinet chosen by the prime minister. The judiciary is independent and composed of the following: a Supreme Judiciary Council; a Supreme Federal Court; a Federal Cassation Court; a Prosecutor's Office; a Judiciary Inspection Dept.; and other federal courts organized by law. The "fourth branch" is that of independent associations whose actions are subject to legislation and supervision by the other branches. They include: a Supreme Commission for Human Rights; a Supreme Independent Commission for Elections; an Integrity Agency; an Iraqi Central Bank; a Financial Inspection Office; a Media and Communications Agency; Offices of (religious) Endowments; Institution of the Martyrs; and the Federal Public Service Council.

On 15 December 2005, new parliamentary elections were held to elect a permanent government. Sunni Arab parties won 58 of the 275 seats in the Council of Representatives, which was the second-largest bloc of seats. In all, four main coalitions won 250 of the 275 seats in the parliament, which will lead the country until 2009. Of the remaining 25 seats, most were won by smaller groups with ideological or geographic links to the winning coalitions. The United Iraqi Alliance, the alliance of the main Shia parties, took 128 seats. The Kurdistan Alliance, an alliance of the primary Kurdish parties, won 53 seats. The Iraqi Consensus Front, an alliance of predominantly Sunni parties, took 44 seats, and the Iraqi List, an alliance of the main secular parties, won 25 seats.


Until 1945, political parties existed but were ineffective as political factors. In 1946, five new parties were founded, including one that was Socialist (Al-Hizb al-Watani al-Dimuqrati, or the National Democratic Party), one avowedly close to communism (AshSha'b, or the People's Party), and one purely reformist (Al-Ittihad al-Watani, or the National Union Party).

The response to these parties alarmed the conservative politicians. The Palestine War (1948) provided the pretext for suppression of the Sha'b and Ittihad parties. Only the National Democratic Party functioned uninterruptedly; in 1950, with the lifting of martial law, the others resumed work. In 1949, Nuri as-Sa'id founded the Constitutional Union Party (Al-Ittihad ad-Dusturi), with a pro-Western, liberal reform program to attract both the old and the young generations. In opposition, Salih Jabr, a former partisan of Nuri's turned rival, founded the Nation's Socialist Party (Al-Ummah al-Ishtiraki), which advocated a democratic and nationalistic, pro-Western and pan-Arab policy. In 1954, however, Sa'id dissolved all parties, including his own Constitutional Union Party, on the ground that they had resorted to violence during the elections of that year.

After the coup of 1958, parties "voluntarily" discontinued their activities. In January 1960, Premier Qasim issued a new law allowing political parties to operate again. Meanwhile, the Ba'athists, who first gained strength in Syria in the 1950s as a pan-Arab movement with strong nationalist and socialist leanings, had attracted a following among elements of the Syrian military. In February 1963, Qasim was overthrown and executed by officers affiliated with a conservative wing of Iraq's Ba'ath movement. In November, a second coup was attempted by Ba'athist extremists from the left, who acted with complicity of the ruling Syrian wing of the party. With the 1968 coup, rightist elements of the Ba'ath Party were installed in prominent positions by Gen. Bakr. Since then, the Ba'athists, organized as the Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party, were the ruling political group in Iraq. In the national assembly elections of 1980, the Ba'athists won more than 75% of the seats at stake; in the 1984 elections, they won 73% of the seats. Elections were again held in March 1996, with only Ba'athists or independent supporters of Saddam Hussein allowed to run for seats in the Assembly. Altogether, 220 seats were contested by 689 candidates. Only Ba'ath Party members and supporters of the Saddam Hussein regime were allowed to run in the March 2000 elections as well. In the 1990s and into the mid-2000s, most real party activity in Iraq involved the country's Kurdish minority, which had established a number of political groups, most of them in opposition to the central government.

In 1991, the regime issued a decree theoretically allowing the formation of other political parties, but which in fact prohibited parties not supportive of the regime. Under the 1991 edict, all political parties had to be based in Baghdād and all were prohibited from having ethnic or religious affiliations.

Outside of Iraq, ethnic, religious and political opposition groups came together to organize a common front against Saddam Hussein, but they achieved very little until 2003. The Shia al Dawa Party was brutally suppressed by Saddam before the Iran-Iraq war.

In the aftermath of the 2003 war, certain Shia clerics, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, emerged as political and religious leaders for the Shia community. In August 2003, al-Hakim was killed in a car bomb attack along with dozens of followers in the holy city of Najaf.

The two main Kurdish political parties as of 2003 were the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Jalal Talabani. Long rivals, the two parties were called upon to reconcile differences so as to provide for a viable future for Iraq's Kurds. The Iraqi National Congress, based in Salahuddin in northern Iraq and in London, was led by Ahmad Chalabi.

In the parliamentary elections for a permanent government that were held on 15 December 2005, four main coalitions won 250 of the 275 seats in the parliament. The United Iraqi Alliance, the alliance of the main Shia parties, took 128 seats. The Kurdistan Alliance, an alliance of the primary Kurdish parties, won 53 seats. The Iraqi Consensus Front, an alliance of predominantly Sunni parties, took 44 seats, and the Iraqi List, an alliance of the main secular parties, won 25 seats. The remaining 25 seats were held by smaller groups with ideological or geographic links to the winning coalitions.


Iraq until 2003 was divided into 18 provinces (three of which formed an autonomous Kurdish region), each headed by an appointed governor. Provinces were subdivided into districts, each under a deputy governor; a district consists of counties, the smallest units, each under a director. Towns and cities were administered by municipal councils led by mayors. Baghdād's municipality, the "governorate of the capital," under its mayor, or "guardian of the capital," served as a model municipality. A settlement reached with the Kurds in 1970 provided for Kurdish autonomy on the local level. In 1974, the provisional constitution was further amended to provide the Kurdistan region with an elected 80-member legislative council; elections were held in 1980 and 1986, but, in fact, the Iraqi army controlled Kurdistan until the imposition of a UN-approved protected zone in the north at the end of the Gulf War. In May 1992, Kurds held elections there for a new 100-member parliament for the quasi-independent region. This marked the only relatively free elections held in Iraq in several decades.

Local governing authority broke down following the fall of the Iraqi regime in April 2003. US and British troops were responsible for policing the country, and for restoring electricity, running water, sanitation, and other essential services. By 2006, however, sectarian violence was worsening, and the country looked as if it might be on the path to civil war.

Under the 2005 constitution, Iraq's federal system is made up of the capital of Baghdād, regions, decentralized provinces, and local administrations. The country's future regions are to be established from its current 18 governorates (provinces). Any single province, or group of provinces, is entitled to request that it be recognized as a region, with such a request being made by either two-thirds of the members of the provincial councils in the provinces involved or by one-tenth of the registered voters in the province(s) in question. Provinces that are unwilling or unable to join a region still enjoy enough autonomy and resources to enable them to manage their own internal affairs according to the principle of administratative decentralization. With the two parties' approval, federal government responsibilities may be delegated to the provinces, or vice versa. These decentralized provinces are headed by Provincial Governors, elected by Provincial Councils. The administrative levels within a province are defined, in descending order, as districts, counties and villages.


The court system until 2003 was made up of two distinct branches: a security component and a more conventional court system to handle other charges. There was no independence in the operation of the judiciary; the president could override any court decision.

The security courts had jurisdiction in all cases involving espionage, treason, political dissent, smuggling and currency exchange violations, and drug trafficking. The ordinary civil courts had jurisdiction over civil, commercial, and criminal cases except for those that fell under the jurisdiction of the religious courts. Courts of general jurisdiction were established at governorate headquarters and in the principal districts.

Magistrates' courts tried criminal cases in the first instance, but they could not try cases involving punishment of more than seven years in prison. Such cases were tried in courts of sessions that were also appellate instances for magistrates' courts. Each judicial district had courts of sessions presided over by a bench of three judges. There were no jury trials. Special courts to try national security cases were set up in 1965; verdicts of these courts could be appealed to the military supreme court. In other cases, the highest court of appeal was the court of cassation in Baghdād, with civil and criminal divisions. It was composed of at least 15 judges, including a president and two vice presidents.

For every court of first instance, there was a Shariah (Islamic) court that ruled on questions involving religious matters and personal status. Trials were public and defendants were entitled to free counsel in the case of indigents. The government protected certain groups from prosecution. A 1992 decree granted immunity from prosecution to members of the Ba'ath Party. A 1990 decree granted immunity to men who killed their mothers, daughters, and other female family members who had committed "immoral deeds" such as adultery and fornication.

Under the constitution ratified in 2005, the judiciary is independent and composed of the following: a Supreme Judiciary Council; a Supreme Federal Court; a Federal Cassation Court; a Prosecutor's Office; a Judiciary Inspection Dept.; and other federal courts organized by law. The Supreme Judiciary Council administers the judicial branch, nominates members of the courts and departments, and presents the judicial budget to the legislature. The Supreme Federal Court is the highest court in Iraq, oversees election results, and rules in the case of accusations against the president or prime minister. Private courts are banned.


The Iraqi security forces in 2005 had 179,800 active personnel. The Army, including the National Guard, had an estimated 79,000 active personnel, followed by the Navy with an estimated 700 personnel and the Air Wing, which had an estimated 200 active members. In addition to the military forces, Iraq's security forces included an estimated 32,900 Ministry of Interior Forces and 67,000 active members of the Iraqi Police Service. Major naval units consisted of 10 patrol/coastal vessels operated by the Iraqi Coastal Defense Force. The Iraqi Air Wing was under the Department of Border Enforcement, and was equipped with 16 reconnaissance and six transport fixed wing aircraft, plus 36 support and 20 utility helicopters. As of 2005, there was no data available on defense spending by Iraq.


Iraq is a charter member of the United Nations, having joined on 21 December 1945, and participates in ESCWA and several nonregional specialized agencies. A founding member of the Arab League, Iraq also participates in the Arab fund for Economic and Social Development, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, the Arab Monetary Fund, the Council of Arab Economic Unity, Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), G-19, G-77, OAPEC, and OPEC. Iraq holds observer status in the WTO.

Iraq has given both military and economic support to Arab parties in the conflict with Israel. The war with Iran preoccupied Iraq during the 1980s, and Iraq's relations with other countries in the Arab world have varied. During the 1980s, Iraq maintained friendly relations with some Western countries, notably France, a major arms supplier to Iraq.

In November 1984, diplomatic relations between Iraq and the United States were renewed after a break of 17 years, but were broken off again when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August of 1990. The United States and its allies launched an air war against Iraq after diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions failed to convince Iraq to leave Kuwait. Iraq's international standing deteriorated badly and the nation was placed under an international trade embargo. Iraq was attacked by US and British forces beginning on 19 March 2003, and the regime led by Saddam Hussein was defeated by those forces that April. In the postwar period, the country is undergoing reconstruction and the government is in transition. A Transitional National Assembly (TNA) was formed by direct democratic elections held on 30 January 2005. On 15 December 2005, a permanent 275-seat Council of Representatives was elected.

Iraq is a member of the Nonaligned Movement. In environmental cooperation, Iraq is part of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.


In 1973, Iraqi oil revenue was $1.8 billion. By 1978, oil revenues peaked at $23.6 billion. In 2002, oil revenues were estimated at about $15 billion. Oil production growth was forecast to be constrained by security problems and long-standing underinvestment over the period 200607, but modest increases in output were expected to improve real GDP growth.

GDP growth was in double digits from 1973 to 1980 with the exception of 1974, when it was 7.2%. It was from these lofty heights that the regime of Saddam Hussein launched two wars whose effects on the Iraqi economy, even aside from the tragic human costs, proved devastating. The Iraq-Iran War (198088) began with Iraq's attempt to seize control of the economically and strategically important Shatt al Arab from Iran, which the countries had agreed to divide in a treaty in 1975. Saddam miscalculated that Iran could be easily dismembered during its revolutionary upheavals, and when the war ended eight bloody years later, the Shatt al Arab and all other border issues returned to the status quo antebellum, leaving Iraq with no material gain and a debt of over $100 billion, much of it owed to Kuwait. Annual oil revenues for Iraq and Kuwait were roughly evenaveraging about $16 billion a yearbut Kuwait, instead of spending on armaments, had invested sizeable amounts in the West, essentially doubling its returns. Kuwait refused to see the debts owed it by Iraq as money spent for its own defense, and insisted on being repaid, providing the economic trigger for Iraq's second disastrous foraythe invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990. For the first time the UN Security Council agreed to support collective action against an aggressive power and Iraqi forces were driven out of Kuwait in the first Gulf War in February 1991. The UN imposed comprehensive economic, financial, and military sanctions, placing the Iraqi economy under siege. Acting on its own, the United States also froze all Iraqi assets in the United States and barred all economic transactions between US citizens and Iraq. Many other countries imposed similar sanctions on top of the UN-imposed embargo. UN Security Council resolutions authorized the export of Iraqi crude oil worth up to $1.6 billion over a limited time to finance humanitarian imports for the Iraqi people.

The effect of war in Kuwait and continuing economic sanctions reduced real GDP by at least 75% in 1991, on the basis of an 85% decline in oil production, and the destruction of the industrial and service sectors of the economy. Living standards deteriorated and the inflation rate reached 8,000% in 1992. Estimates for 1993 indicated that unemployment hovered around 50% and that inflation was as high as 1,000%. Because UN costs and reparations for Kuwait were taken out of permitted oil sales before being handed over to the Iraqi regime, the government's revenues were lower than total oil sales. The Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) reported that Iraqi oil revenues at current prices were $365 million in 1994, $370 million in 1995 and $680 million in 1996. After the first Gulf War Iraq refused to provide economic data to the UN or any other international organization, and all estimates therefore were subject to wide variability and questions of reliability. Uncertainty was increased by a flourishing black market that was responsible for an increasing share of domestic commerce. There were widespread expectations that the Hussein regime would soon fall from the weight of its disastrous political and economic miscalculations, but this did not happen, and by 1995 it had become apparent that the tight restrictions on oil sales were resulting in serious harm to the Iraqi people. The UN passed its first oil-for-food program (which the Iraqi regime refused to accept until 1996) allowing oil worth $5.26 billion to be sold every six months, with strict controls over how the money was spent. OAPEC reported that Iraqi oil revenues were about $4.6 billion in 1997 and $6.8 billion in 1998. In December 1999 the UN Security Council lifted the limits on Iraq's oil production, which then rose from 550,000 billion barrels per day (bbl/d) in November 1996 to an average of about 2.6 million bbl/d during 2000. Real GDP growth fell by 5.7% in 2001 due to the slowdown in the world economy and lower oil prices.

By 2002, crude exports from Iraq had fallen below normal capacity (about 2 million bbl/d) to an average of 630,000 bbl/d. According to UN assessments, this low export level created a $2.64 billion shortfall in the oil-for-food program. Low exports were blamed on illegal surcharges of about 1545 cents per barrel being levied by Iraq from about December 2000, and the tactic of "retroactive pricing" adopted by the United States and the United Kingdom in January 2001 to combat these surcharges. Both the surcharges and the retroactive pricingwhereby the price charged for Iraqi oil was revealed only after the sale, and then set at a level too high for a surcharge to be paid and still make a profitraised the price and reduced demand for Iraqi oil. The concerns by the United States and the United Kingdom were that the surcharges were being used to fund a secret military build-up by Iraq. UN estimates are that from 1996 to 2002 the "oil-for-food" program generated about $60 billion. The US government estimates that through smuggling and illegal surcharges the Iraqi government secured about $6.6 billion from 1997 to 2001. On 14 May 2002, after Iraq had resumed oil exports, the UN Security Council approved a change in the oil-for-food program to add an extensive list of "dual-use" goods (goods that could be used for military as well as nonmilitary purposes) that Iraq could not purchase with its oil revenues.

On 16 October 2002, US president George W. Bush signed a resolution passed by the US Congress authorizing the use of force in Iraq. On 8 November 2002 the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1441 demanding UN arms inspectors be given unconditional access to search anywhere in Iraq for banned weapons, and requiring a "accurate, full and complete" accounting of all of its weapons of mass destruction within 30 days. After failure to secure a second resolution from the UN Security Council in February 2003 explicitly supporting a military invasion of Iraqall members of the Council were opposed except the United Kingdomthe United States and United Kingdom held to their intention to act without the UN. The US-led attack on Iraq was launched on 19 March 2003. Baghdād fell on 9 April 2003, and President Bush announced the end of major combat operations on 1 May 2003.

Sanctions against Iraq were lifted in May 2003, allowing reconstruction efforts to begin, but serious security problems arising from an Iraqi insurgency hampered the rebuilding effort. In 2003, real GDP growth stood at21.8%, and the inflation rate was 29.3%. The "oil-for-food" program was phased out that May. A transitional government was elected in January 2005, and constitution-writing began. A referendum on the constitution was held in October 2005, with the constitution being approved overwhelmingly. Elections for a permanent government were held in December 2005. Iraq's unemployment rate in 200506 remained high (2740%), but the overall Iraqi economy appeared to be improving somewhat. The continued sabotage of oil installations put a drag on the economy, however, but real GDP was forecast to grow at a rate of around 6% in 2006. In October 2003, a new Iraqi currency, the "new Iraqi dinar" was introduced, and by 2006 it had appreciated sharply. As of that date, Iraq had requested formal membership in the WTO. In November 2005, the World Bank approved a $100 million loan (for education purposes) to Iraq. Iraq assumed a heavy debt burden during the Saddam Hussein years of some $100$250 billion, if debts to Gulf states, Russia, and reparations payment claims stemming from the 1990 invasion of Kuwait are included. Iraq's oil export earnings were immune from legal proceedings, including debt collection, until the end of 2007. In 2004, the Paris Club of 19 creditor nations agreed to forgive up to 80% on $42 billion worth of loans, but the relief was contingent upon Iraq reaching an economic stabilization program with the IMF.

The country's oil exports in 2005 were below 2004 levels. Oil production by 2006 had not returned to its prewar levels: it remained below 2 million barrels per day compared with a level of some 2.5 million barrels per day before the 2003 invasion. Persistent fuel shortages forced the government to raise the heavily subsidized price of gasoline in 2005. This sparked protests and rioting throughout Iraq. Oil exports for 2005 were 1.39 million barrels per day, down from 1.5 million barrels per day in 2004. The poor oil production figures were largely due to attacks on pumping and distribution facilities; death threats were also made to tanker drivers, which led to the closing of a refinery in northern Iraq. More than 75% of the country's GDP comes from oil. The high price of oil (more than $63 per barrel in the first week of January 2006) mitigated the economic damage from lower production, and oil prices were forecast to remain high over the long term.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2005 Iraq's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $94.1 billion. The per capita GDP was estimated at $3,400. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 2.4%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 40%. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange. In 2004, it was estimated that agriculture accounted for 7.3% of GDP, industry 66.6%, and services 26.1%. More than $33 billion in foreign aid was pledged for 200407.


In 2004, Iraq's labor force was estimated at 7.4 million; however, there was no data available as to its occupational breakdown. Unemployment in 2005 was estimated to fall within the 2530% range. The Trade Union Organization Law of 1987 established a centralized trade union structure of committees linked to trade unions, which in turn are part of provincial trade union federations under the control of the Iraqi General Federation of Trade Unions, and ultimately are controlled by the ruling Ba'ath Party. Although workers are legally allowed to strike upon informing the Labor Ministry, no strike has been reported in over 20 years.

Child labor is strictly controlled and in many cases prohibited. The minimum working age is 14, although economic necessity and lack of government enforcement have increased the number of children of all ages that are employed. There is a 6-day, 48-hour workweek, although this does not apply to agricultural workers. Historically, working women have been accepted in Iraq, but the number of women in the workforce dramatically increased because of the prolonged war with Iran as well as the Persian Gulf War, as women replaced men in the labor market.

In many cases, rural labor and farmers employed in government projects get reasonable salaries and good housing, but small, independent farmers receive fewer benefits. Since 1958, the Iraqi government has passed a number of agrarian reform laws. As a general rule, however, the quality of life differs greatly between rural areas and the cities, especially that in Baghdād. Th is differential has resulted in massive rural to urban migration.


The rich alluvial soil of the lowlands and an elaborate system of irrigation canals made Iraq a granary in ancient times and in the Middle Ages. After the irrigation works were destroyed in the Mongol invasion, agriculture decayed. Today, about 13% of the land is considered arable. Unlike the rain-fed north, southern Iraq depends entirely on irrigation, which is in turn heavily reliant on electricity and fuel supply to run the pumping networks. There are similar diffi culties with the spring crop of vegetables in the south, also entirely dependent on irrigation. Over half the irrigated area in southern Iraq is affected by water-logging and salinity, diminishing crop production and farm incomes. Agriculture is Iraq's largest employer and the second-largest sector in value.

Under various agrarian reform lawsincluding a 1970 law that limited permissible landholdings to 4202 hectares (10500 acres), depending on location, fertility, and available irrigation facilitiesabout 400,000 previously landless peasants received land. Agrarian reform was accompanied by irrigation and drainage works, and by the establishment of cooperative societies for the provision of implements and machinery, irrigation facilities, and other services.

Agricultural production in Iraq declined progressively because of the war with Iran and the Persian Gulf War. In 1992, wheat production was estimated at 600,000 tons compared with 965,000 tons in 1982, but by 1999 was only 800,000 tons. During the 2003 conflict, most farmers in Iraq's three northern provinces were not displaced. The northern region produces some 3035% of the grain crop. FAO estimates for 2004 included the following (in tons): wheat, 2,200,000; barley, 1,315,000; tomatoes, 1,000,000; dates, 910,000; potatoes, 625,000; eggplants, 442,000; cucumbers, 350,000; oranges, 310,000; and grapes, 300,000. Other crops grown for domestic consumption include millet, lentils, beans, melons, figs, corn, sugarcane, tobacco, and mulberries.

Iraq currently imports almost $3 billion in food commodities annually. Aid programs are helping expand production of wheat to minimize food imports. Efforts on select Iraqi farms doubled wheat production in 2004. Since 2003, the USAID's agriculture program has been working to restore veterinary clinics, introduce improved cereal grain varieties, repair agricultural equipment, and train farmers and Iraqi government staff. The US government has estimated that the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture would require over $1 billion of agricultural inputs annually for Iraq's agricultural producers to boost production. Iraq will need to rely on imports to meet a large portion of its food and fiber needs, even with substantial gains in production.


Animal husbandry is widespread. Sheep raising is most important, with wool used domestically for weaving carpets and cloaks. In 2001, Iraq had an estimated 6.1 million sheep; 1.6 million goats; 1.4 million head of cattle, and numerous donkeys, camels, mules, buffaloes, and poultry. FAO production estimates for 2004 included: cow's milk, 450,000 tons; sheep's milk, 157,500 tons; and chicken meat, 98,906 tons.


Centuries of overfishing without restocking reduced the formerly plentiful supply of river fish, but the fishing industry has rebounded since the early 1970s. The 2003 fish catchincluding salmon and, especially in the Tigris (Al Furāt), carpwas 23,100 tons.


Forests of oak and Aleppo pine in the north cover less than 2% of Iraq's entire area and have been depleted by excessive cutting for fuel or by fires and overgrazing. Since 1954, indiscriminate cutting has been prohibited, and charcoal production from wood has ceased. The forestry research center at Arbil has established tree nurseries and conducted reforestation programs. Output of roundwood was estimated at 114,000 cu m (4,024,000 cu ft) in 2004.


Iraq's mineral resources (excluding hydrocarbons) are limited. Crude oil was Iraq's sole export commodity in 2002, and construction materials comprised another leading industry. In 2004, Iraq produced hydraulic cement, nitrogen, phosphate rock (from the Akashat open-pit mine), salt, and native Frasch sulfur from underground deposits at Mishraq, on the Tigris (Al Furāt) River, south of Al Mawşil. In 2001, the State Organization for Minerals reported the discovery of sulfur deposits in the Western Desert, near Akashat. Production figures for 2004, were: phosphate rock 30,000 metric tons, down from 532,000 metric tons in 2002; sulfur, 20,000 metric tons (as a by product only); and salt, 50,000 metric tons. Without exception, production of all mineral commodities (excluding hydrocarbon minerals) has fallen since 2003. However, the output of Portland cement, while down from the 6,834,000 metric tons produced in 2002, had risen in 2004 to 2,500,000 metric tons from 1,901,000 metric tons in 2003, possibly as a result of the fighting and car bomb attacks in urban areas. Geological surveys have indicated usable deposits of iron ore, copper, gypsum, bitumen, dolomite, and marble; these resources have remained largely unexploited, because of inadequate transport facilities and lack of coal for processing the ores.


Iraq's petroleum reserves are among the largest in the world. As of 1 January 2005, Iraq's proven oil reserves were estimated by the Oil and Gas Journal at 115 billion barrels, of which, about 75 billion barrels had yet to be developed. However, the country's reserves may be significantly higher. Only about 10% of the country has been explored for oil and it is believed by some analysts that in Iraq's Western Desert region, deep oil-bearing formations may contain another 100 billion or more barrels of oil. Others are less optimistic, estimating that only another 45 billion barrels may lie undiscovered.

In spite of its huge oil reserves, Iraq's oil production has been deeply affected by the nation's wars, resulting in major drops in crude oil production. During Iraq's war with Iran, output dropped from 3,476,900 barrels per day in 1979 to 897,400 barrels daily in 1981, and from 2,897,000 barrels per day in 1989 to 305,000 barrels daily in 1991, following an embargo on Iraqi oil exports for Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Iraq's oil production slowly increased to 600,000 barrels per day by 1996, and with the country's acceptance of United Nations Resolution 986, allowing limited oil exports for humanitarian reasons ("oil-for-food program"), production rose to about 2.58 million barrels per day in January 2003, just before the US-led invasion of Iraq in March of that year. As of May 2005, maximum sustainable oil production by Iraqi was estimated at 1.9 million barrels per day. Oil production in 2004 was estimated at two million barrels per day. Domestic demand for oil was estimated in 2004 at 550,000 barrels per day, and forecast to reach 650,000 barrels per day in 2005.

According to the Oil and Gas Journal, crude oil refining capacity was estimated as of 1 January 2005 at 597,500 barrels per day.

Iraq's natural gas reserves were estimated, as of 1 January 2005, at 110 trillion cu ft, with production and domestic consumption estimated at 53 billion cu ft in 2003.

Iraq's electric power sector has also been affected by the country's wars. During the 199091 Persian Gulf War, about 8590% of the national power grid was destroyed or damaged. However, 75% of the national grid had been restarted by early 1992. Total electricity production in 2000 was 31,700 million kWh, of which 98% was from fossil fuels and 2% from hydropower. The country's generating capacity was about 9,500 MW in 2001. As of late May 2005, Iraq's available and operating generating capacity was placed at about 4,000 to 5,000 MW. Peak summer demand however, was forecast to be at 8,000 MW. In 2004, electric output came to 32.6 billion kWh, with demand at 33.7 billion kWh and imports at 1.1 billion kWh.


Main industries are oil refining, food processing, chemicals, textiles, leather goods, cement and other building materials, tobacco, paper, and sulfur extraction. In 1964, the government took over all establishments producing asbestos, cement, cigarettes, textiles, paper, tanned leather, and flour. Iraq has eight major oil refineries, at Baiji, Al Başrah, Daura, Khānaqin, Haditha, Mufthiah, Qaiyarah, Al Mawşil, and Kirkūk. The Iraq-Iran War, Persian Gulf War, and Iraq War of 2003 seriously affected Iraqi refining. Iraq had a total refinery capacity of 597,500 barrels per day in 2005. The bulk of Iraq's refinery capacity is concentrated in the Baiji complex.

Industrial establishments before the 2003 war included a sulfur plant at Kirkūk, a fertilizer plant at Al Başrah, an antibiotics factory at Sāmarrā, an agricultural implements factory at Iskandariyah, and an electrical equipment factory near Baghdād. In the 1970s, Iraq put strong emphasis on the development of heavy industry and diversification of its industry, a policy aimed at decreasing dependence on oil. During the 1980s, the industrial sector showed a steady increase, reflecting the importance given to military industries during the IranIraq war. By early 1992 it was officially claimed that industrial output had been restored to 60% of pre-Persian Gulf War capacity. Beginning in 1996, Iraq was permitted to export limited amounts of oil in exchange for food, medicine, and some infrastructure spare parts (the UN "oil-for-food" program). By 1999, the UN Security Council allowed Iraq to export as much oil as required to meet humanitarian needs. The program was phased out in May 2003 following the defeat of the Saddam Hussein regime. In 2004, industry accounted for 66.6% of GDP.


Iraq has imported Western technology for its petrochemical industry. The Scientific Research Council was established in 1963 and includes nine scientific research centers. The Nuclear Research Center (founded in 1967) has conducted nuclear physics experiments and produced radioisotopes with equipment supplied by France. In 1982, the French government agreed to help rebuild the institute's Osirak reactor, knocked out by an Israeli air attack the previous year. Eight universities offer degrees in basic and applied sciences. In addition, the Ministry of Higher Education has 18 incorporated technical institutes. The Agriculture and Water Resources Research Center (founded in 1980) and the Iraq Natural History Research Center and Museum (founded in 1946) are both located in Baghdād. The Iraqi Medical Society (founded in 1920) is headquartered there.


Modern shops and department stores have spread throughout the country, replacing traditional bazaars. Baghdād, Al Mawşil, and Al Başrah, as well as other large and medium-size cities, all have modern supermarkets. Baghdād leads in wholesale trade and in the number of retail shops.

The previously state-owned economy has been suffering since the 198088 Iran-Iraq War. The 1990 Kuwait invasion and the subsequent international military intervention caused even greater damage to the infrastructure and resulted in international sanctions that crippled the economy. With the 2003 ousting of Saddam Hussein by international coalition forces, the way was paved to reopen the Iraqi economy to international trade. However, the nation was expected to be highly dependent on foreign aid and investment for the foreseeable future.


Iraq's most valuable export is oil, which has historically accounted for almost all of its total export value. Rising oil prices during the 1970s created increases in export revenues. However, the drop in world oil prices and Iraq's exporting problems due to international sanctions essentially put an end to Iraqi oil exports. The United Nations (UN) imposed trade restrictions on non-oil exports in August 1990. Non-oil exports (often illegal) were estimated at $2 billion for the 12 months following the March 1991 cease-fire. Iraq was traditionally the world's largest exporter of dates, with its better varieties going to Western Europe, Australia, and North America.

Until 1994, the UN committee charged with supervising what little international trade Iraq was permitted to engage infood and medicine, essentiallykept records on the amount of goods it approved for import in exchange for oil. In the first half of 1994, the committee recorded $2 billion in food imports, $175 million in medicine, and an additional $2 billion in "essential civilian needs," a term that at that time referred to agricultural machinery, seeds, and goods for sanitation.

In 1995, the Iraqi government rationed its people only one-half of the minimum daily requirement in calories. In 1997, the UN permitted Iraq to expand its oil sales to increase its purchasing power of food and other sources of humanitarian relief. In the spring of that year the country received 400,000 tons of wheat to help feed its suffering population, who had been living under strict food rations for four years. Limited exports were organized by the UN, and the oil-for-food program brought in revenues during 1999 equaling $5.3 billion.

In 2005, Iraq's exports were crude petroleum (83.9%), crude materials excluding fuels (8%), and food and live animals (5%). Imports were food, medicines, and manufactures. Iraq's export partners in 2005 were: the United States (51.9%), Spain (7.3%), Japan (6.6%), Italy (5.7%), and Canada (5.2%). Iraq's import partners were: Syria (22.9%), Turkey (19.5%), the United States (9.2%), Jordan (6.7%), and Germany (4.9%).


In 2005, merchandise exports totaled $25.2 billion, and merchandise imports totaled $36.5 billion. The current account balance in 2005 was $1.2 billion. External debt was estimated at $82.1 billion.


When Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire, a number of European currencies circulated alongside the Turkish pound. With the establishment of the British mandate after World War I, Iraq was incorporated into the Indian monetary system, which was operated by the British, and the rupee became the principal currency in circulation. In 1931, the Iraq Currency Board was established in London for note issue and maintenance of reserves for the new Iraqi dinar. The currency board pursued a conservative monetary policy, maintaining very high reserves behind the dinar. The dinar was further strengthened by its link to the British pound. In 1947 the government-owned National Bank of Iraq was founded, and in 1949 the London-based currency board was abolished as the new bank assumed responsibility for the issuing of notes and the maintenance of reserves.

In the 1940s, a series of government-owned banks was established: the Agricultural Bank and the Industrial Bank, the Real Estate Bank, the Mortgage Bank, and the Cooperative Bank. In 1956 the National Bank of Iraq became the Central Bank of Iraq. In 1964, banking was fully nationalized. The banking system comprised the Central Bank of Iraq, the Rafidain Bank (the main commercial bank), and three others: the Agricultural Cooperative Bank, the Industrial Bank, and the Real Estate Bank. In 1991 the government decided to end its monopoly on banking. After 1991, six new banks were establishedthe Socialist Bank, Iraqi Commercial Bank, Baghdād Bank, Dijla Bank, Al-Itimad Bank, and the Private Bankas a result of liberalizing legislation and the opportunity for large-scale profits from currency speculation.

Preference for investing savings in rural or urban real estate is common. Major private investments in industrial enterprises can be secured only by assurance of financial assistance from the government. The establishment of a stock exchange in Baghdād was delayed by practical considerations (such as a lack of computers), but it was eventually inaugurated in March 1992.

During the 2003 US-led war and subsequent occupation of Iraq, the financial sector essentially disappeared. The banking district of Baghdād was wrecked by the bombing campaign, and until the provisional government becomes stable, it appeared that financial activity would remain at a standstill. Rejuvenation of Iraq's banking system was seen as a high priority. With the passage of the 2005 constitution, a central bank was established, which has the power to issue new currency and set interest rates in the hopes of managing the country's massive debts. USAID gave loans of up to $250,000 to small businesses and entrepreneurs in order to jumpstart the economy. Iraq's banking system had been one of the region's most advanced prior to the war, so the foundations were already in place for a sound financial sector.


The insurance industry was nationalized in 1964. The State Insurance Organization supervises and maintains three companies: the National Life Insurance Co., the Iraqi Life Insurance Co., and the Iraqi Reinsurance Co. Third-party motor vehicle liability insurance is compulsory. In 1999, Iraqis spent $42 million on insurance.


There are several budgets: the ordinary budget, under which the regular activities of the government are financed; separate budgets for the Iraqi State Railways, the Port of Al Başrah Authority, the Al-Faw Dredging Scheme, and the tobacco monopoly; municipal budgets requiring government approval; and allocations for semi-independent government agencies. In addition, there is a separate development budget, as well as an undeclared budget for the military believed to have absorbed over half of state funds during the war with Iran. Since 1980, the decline in oil exports and huge war expenditures forced Iraq to borrow and to raise funds from abroad. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, with the consequent infrastructural damage, UN sanctions, and oil embargo, severely diminished revenues. The future of the Iraqi economy is highly uncertain. Until a stable government is in place, it will be very difficult for any commercial activity to take place.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Iraq's central government took in revenues of approximately $19.3 billion and had expenditures of $24 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$4.7 billion. Total external debt was $82.1 billion.


Direct taxes are levied on income and on property. The rental value of dwellings, commercial buildings, and nonagricultural land is taxed, with a certain tax-free minimum. In 1939, graduated income tax rates were established on income from all sources except agriculture. Most agricultural income is not taxed.

Indirect taxation predominates. The land tax must be paid by all who farm government lands with or without a lease. Owners of freehold (lazimah) land pay no tax or rent. Much farm produce consumed on the farm or in the village is not taxed at all, but when marketed, farm products are taxed.


As of 1 March 2004, a 5% reconstruction levy based on the customs value of the product was imposed upon all imports. However, food, clothing, medicines, humanitarian goods, and books are exempt. In 1989, Iraq joined the newly formed Arab Cooperation Council (ACC) with Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen. The ACC's goals included formation of a common market and economic integration in other areas. The international embargo levied against the nation after it invaded Kuwait essentially ended Iraq's participation in the ACC. Egypt, one of its partners in the Council, was a leader in the military coalition that liberated Kuwait.


UN sanctions effectively froze all of Iraq's foreign transactions in the 1990s. In October 1992, the UN Security Council permitted these frozen assets, including Iraqi oil in storage in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, to be sold without the permission of the Iraqi government. About $1 billion of frozen assets were to pay for compensation to Kuwaiti victims of the invasion and to cover UN operations inside Iraq.

In September 2003, the American-appointed Coalition Provisional Authority announced it was opening up all sectors of the economy to foreign investment in an attempt to deliver much-needed reconstruction in the war-torn country. The Iraqi Governing Council announced it would allow total foreign ownership without the need for prior approval. The program applied to all sectors of the economy, from industry to health and water, except for natural resources (including oil). The deal also included full, immediate remittance to the host country of profits, dividends, interest, and royalties. Income and business taxes for foreign investors were capped at 15% beginning in 2004. More than $33 billion in foreign aid was pledged to Iraq for 200407.


Until the 2003 Iraq War, the government both controlled and participated in petroleum, agriculture, commerce, banking, and industry. In the late 1960s, it made efforts to diversify Iraq's economic relations and to conserve foreign exchange. As an example, it was announced in 1970 that contracts for all planned projects would be awarded to companies willing to receive compensation in crude oil or petroleum products. The government also undertook to build an Iraqi tanker fleet to break the monopoly of foreign oil-transport companies.

The imposition of sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s destroyed all attempts to stabilize Iraq's payments on its foreign debt. Iraq also faced reparation claims. Iran separately pursued its claim for massive separation payments arising from the 198088 war. Iraq was also obligated by UN resolutions to pay for various UN agency activities.

Iraq had an estimated foreign debt in 2005 of $82.1 billion. However, a large portion of Iraq's debt had been forgiven by that time, and the IMF provided new funds as part of an effort to get Iraq back into capital markets, where it could secure the financing it needs to invest in the critical oil sector. The insurgency against coalition forces, in addition to underinvestment, prevented the oil industry from getting back on its feet. Work was being carried out to rebuild infrastructure, but by 2006, insurgents were destroying much of what was being built.


A social security law passed in 1971 provides benefits or payments for disability, maternity, old age, unemployment, sickness, and funerals. This law applies to all establishments employing five or more people, but excludes agricultural employees, temporary employees, and domestic servants. This social insurance system is funded by employee contributions of 5% of their wages, and employer contributions of 12% of payroll. Oil companies are required to pay 25% of payroll. Men may retire at age 60 and women at 55 after they have worked for 20 years. Maternity benefits for employed women include 100% of salary for a period of 10 weeks. Work injury is covered and unemployment assistance is available.

Little is known about the extent of domestic violence in Iraq. Domestic abuse is addressed within the family structure, therefore there are no statistics available or agencies to assist victims. In 2004 there were reports of honor killings. Women who do not wear traditional clothing are subject to harassment.

Human rights are being addressed as the government undergoes significant transformation. The regime of Saddam Hussein was notorious for extensive human rights abuses.


There are many well-trained Iraqi physicians; however, their effectiveness is limited by a lack of trained nursing and paramedical staff. In the period 198595, some 93% of the population had access to health care services. Private hospitals are allowed to operate in Baghdād and other major cities. Considerable effort was made to expand medical facilities to small towns and more remote areas of the country, but these efforts have been hampered by a lack of transportation and a desire of medical personnel to live and work in Baghdād and the major cities. In 2000, 85% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 79% had adequate sanitation. Dentists and other specialists are almost unknown in rural districts. Child nutrition has been negatively affected by years of conflict. The UN Children's Fund documented that 4,500 children under five die every month from hunger and disease.

In 2004, Iraq had 54 physicians, 308 nurses, 8 pharmacists, and 11 dentists per 100,000 people. Iraq's 2002 birth rate was estimated at 34 per 1,000 people. Of married women (ages 15 to 49), 14% used contraception in 1989. Life expectancy in 2005 averaged 68.7 years. The fertility rate decreased from 7.2 in 1960 to 4.3 children in 2000 for each woman during childbearing years. Immunization rates for children up to one year old were: tuberculosis, 90%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 92%; and measles, 98%. In 1999, there were 156 reported cases of tuberculosis per 100,000 people. The infant mortality rate in 2005 was 50.23 per 1,000 live births. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.10 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 500 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country.


In the 20 years leading up to the 2003 Iraq War, living conditions for the vast majority of the population improved greatly. Electricity and running water were normal features of all Iraqi villages in rural areas. Mud huts in remote places were rapidly being replaced by brick dwellings. Major cities like Al Mawşil, Al Başrah, and especially Baghdād had most of the amenities of modern living. Traditionally, Iraqis have lived in single family dwellings, but in the last 15 years, the government had built a number of high-rise apartments, especially in Baghdād. It had done so to control urban sprawl and to cut down on suburban service expenditures.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq by international coalition forces caused destruction and damage to a large portion of the housing sector, particularly in and around Baghdād. The UN responded to the crisis by providing construction materials through the oil-for-food program. The housing sector had been part of this program since 2000. Through the program, about 64,932 housing units were built to accommodate about 551,922 people.


Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, public education was forcibly secular and militarized, with most textbooks and other curriculum strongly based on promoting the causes of the government. The US-led invasion of Iraq beginning in 2003 and the overthrow of Hussein's regime continue to have damaging effects on the country's infrastructure. Many schools have been severely damaged or destroyed; but reconstruction efforts are being funded by a variety of international groups and governments. New developments in the post-Hussein system include the reprinting of textbooks and a greater freedom for teachers in designing and implementing curriculums. Some schools are beginning to adopt fundamental Islamic studies as a large part of their curriculum. This has caused some concern for new government officials and analysts, who fear that too much of a fundamentalist approach might lead to a new set of restrictions in academic freedom.

In general, six years of compulsory primary education has been in effect since 1978. Primary schools have provided the six-year course, at the end of which the student passes an examination to be admitted to secondary school. An intermediate secondary school program covers a three-year course of study. After this stage, students choose to attend a preparatory school or a vocational school, both of which offer three-year programs.

Education at all levels from primary to higher education has been free. Private schools are now permitted to operate. There are 20 state universities in Iraq and 47 technical colleges and institutes. The University of Baghdād is the most important higher education institution in the country. Other universities include Al Mawşil, al-Mustansiriya, Al Başrah, and As Sulaymāniyah. In 2003, the adult literacy rate was estimated at about 40.4%, with 55.9% for men and 24.4% for women.


Following the war in 2003, arsonists and looters ransacked the libraries and museums of Iraq, causing extensive destruction and damage and nearly eliminating some valuable historic and cultural collections of books, documents, and artwork. Various international groups have stepped forward to offer assistance in rebuilding and restocking the sites of what were Iraq's most prominent museums and libraries, but it is uncertain as to how many rare and valuable items can be recovered. The National Library and Archives in Baghdād was founded in 1961. Two noteworthy academic libraries are the Central Library of the University of Baghdād and the Central Library of the University of Al Mawşil. One of the country's outstanding libraries has been the Iraqi Museum Library (founded 1934), with modern research facilities. The Directorate of Antiquities in Baghdād houses a library as well. There are public library branches in many provincial capitals.

With the exception of the National History Research Center and Museum and the National Museum of Modern Art, museums have been under the control of the Department of the Directorate-General of Antiquities in Baghdād. One of the most outstanding collections were kept at the Iraqi Museum in Baghdād, which contained antiquities dating from the early Stone Age; however, this was one of the sites looted and damaged after the war. The Abbasid Palace Museum and the Museum of Arab Antiquities, both located in Baghdād, are housed in restored buildings from the 13th and 14th centuries, respectively.


In 2003, there were an estimated 28 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were approximately three mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

As of 2005, television and radio stations that were initially launched by the Coalition Provisional Authority were being incorporated into the new publicly-funded Iraqi Public Broadcasting Service. A number of foreign broadcasters are being accessed through satellite. In 2004, there were about 80 radio stations and 21 television stations in operation inside the country. In 2003, there were an estimated 222 radios for every 1,000 people. The number of televisions was not available through the same survey. Also in 2003, there were 8.3 personal computers for every 1,000 people and one of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. Access is made primarily through Internet cafés.

In 2004, there were over 130 daily and weekly publications nationwide. Prominent daily papers in 2005 included Al-Sabah, Al-Mada, Al-Zaman, Al-Mashriq, and Al-Dustur. Iraq Today is a popular English-language weekly.

The 2005 constitution guarantees freedom of speech, press, and assembly.


Chambers of commerce are active in Baghdād, Al Başrah, and Al Mawşil. Cooperatives, first established in 1944, have played an increasingly important social role, especially under the post-1968 Ba'ath government. There are many youth centers and sports clubs. Scouting programs are active. The General Federation of Iraqi Youth and the General Federation of Iraqi Women are government-sponsored mass organizations. The Women's Union of Kurdistan (WUK), established in 1989, works toward improving the lifestyle and social development of women by publishing educational magazines and presenting educational seminars on health, education, and legal issues. Red Crescent societies provide social services in many cities and towns.


Tourism declined sharply in the 1980s during Iraq's occupation of Kuwait and the Gulf War, and has not recovered. The March 2003 attack on Iraq by US and UK forces and the subsequent fall of the government led to almost no tourist activity as of 2006. Prior to the political and military challenges of the 1980s, many visitors from other Arab states were pilgrims to Islamic shrines. The other principal tourist attraction is visiting the varied archeological sites. Popular forms of recreation include tennis, cricket, swimming, and squash.

According to the US Department of State in 2004, the estimated daily cost of staying in Baghdād was $11.


The most famous kings in ancient times were Sargon (Sharrukin) of Akkad (fl.c.2350 bc), Hammurabi of Babylon (r.1792?1750? bc), and Nebuchadnezzar II (Nabu-kadurri-utsur, r.605?560? bc) of Babylon.

Under the caliphs Harun al-Rashid (ar-Rashid ibn Muhammad al-Mahdi ibn al-Mansur al-'Abbasi, r.786809) and al-Mamun (abu al-'Abbas 'Abdullah al-Mamun, r.81333), Baghdād was the center of the Arab scholarship that translated and modified Greek philosophy. A leading figure in this movement was Hunain ibn Ishaq (d.873), called Johannitius by Western scholastics. His contemporary was the great Arab philosopher Yaqub al-Kindi, whose catholicity assimilated both Greek philosophy and Indian mathematics. The founder of one of the four orthodox schools of Islamic law, which claims the largest number of adherents in the Muslim world, Abu Hanifa (d.767) was also a native Iraqi. Another celebrated figure in theology, 'Abd al-Hasan al-Ash'ari (c.913), who combated the rationalist Mu'tazila school, also lived in Baghdād; his influence still prevails in Islam. Al-Ghazali (Ghazel, d.1111), though Persian by birth, taught at the Nizamiyah University in Baghdād; he is one of the best-known Islamic philosopher-theologians. Iraq also produced famous mystics like Hasan al-Basri (642728) and 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (10771166); the latter's followers are numerous among Asian Muslims, and his tomb in Baghdād draws many pilgrims. Modern Iraq has produced no artist or writer famous outside the Arabic-speaking world.

Gen. Saddam Hussein (Husayn) al-Takriti (b.1937), served as chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council and president of the country from 1979 until his ousting in 2003.


Iraq has no territories or colonies.


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Dalley, Stephanie. The Legacy of Mesopotamia. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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Gunter, Michael M. The Kurds of Iraq: Tragedy and Hope. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.

Hiro, Dilip. Iraq: In the Eye of the Storm. New York: Th under's Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2002.

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Republic of Iraq

Major Cities:
Baghdād, Al Başrah, Al Mawşil

Other Cities:
An Najaf, Arbil, Kirkūk, Ar Ramādi, Nimrud, Nineveh


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report for Iraq. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


IRAQ is the cradle of civilization, the country of the Thousand and One Nights, and the land of the two great rivers of history, the Tigris and the Euphrates. Known to the ancient Greeks as Mesopotamia ("in the midst of the rivers"), Iraq was enlarged after World War I to include the northern mountainous district of Kurdistan.

Modern Mesopotamia is still a fascinating juxtaposition of the old and the new. While signs of progress are visible everywhere, so are the manifestations of past glories. Excavated sites of vanished empiresSumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Chaldean, Persian, Greek, Parthian, Ottoman, and Islamicremind every visitor of the incredible heritage of which modern Iraq is a part.

Editor's Note: Most of the city and country profile information contained in this entry reflects the conditions in Iraq prior to the outbreak of hostilities from the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the subsequent withdrawal of Iraqi troops as a result of the multi-national military attack that ended on February 27, 1991, and the continued economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations.



The history of Baghdād begins in the eighth century. It was founded by Caliph Mansur, and was known as the City of Peace. During the time of Charlemagne, it flourished under the Abbassid Caliph Harun al-Rashid, after whom its present-day main street was named. The old walled city, with a diameter of 3,000 yards, was completely destroyed, first by the Mongols, later by Hulagu Khan in 1258, and again by Tamerlane in 1400. Baghdād became a frontier outpost of the Ottoman Empire from 1638 to 1917, finally emerging as the capital of the Kingdom of Iraq in 1921. The city was the scene of the 1958 coup that overthrew the monarchy and established the Iraqi republic.

Baghdād of the 19th century can best be observed in the souks or bazaars, which have changed little in the last 100 years, except for the goods they offer the shopper. Among the things that can be found are silver and gold jewelry, copper and brass trays and coffee pots, Persian carpets, Kuwaiti chests, and hordes of people.

Baghdād is a sprawling city of about 4.9 million people (2000 est.). It bustles with vehicular traffic like all other capitals of oil-producing states. Yet, residential areas are still quiet with some remnants of mud villages interspersed with modern villas. The villas themselves are surrounded by high walls within which grow pleasant gardens with fruit tress, grass, and flowers.

Baghdād is rich in archaeological remains, and several museums are located in the city. There are three universities in Baghdād; the largest is the University of Baghdād, founded in 1958. Baghdād International Airport is 12 miles from the city.


Only two types of clothing are required in Baghdād: an extensive summer wardrobe and warm winter clothing for the chilly November to March season. Bring garment bags to protect clothing from dust and insects.

Sports attire varies. White is required for tennis at the local clubs. Bathing suits deteriorate rapidly, so several should be brought to Iraq.

Raincoats and boots or rubbers are needed for the whole family, especially children, during the very muddy, wet winter months. Boots can be bought locally.

In general, most imported clothing items are restricted in availability and selection, and are expensive; locally made clothing is of poor quality.

Men need cool, lightweight suits, and many shirts. Suits and ties are worn throughout the year in the office. In summer, it is often necessary to change shirts during the day. Sports shirts and slacks are worn during the leisure hours; shorts should be worn only at home.

Women require a wardrobe of lightweight suits; cool, washable dresses; slacks; shirts; and blouses. Inexpensive cottons are advisable due to frequent laundering. There is no taboo against wearing reasonably low-cut dresses. Dry cleaning is satisfactory. Stockings usually are not worn during summer. In winter, wool suits, dresses, slacks, sweaters, and warm bathrobes are essential. Coats, stoles, and warm wraps are required for winter evenings; light wraps are necessary for spring and fall.

Women's shoes are available locally but quality is poor and they are expensive. Low-heeled sandals, flats, and sneakers are used for ordinary day wear, depending on the season, with emphasis on sturdiness.

Children's clothing should be washable. Warm clothing is needed for winter in unheated rooms with cold tile floors. In summer, most children wear cotton clothing. Because much time is spent at swimming pools, several bathing suits are needed for each child. Children's tennis shoes, sandals, and flip-flops are available at a reasonable price.

Supplies and Services

Toilet articles, cosmetics, over-the-counter medications, household items and other related items are scarce or unavailable.

The better tailors and dressmakers in Baghdād can usually follow a pattern with desired results, but they are not designers and are very expensive.

Simple shoe repairs are possible, but repair work on women's shoes is unsatisfactory. Dry cleaning is available and is of acceptable quality. Several beauty shops in Baghdād have experienced stylists at reasonable prices. Barbershops are less satisfactory, but are adequate.


Baghdād International School offers an international education in English to children of foreign diplomats and expatriates from pre-kindergarten through grade 12. Founded in 1969, the coeducational, day, proprietary school is governed by an independent board of directors that includes both appointed and elected members.

The school is chartered by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia under an agreement with the government of Iraq. It is not accredited and there are no facilities for special education, learning disabilities, or gifted. If the child receives supplementary work at home, the school curriculum is considered adequate for the early elementary grades. A variety of extracurricular activities centering around sports and dance may be chosen. Enrollment currently totals over 50 representing many different countries. The school year runs from September to early June.

Baghdād International School is located six miles west of the city on an 11-acre campus. The air-conditioned school has a media center, auditorium, cafeteria, science laboratories, athletic fields, and a 16,000-volume library. The school's mailing address is P.O. Box 571, Baghdād, Iraq.

Other schools in Baghdād provide education in other languages.


The flat desert terrain of Baghdād and vicinity is aesthetically unappealing, but some relief is afforded by drives to nearby places of interest. Many foreigners combine picnicking with archaeological exploration on weekends and holidays. Extensive travel within Iraq is limited by the desert, the summer heat, the lack of good roads (except between major cities), and, above all, travel restrictions.

A new road has been under construction from the Kuwaiti border to Baghdād and then west to Jordan. Driving time from Baghdād to Al Başrah is about six hours; to Al Mawşil about four hours. Truck traffic on the existing roads is often heavy. All diplomatic personnel must obtain government permission for most travel outside Baghdād. Difficulties encountered in travel contribute to the isolation of Baghdād.

Picnic excursions outside Baghdād in cool weather may include visits to the ruins of Babylon (45 miles, longtime capital of the Babylonian Empire), Ctesiphon (18 miles, vaulted banqueting hall of the Sassanian Kings), and Samarra (87 miles, short-lived ninth-century capital of the Abbassid Caliphate). Visits to the Shia holy places of An Najaf and Kerbala are an easy oneday excursion. The upper Euphrates River, with its unique water wheels, is worth a weekend trip.

The sites of Hatra, Nineveh, Nimrud, and Khorsabad are also of archaeological and historical interest. When travel to northern Iraq is permitted, visits to Christian and Yazidi villages there are also rewarding, as are visits to the mountains of the Kurdish areas.

The northern resort areas of Iraq have been rebuilt and expanded. The higher elevations and colorful local culture in the Kurdish region combine to make this area one of prime tourist interest. Security restrictions may prevent foreigners from visiting this area.

The cities of Amman (Jordan), Istanbul (Turkey), and Kuwait City (Kuwait) offer a welcome change, but air travel is expensive and auto travel is time-consuming. However, good roads do exist to these points, and the journeys, if time allows, are rewarding.

The bazaars of Baghdād should be explored and visits to the city's monuments and museums are rewarding.

Tennis, softball, cricket, bowling, swimming, and squash are available in and around Baghdād. Several of the city's luxury hotels offer memberships entitling one to use their athletic facilities which usually include swimming, tennis, squash bowling, weight rooms, and sauna. Hunting is forbidden and guns may not be imported. Boating, water-skiing, and windsurfing are possible at several Iraqi lakes but these destinations require travel permission.

Many foreigners belong to the Alwiyah Club. Members of the foreign community informally organize activities which include running, drama, music appreciation and bridge. Social life is restricted to home entertainment among members of the diplomatic and business communities. Home entertainment equipment such as stereos, record collections, and videotape equipment can be brought to Iraq. Videotaped movies are available in Kuwait for both the VHS and BETA systems.

Baghdād, as an entertainment center, is undistinguished. Opera, ballet, and the legitimate theater do not exist, but some English-language films are shown in the local cinemas. Nightclubs, although in operation, do not have a wide selection of entertainment. Some local restaurants are frequented by foreigners in Baghdād. The Iraqi Symphony Orchestra gives a few concerts during the winter season.

Iraq's national tourist agency, the General Establishment for Travel and Tourism Services, is located at Al-Kodwa Square, Khalid bin Al-Waleed Street, Baghdād.

Al Başrah

Iraq's only port is Al Başrah (also spelled Basra, Bassora, Bussora, and Busra, and known in the Arabian Nights as Bassorah), located in the southeastern section of the country on the Shatt-al-Arab waterway, 300 miles south of Baghdād. Al Başrah has become a prosperous city due to its location near the oil fields and 75 miles from the Arabian Gulf; it was the site of a great deal of Gulf War fighting. Petroleum products, grains, dates, and wool are exported from Al Başrah. Many oil refineries have been constructed in the city since 1948.

Founded by the Caliph Umar I in 636, Al Başrah was a cultural center under Harun ar-Rashid, but declined with the decay of the Abbassid caliphate. For many years, the Persians and the Turks fought for possession of Al Başrah. The construction of a rail line linking Al Başrah and Baghdād and the building of a modern harbor restored the city's importance after World War I. Occupied by the British in World War II, it was an important transshipment point for supplies to Turkey and the former U.S.S.R.

A branch of the University of Baghdād is located in Al Başrah. The population of Al Başrah is over 700,000.

Al Mawşil

Al Mawşil, with a population of about 1,034,000 (2000 est.), is located on the Tigris River in northern Iraq, opposite the ruins of Nineveh, and 225 miles north of Baghdād. The largest city in northern Iraq and the country's third largest city, Al Mawşil is important for its trade in agricultural goods and exploitation of oil. Most of the city's inhabitants are Arabs, although the surrounding area is mostly populated by Kurds.

Historically, Al Mawşil was the chief city in northern Mesopotamia for 500 years before being devastated by the Mongols. During its occupation by the Persians in 1508, and by the Turks from 1534 to 1918, the city remained extremely poor. Under British occupation from 1918 to 1932, Al Mawşil again became the chief city of the region. Turkey disputed its possession by Iraq in 1923-1925, but it was confirmed by the League of Nations in 1926. The city's oil wells were seized during the Arab revolt of April 1941, but were soon retaken by the British.

A trading center for grain, hides, wool, livestock, and fruit, Al Mawşil produces cement, sugar, nylon, and bitumen. The city has numerous mosques, shrines, and churches; its university was founded in 1967. Nearby are the ancient ruins of Nineveh and the partially excavated cities of Tepe Gawra, Calah, and Dur Sharrukin.


The holy city of AN NAJAF is located in south-central Iraq on a lake near the Euphrates River, about 100 miles south of Baghdād. With a population over 130,000, An Najaf is the site of the tomb of Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammad the Prophet. An object of pilgrimage by the Shi'ite Muslims, the tomb is a starting point for the pilgrimage to Mecca. The city is also called Mashad Ali in honor of Ali.

ARBIL (also spelled Irbil) is a commercial and administrative center in northern Iraq, between the Great and Little Zab Rivers, about 200 miles north of Baghdād in a rich agricultural region. The ancient Sumerian city of Urbillum, or Arbela, formerly occupied this site; it eventually became one of the great Assyrian towns. As the capital of its province, Arbil today is a major grain producer. The railroad that ends in Arbil connects the city with Kirkūk and Baghdād. Arbil is currently built on an artificial mound on top of an old Turkish fort. The population was estimated at 2,368,000 in 2000.

Iraq's oil industry is centered in the city of KIRKŪK , located in the northeast part of the country about 150 miles north of Baghdād. The city, with a population of approximately 535,000, is connected by pipelines to ports on the Mediterranean Sea. Kirkūk is also the market for the region's produce, including cereals, olives, cotton, and fruits. The city is also home to a small textile industry. The surrounding agricultural region also raises sheep. Present-day Kirkūk is situated on a mound that contains the remains of a settlement that dates back to 3000 B.C. Most of the residents of Kirkūk are Kurds. Kirkūk is the terminus of a railroad from Baghdād.

AR RAMĀDI (also called Rumadiya; in Arabic, Ramadi) lies on the right bank of Euphrates River, 60 miles west of Baghdād. It is the starting point of a highway that crosses the desert to Mediterranean towns. Ar Ramādi was the scene of battle during World War I in which the British, under the rule of Maude, defeated the Turks. The population was estimated well over 80,000.

The ruins of the ancient city of NIMRUD lie about 37 km southeast of the city of Monsul, south of Nineveh. In the time of the Assyrian empire it was known as Kalhu, or Calah, as it is mentioned in Genesis of the Old Testament. It served as the capital of Assyria under Assurbanipal II in 879BC and was destroyed by the Medes of Northern Persia at about 612BC. Archeological excavations have uncovered many of the walls and several artifacts from the king's palace, called the Northwest Palace. A site museum is now located there. On the southeastern side of the city lie the remains of the royal arsenal, Fort Shalmanesar.

The ancient city site of NINEVEH is located on the Tigris River, just opposite of Monsul. Today, however, the name refers to the larger administrative district for the area, which has a population of about 1.6 million (1991 est.). The ancient city served as the capital of the Assyrian Empire from about 704-681BC and was somewhat known as the hub of the civilized ancient world. It was taken over by the Medes of Northern Persia at about 612BC. As capital, the city of Nineveh was the site for the magnificent palaces of Sennacherib and Assurbanipal. Recent archeological excavations have uncovered a great deal of the ancient city, including a section of wall about 7.5 miles long and sculptures from the palaces. The original city's protection wall contained 15 gates, each named for an Assyrian god. At least two of these gates, Shamash and Nergal, have been reconstructed. One of the most incredible finds was the Assurbanipal library, which includes over 20,0000 cuneiform tablets. The Iraq Department of Antiquities has roofed the sites and has established the Sennacherib Palace Site Museum for visitors.


Geography and Climate

The Republic of Iraq is situated on the Asian Continent, northeast of the Arabian Peninsula. It lies between 38° and 29°30 north latitude, and 38° 30 and 51°30 east longitude, from its northwestern tip to its southeastern extremity. Iraq is bounded on the north by Turkey, on the east by Iran, on the south by Kuwait and the Arabian Gulf, on the southwest by Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and on the northwest by Syria.

Iraq's 171,554 square miles are divided into four major geographical areas. The main one, having almost 75 percent of the population, is the alluvial plain or delta lowlands. Stretching from north of Baghdād, the capital, past Al Başrah to the Gulf, this area is watered by the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers which rise in the Armenian Mountains of eastern Turkey. The rivers approach to within 40 miles of each other near Baghdād, diverge before joining to form the Shatt al-Arab north of Al Başrah, and then flow together with the Karun into the Gulf. An estimated 25 billion cubic feet of silt a year is carried down stream by these rivers to add to the delta.

As well as being the legendary locale of the Garden of Eden, the region contains the ruins of Ur, Babylon, and countless other ancient cities. The plain is quite flataverage altitude is 75 feetand encompasses about 7,500 square miles of marshland to the north of Al Başrah. In spite of the fertility of the area irrigated by the rivers, over three-fourths of it is arid desert.

The second area is the western plateau, an extension of the Arabian Peninsula, which marks the region to the west and south of the Euphrates, extending into Jordan and Syria. Comprising more than half of Iraq's total area, it is home to only one percent of the population. The land here is not sandy; it is primarily dust and gravel. Sand dunes exist, but they are not dominant. The average altitude is about 400 feet. Irrigation is limited to sparsely scattered wells. The most heavily populated part of the area is in a depression in the plateau west of the Euphrates between Hit and Najaf, running in a southerly direction from Ar Ramādi to Kerbala. The depression is divided into two basins, Habbaniya in the north and Abu Dibbis in the south.

The third geographical area is the Jazira, or island, formed by the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates and their tributaries. Both undulating plains and flat country are found in the region, as well as a basalt chain50 miles long and 4,800 feet highwest of Al Mawşil.

The fourth area consists of the mountains to the east of the Tigris in the north of Iraq, which rise from 700 feet near the river bank to nearly 12,000 feet on the Iraq-Turkey-Iran border. This is an extension of the Alpine system which runs southeast through the Balkans, the Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey, northern Iraq and Iran, and into Afghanistan, finally ending in the Himalayas. East of Kirkūk and Arbil, the land is very rocky until the Plains of Sulaimaniya are reached.

Baghdād is located almost in the geographical center of Iraq. Just north of the city, the alluvial plain begins, extending southward through the marshlands to the Gulf. Climatically, the Baghdād area is comparable to the extreme southwestern United States and northern Mexico, with hot, dry summers, cold (but rarely freezing) winters, and pleasant spring and fall seasons. Maximum daytime temperatures in summer (May through September) occasionally reach as high as 130°F, but are generally between 115° and 120°F. The low humidity (5-25%) and 20°F drop in temperature at night result in more comfortable weather than that found in tropical humid regions.


About 75 to 80 percent of the approximately 23.2 million Iraqis are of Arab stock. The largest ethnic minority are the Kurds, who comprise 15 to 20 percent of the population. Although the Kurds are mostly Muslims, they differ from their Arab neighbors in language, dress, and customs. Other distinctive ethnic communities include Assyrians, Turkmans, Chaldeans, and Armenians.

About 97 percent of the population is Muslim; Iraq is the only Arab country in which most Muslims are members of the Shi'ite sect. There are also small communities of Christians, Jews, Mandaeans, and Yazidis.

Arabic is most commonly spoken and is the country's official language; English is the most commonly used Western language.


Iraq's role in the Middle East has undergone several significant changes since World War II. The July Revolution of 1958 ended Hashemite rule in Iraq, the country's participation in the Baghdād pact (now called CENTO), and its traditional ties with the West.

Foreign policy, which followed a neutralist line under Qasim from 1958 to 1963, was identified with the cause of Arab unity after the Ba'ath (Renaissance) Party came to permanent power in 1968. Iraq entered into a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union in 1972, and the Ba'ath and Communist parties formed a Nominal coalition with a Kurdish party. In 1979, the Communist Party was removed from the coalition.

Iraq is governed by the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), consisting of nine of civilian and military members and chaired by the President. The RCC enacts legislation, which is then ratified by the National Assembly. The RCC's President (chief of state and supreme commander of the armed forces) is elected by a two-thirds majority of the RCC. The current president is Saddam Hussein, who took office in July 1979. A 29-member Council of Ministers (Cabinet), appointed by the RCC, has administrative and some legislative responsibilities. A 250-member National Assembly was elected on June 20, 1980, in the first elections since the end of the monarchy; the last election was held in March 1996 (only candidates loyal to Saddam Hussein were allowed to run). No real opposition party exists. A new constitution was drafted in 1990 but not adopted. Iraq is divided into 18 provinces, each headed by a governor with extensive administrative powers.

Iraq's judicial system is based on the French model, which was introduced during Ottoman rule. It does not serve as an independent branch of government as in the United States. There are three different courts: civil, religious, and special. The Court of Cassation is the last court for appeals. National security cases are handled by the special courts. Iraq is essentially a one-party state and the press is limited to a few newspapers published by and expressing the views of the government.

After years of precarious relations with Iran over control of the Shattal-Arab Waterway that divides the two countries, war erupted in September 1980 when Iraqi planes bombed Iranian airfields and Iran retaliated. Ground fighting began and Iraqi troops crossed the border but were driven back in May 1982. In 1984, both countries attacked tankers in the Persian Gulf, including an Iraqi attack of the U.S.S. Stark which killed 37 U.S. Navy personnel. Warfare ended in August 1988 when a United Nations ceasefire resolution was accepted. In August 1990, Iraq attacked and invaded neighboring Kuwait; declared it a province and precipitated an international crisis. The United Nations called for economic sanctions in Iraq. When Iraq did not withdraw its troops from Kuwait by the U.N. deadline of January 16, 1991, a multi-national force (including the United States) launched an attack on Iraq. In February after cease-fire attempts were rejected by both sides as unacceptable, the multi-national coalition began a ground offensive with the aim of liberating Kuwait. Iraqi troops offered little resistance and were quickly defeated. On March 3, Iraq accepted defeat and agreed to ceasefire terms.

After the war, internal revolts against Saddam Hussein's government by the Shi'ites in southern Iraq and Kurds in the northern provinces were suppressed by Iraqi armed forces. One to two million Kurds fearing for their safety fled across the border into Iran and Turkey. To help solve this refugee crisis, other countries stepped in to establish "safe havens" for Kurdish population within Iraq and many Kurds returned.

After the war, the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Iraq and mandated the dismantling of certain Iraqi weapons and missile programs. In 1996, the United Nations brokered a deal with Iraq that would allow it to sell a limited quantity of oil to pay for critical civilian needs. In late 1997, Saddam Hussein expelled ten Americans who were working as weapons inspectors for the United Nations, thus obstructing the disarmament process. The United States sent 30,000 troops to the Persian Gulf to prompt Iraq into submitting to the United Nations' resolutions. Tensions mounted and a military confrontation seemed imminent. In February 1998, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan went to Iraq and persuaded the Iraqi government to cooperate.

The flag of Iraq is made up of red, white, and black horizontal bands. In the central white band are three green stars arranged horizontally. The words Allah Akhbar ("God is Great") in green Arabic script were added between the stars during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Arts, Science, Education

Iraq's cultural life is centered in Baghdād, arguably the second most important Arab capital after Cairo. Once confined to a small group of the more Westernized and well-to-do Iraqis, cultural participation by ordinary citizens and official patronage has increased. The most vigorous activity is in fine arts. The Iraq Museum of Modern Art has organized an extensive permanent collection of the work of Iraqi artists. In Western classical music, the government-subsidized Iraq National Symphony and its chamber ensemble offer about eight different programs during the winter months. A number of special presentations are sponsored by foreign embassies and cultural institutions. Occasional Arabic language dramatic productions are given at the National Theater and at the Mansour Theater.

In keeping with Iraq's ambitious national development program, the government before the Gulf War awarded thousands of scholarships to many U.S. and other foreign universities, with heavy emphasis on engineering and the sciences. Iraqis are proud of their rich scientific heritage from Islamic and pre-Islamic times, and the government wanted to increase modern manifestations of this heritage. Six years of primary school is compulsory and there are plans to extend it to nine years. Secondary education is available for six years. Public education is free; private schools were abolished in 1970s. Adult literacy is currently estimated to be 58% (1995 est.).

Archaeology attracts the interest of many members of the foreign community. A number of archaeological digs are in progress, and the Iraq Department of Antiquities has undertaken major restorations of some principal sites. Iraq's superlative collections of Mesopotamian antiquities are on display at the excellent Iraq Museum.

Commerce and Industry

The long war with Iran (1980-1988) resulted in considerable debt and post-war reconstruction funds were needed to repair industrial and oil installations, as well as, damage to the physical infrastructure around the southern city of Al Başrah. Economics, especially the shortage of hard currency, was the driving force behind Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. However, the war over Kuwait resulted in severe economic damage to Iraqconsiderably more than the years of war. The loss of trade, investment, economic assistance, and the many foreign workers who left the country because of the war resulted in economic problems that have persisted for many years.

Iraq has a state-controlled economy with a small private sector. The economy is heavily dependent on oil and refined products; 95% of export earnings come from this source. Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world and was the second largest Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) producer after Saudi Arabia. Since 1972, the government has gradually nationalized all the oil fields in the country, in keeping with the policy that the country's resources, particularly oil, should not be under foreign control. Since 1999, Iraq was authorized to export unlimited quantities of oil to finance humanitarian needs including food, medicine, and infrastructure repair parts. Oil exports fluctuate as the regime alternately starts and stops exports, but, in general, oil exports have now reached three-quarters of their pre-Gulf War levels. Per capita output and living standards remain well below pre-Gulf War levels.

Manufacturing and agriculture play much smaller roles in the economy despite their great potential. All heavy industry is government-owned and includes iron, steel, cement, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizers. There is a trend to allow private ownership of light industrial concerns such as food processing and textiles. Iraq has a large, skilled work force. Much fertile, irrigated land is available for agricultural purposes and 30% of the work force is involved in agriculture. Iraq is one of the world's largest producer of dates; barley and wheat are the other major agricultural products.

Iraq's gross domestic product (GDP) is approximately $57 billion, or $2,500 per capita (2000 est.). The United Nations trade embargo established in August 1990 and the war has blocked or disrupted Iraq's trade with other nations.

The address of the Baghdād Chamber of Commerce is Mustansir Street, Baghdād, Iraq.


During the Gulf War, many roads, railways, bridges, and ports were destroyed or damaged. Immediately after the war the only surface link to other countries was through Amman, Jordan. The Iraqi government has given the repair of roads and bridges a high priority. Baghdād is served by a limited number of international airlines as well as Iraqi Airways, the national carrier.

Iraq has intercountry rail transportation. Rail lines connect Baghdād with major cities such as Al Başrah, Arbil, and to Al Mawşil, where Istanbul (Turkey) and Europe can be reached via Aleppo (Syria). The Oriental Express travels to and from Baghdād via Turkey and Syria.

Local transportation includes taxis and buses. Americans seldom use either. Taxis, operated by both companies and private individuals, are usually available, but are difficult to find after 8 p.m. Taxis may be hired for trips out of Baghdād. Many taxis are American-made and many are not equipped with meters. Fares must be negotiated, but is easily managed once the recognized standard rates are known. Even for taxis with meters, fares should be agreed on in advance. Tipping is not expected. Some established foreigners without cars make contact with a taxi company in their vicinity and use it exclusively, paying their bills by the month. This can become quite expensive for more than a short-term arrangement.

The bus system operates on most of the main streets; however, most buses are in poor condition.

A car is essential in Baghdād, especially for a foreigner living in an outlying residential district. Markets for food and household goods are far apart, and distances between home, office, and friends can be great. Certain car colors are prohibited (black, olive, beige, tan), as are all cars with diesel engines.

An international or U.S. driver's license will expedite issuance of an Iraqi license. International driver's licenses must specifically list Iraq in order to be valid here. Third-party insurance is compulsory. Major roads have international traffic signs; driving is on the right-hand side of the road.


Iraq has a dial telephone system. Long-distance service, although poor, is normally available within the country and to nearby capitals. Satellite connections to overseas countries are usually satisfactory, although delays can be encountered in placing a call. At times, as a war-related economic move, Iraq has discontinued long distance, direct-dial service. Long distance calls must then be placed through operators and usually only placed for phone numbers on an approved list.

International airmail letters to or from the U.S. usually take eight to 12 days, although if selected for review by the censors, letters can be delayed as much as three weeks. Air Mail is more reliable than surface mail. Telex is available at the major hotels and telegrams may be sent from the telegram office in Baghdād.

Radio reception is fair. Domestic service is available in Arabic, Kurdish, and several minority languages, while external service is available in many languages. It is possible to tune in to Voice of America (VOA), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Monte Carlo (Monaco), and other shortwave programs. A good shortwave set capable of worldwide reception is worthwhile. There are 16 medium-wave and 30 short-wave transmitters in the country. Baghdād has two TV stations, both government-operated. With the exception of a few English-language serials and films, its limited programs are in Arabic only (usually about eight/nine hours a day).

The state-sponsored Baghdad Observer is the only English-language paper readily available. Few Western publications are available. Occasional copies of Time and Newsweek, censored, are seen at local vendors. A subscription to European versions of these magazines, although expensive, is much more dependable. The International Herald Tribune, printed in Paris, can also be subscribed to via international mail. The delay on these publications is about five days.

Only a limited supply of books and technical journals is available. The British Council library, however, has a wide selection of fiction and nonfiction, and the International Children's Center (ICC) has a library, although not extensive, of children's books. The U.S. Interests Section maintains an informal lending library.

Health and Medicine

Baghdād has several small private hospitals where Westerners may be hospitalized in emergencies. These hospitals, however, do not offer the comprehensive medical, surgical, or diagnostic care of a large American medical center; most foreigners use medical facilities abroad.

Many well-trained and qualified doctors in nearly all the medical and surgical specialties practice in Baghdād. However, these doctors are severely overworked and are limited by the lack of development of hospitals, money in a war situation, laboratories, and well-trained nursing staffs.

Although adequate routine dental care is available, complex dental problems are usually hard to solve locally. Children requiring orthodontia should have the process initiated prior to arrival. Satisfactory follow-up care for orthodontia can be obtained in Baghdād.

No adequate diagnostic facilities exist for allergies. Those with severe or disturbing allergies should have diagnostic sensitivity procedures performed prior to arrival. Iraq's climate could severely aggravate allergies. If therapeutic allergy serum for desensitization is necessary, an adequate supply should be kept on hand.

If you require special or unusual medicines, bring your own supply. Medications are scarce and hard to find; U.S. brands are unavailable.

Sanitation is below U.S. standards; there are indiscriminate dumpings of waste and garbage. One city garbage collection per week services residential areas.

Baghdād's central water system provides adequate potable water, which is filtered in the home for drinking. The water is obtained from the Tigris River. The city water in Al Mawşil, Al Başrah, and Kirkūk is also safe to drink. It is unsafe, however, to drink untreated water in the villages.

Periodic fumigation with DDT or equivalent spray helps eliminate insect pests. The Baghdād city and health authorities have several large trucks which irregularly spray major portions of the city to reduce the number of flies and mosquitoes.

The foreign community is commonly subject to gastro-intestinal upsets. Respiratory infections and colds also are common, and often severe. They are frequently of prolonged duration and may progress to bronchitis, pneumonia, or pleurisy. These complications should be promptly and adequately treated. Children are subject to the usual childhood diseases, but generally do well in Baghdād. Hepatitis and sand fly fever are local hazards.

Skin and eye infections prevalent among the local population must be guarded against by proper habits of personal hygiene. Parasitic diseases such as hydatid cyst, amoebic and bacillary dysentery, and worms are prevalent. Bilharzia may be prevented by avoiding bathing, washing, or wading in irrigation ditches and slow-moving streams. Malaria and Baghdād boil (Cutaneous Leishmaniasis) are relatively uncommon now.

The dust-laden air may severely aggravate sinus and other respiratory tract complaints, and may cause acute irritative conjunctivitis. Baghdād also experiences smog, due mainly to brick factories and oil refineries built close to the city.

The long, hot summer can be debilitating. Since the dryness evaporates perspiration rapidly, fluid loss can be extensive. Salt tablets are helpful to those who perspire profusely. Insect bites, heat rash, and temperature extremes may be discomforting to some. Insect repellents are advised.

Like other desert areas, Iraq is an entomologist's paradise. Many varieties of insects are found year round. Sand flies are a particular nuisance during the late summer and early fall, and houseflies are plentiful throughout the year. Precautions must be taken against cockroaches, ants, and termites. The insect population of homes is kept to a minimum by small, harmless lizards which keep mainly to the upper walls and seldom bother humans. In the Middle East, they are regarded as bringing good fortune to the home.

U.S. health authorities recommend immunization against cholera (except for infants under six months), typhoid, tetanus, polio, and gamma globulin. The usual pediatric immunizations also should be updated.


Jan.1 New Year's Day

Jan.6 Army Day

Mar. 21Spring Day

July 14 Republic Day (1958 Revolution)

July 17 Ba'ath Revolution Day (1968 Revolution)

Aug. 8Peace Day

Hijra New Year*


Mawlid al Nabi*

Id al-Fitr*

Id al-Adha*


Lailat al Miraj*



Passage, Customs and Duties

No American air carriers serve Baghdād, other airlines, including Iraqi Air, Air France, Lufthansa, and Swissair offer frequent direct flights from several European capitals. Iraqi Air prohibits hand baggage (including brief cases) on most flights.

Passports and visas are required. On February 8, 1991, U.S. passports ceased to be valid for travel to, in or through Iraq and may not be used for that purpose unless a special validation has been obtained. Please see paragraphs on Passport Validation and U.S. Government Economic Sanctions. For visa information, please contact the Iraqi Interests Section of the Algerian Embassy, 1801 P Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036, telephone 202-483-7500, fax 202-462-5066.

Without the requisite validation, use of a U.S. passport for travel to, in or through Iraq may constitute a violation of 18 U.S.C. 1544, and may be punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment. An exemption to the above restriction is granted to Americans residing in Iraq as of February 8, 1991 who continue to reside there and to American professional reporters or journalists on assignment there.

Iraq has strict customs regulations. Upon arrival, a traveler must declare any foreign currency, audio-visual equipment, satellite and cell telephones, personal computers and especially modems. There may be difficulty in obtaining a permit to take these items out when leaving Iraq. The Iraqi authorities may request the surrender of such equipment for depositing at the border (there might be difficulties in reclaiming it when leaving Iraq). Videotapes may be confiscated. Carrying firearms and pornography is forbidden. Any news publications may be regarded as hostile propaganda and confiscated. Charges of disseminating propaganda detrimental to Iraq might follow. So-called "friendly" requests for foreign periodicals and newspapers should be flatly refused. Usually cars are very thoroughly checked. Offering gifts to inspectors may result in charges of bribery, which could lead to serious consequences. Generally, export of gold, foreign currency, valuable equipment, antiquities and expensive carpets is forbidden.

All foreigners (except diplomats) are requested to take an AIDs or HIV test at the border. Sanitary conditions at the Ministry of Health border stations are questionable. You may wish to bring your own needle or try to postpone the check until your arrival in Baghdad. You may wish to have the test done ahead and carry a valid certificate.

The U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with Iraq, and there is no U.S. Embassy in Iraq. The Embassy of Poland represents U.S. interests in Iraq; however, its ability to assist American citizens is limited.


A veterinarian's certified statement of good health and a rabies inoculation is necessary for all pets brought into Iraq. Import licenses are obtained after entry. Pets are most easily brought into the country when they accompany the owner. Adequate veterinary care is available locally but animal medicines are in short supply. Commercially prepared pet food is not available and other pet supplies are very scarce.

St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdād holds services in English, and is open to all members of Protestant denominations. There is no resident minister, and activities are limited to the weekly services. There are several Catholic churches, and English-language masses are offered at St. Raphael's. English-language services are also offered at a Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Currency, Banking and Weights and Measures

The monetary unit of Iraq is the dinar (ID), which is divided into 1,000 fils. All private foreign exchange transactions are government-controlled through the Central Bank of Iraq. Travelers checks and foreign currency are not limited, provided they are declared upon entry. Rafidian Bank, Iraq's sole commercial bank, is the only one authorized to accept foreign currency or travelers checks.

Comprehensive U.N. sanctions on Iraq, imposed following Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, prohibit all economic and financial transactions with the Government of Iraq, persons or entities in Iraq unless specifically authorized by the U.N. Since 1998, foreigners traveling in Iraq may legally exchange foreign currency in money exchange kiosks or bureaus (run privately or state banks). Payments for hotel, renting a taxi, etc. must be paid in foreign currency. No ATM machines exist.

The metric system of weights and measures is used in Iraq. The use of any other system is legally prohibited.

The time in Iraq is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) plus three hours.


These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Abu Jaber, Kamel S. The Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party: History, Ideology, & Organization. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1966.

Abdulghani, Jasmin. Iraq and Iran: The Years of Crisis. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 1984.

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Republic of Iraq

Al-Jumhuriyah al-'Iraqiyah



Iraq is located in the Middle East, between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iraq is also bordered by Jordan and Syria to the west, Kuwait to the south, and Turkey to the north. A very small sliver of the Persian Gulf (58 kilometers, or 36.04 miles) abuts Iraq on its southeast border. With an area of 437,072 square kilometers (168,753 square miles), Iraq is slightly more than twice the size of Idaho. Iraq's capital city, Baghdad, is located in the center of the country. Other major cities include al-Basra in the south and Mosul in the north.


The population of Iraq is the fifth largest in the Middle East and North Africa. The population was estimated at 22,675,617 in July of 2000, an increase of 4.675 million from the 1980 population of 18 million. In 2000, Iraq's birth rate stood at 35.04 per 1,000, while the death rate was reported at 6.4 per 1,000. With a projected growth rate of 2 percent between 2000 and 2015, the population is expected to reach 38 million by the year 2030.

Some 97 percent of the population are Muslims. Shi'ite Muslims make up the majority (60-65 percent), while Sunnis comprise 32-37 percent of Muslims in the country. The remaining 3 percent is made up of Christians and other religious groups. The Kurds, descendants of Indo-European tribes who settled in Iraq in the 2nd century B.C., make up 15-20 percent of the population. Arabic is the official language, but Kurdish, Assyrian, and Armenian are also spoken.

Iraq's population growth has increased since 1993, despite the exodus of the middle class as a result of the Gulf War and the adverse effects of the United Nations (UN) economic sanctions imposed since 1991. Population growth before the 1991 Gulf War was as high as 3.6 percent annually. The government has strongly encouraged population growth. With a high fertility rate and a relatively young population, 45 percent of which is under 15 years of age, population growth is expected to remain high. Population growth dropped significantly to 1.9 percent in 1993 but resumed in recent years, with the growth rate reaching 2.98 percent in 1998. This rate suggests that the emigration of the middle class has slowed. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also estimates that the effects of the UN sanctions have begun to fade. An estimated 1 to 2 million Iraqis live abroad, many as political exiles. The large majority of these are concentrated in Iran, after having been forced to leave in the wake of the 1990-91 Gulf War.

As in many developing countries, a majority of Iraqis live in urban areas. The population of urban areas has grown significantly since the 1960s at a rate of 5.2 percent annually. Baghdad and its suburbs are home to some 31 percent of the population. Rural-urban migration has eroded some of the ethno-religious and linguistic differences between regions, with the exception of the Kurdish minority, which is concentrated in the north. Iraqi society is dominated by tribal and familial affiliations.


Iraq's economy has suffered greatly as a result of the United Nations sanctions, imposed following Iraq's military defeat at the hands of a U.S.-led coalition that freed Kuwait after it was invaded by Iraq in 1990. The sanctions were imposed to contain militarily the regime of Saddam Hussein by ensuring that all weapons of mass destruction (such as nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons capable of killing large numbers of people indiscriminately) at its disposal are destroyed by a UN-appointed inspections committee. However, Iraq's incomplete compliance with UN resolutions pertaining to the destruction of its weapons has precluded the removal of the trade sanctions more than a decade after the war.

Iraq entered the 20th century as part of an enfeebled Ottoman Empire (a 700-year empire that spanned much of the Middle East and centered in what is now Turkey). By 1915, Iraq became a British mandate area administered by a civil government headed by a British high commissioner. In 1921, the British replaced their direct rule with a monarchy headed by King Faisal. Iraq became a sovereign independent state in 1932 after the British finally acceded to local demands for full independence. Iraq was proclaimed a republic in 1958, after the monarchy was overthrown by a military coup executed by officers under the leadership of General Abdul Karim Qasim, who became Iraq's first president. In fact, Iraq has been controlled by a series of strongmen, the latest of which is Saddam Hussein, who took power in 1979.

Oil, discovered in Iraq in the early 1950s, has made Iraq one of the world's largest oil producers. Its economy is largely dependent on the oil sector, which has traditionally accounted for about 95 percent of foreign exchange. Iraq's economy has, however, been on a downward trend since the early 1980s. Gains achieved during the initial years of the Ba'ath party (Iraq's only political party and the center of power in the country) rule were reversed as the Hussein regime sought to finance the 10-year war with Iran that broke out in 1980. As a result of the war, Iraq's oil production capabilities were curtailed, and the government's debts to Western nations for the purchase of military materiél grew considerably throughout the 1980s. Iraq sustained heavy debts as a result of its war with Iran. Accurate figures regarding Iraq's total external liabilities are hard to establish because the Iraqi government did not publish official information on its debt. In 1986, Iraq's total debt was estimated to be between US$50 billion and US$80 billion. Of this total, Iraq owed about US$30 billion to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the other Gulf states. Most of this debt resulted from the sale of crude oil on Iraq's behalf. Iraq's total foreign debt today is estimated to be in the range of US$130 billion. Iraq has not made any debt payments since the United Nations' sale of its overseas assets to compensate the Kuwaiti victims of the invasion and to pay creditors.

Since 1996, Iraq has been allowed to export only a limited quantity of oil, worth US$2.14 billion every 6 months, in return for food and medical supplies to address the country's deteriorating humanitarian conditions after the war, which include a lack of clean water supplies and basic services. Of revenues accruing from the sale of oil, some 53 percent is used to finance the import of food and medicine for the Iraqi people, while 13 percent is being diverted by UN agencies to the Kurdish provinces in the north. The effects of the sanctions have led to a sharp increase in poverty and infant mortality, especially in the south, and much of the country's infrastructure is not functioning.


A complex web of social, economic, ethnic, religious, and ideological conflicts has hindered the process of state formation in Iraq since it gained independence from Britain in 1932. Festering socioeconomic problemssuch as widespread poverty and deep divisions between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites in the post-World War II periodwere compounded by an enduring leadership crisis that continued to afflict Iraqi politics and society for more than 5 decades after independence. The political process has been characterized by deep social and political divisions that have meant that no single political group was able to gain enough support to rule the country without resorting to violence. As a result, Iraq's deep-rooted fragmentation has allowed the armed forces to exercise great control over politics since the 1930s. A total of 11 coups took place between 1936 and 1968. The Ba'ath party, which came to power in 1968, also through a military coup, has greatly shaped the country's modern history and its economic system. The party espouses the goals of socialism , freedom, and unity, and has attempted to redress widespread social inequality through the redistribution of wealth.

According to the constitution, Iraq is a republic with an elected legislature and an independent judiciary. Executive power is concentrated in the hands of the president and Council of Ministers. In reality, and owing to the revolutionary nature of Iraqi politics, all executive and legislative powers rest with the Revolutionary Command Council president (RCC). The RCC elects the president, who, in addition to being the chairman of the RCC, also serves as prime minister and commander of the armed forces. The president and the Council of Ministers are accountable to the RCC.

Since the late 1960s, the ruling Ba'ath Party has used vast oil revenues to build a modern state, although it is also one of the most highly militarized countries in the world. The Ba'ath party adopted a centralized socialist welfare system, which regulated every aspect of the economy, with the exception of the agriculture and personal services sectors. Much of Ba'ath party's ambitious plans to develop Iraq and exploit its vast oil resources were done with Soviet technical assistance. Since taking office in 1979, President Saddam Hussein pursued a state-sponsored industrial modernization program that led to a more equitable distribution of wealth, greater social mobility, improved education and health-care standards, as well as the redistribution of land. The government experimented with economic liberalization in the 1980s, which sought to ease state control of the economy and to increase commercialization in the state sector. These efforts, however, were largely unsuccessful, mainly due to a long legacy of state control and a bloated state bureaucracy that was unable to meet the challenges of reform.

Iraq's spending on defense has traditionally accounted for 25-33 percent of the state budget, even when the country was not at war with any of its neighbors. Since the early 1970s, the government has dedicated huge resources to thwart efforts by the Kurdish people to establish their own state in the northern Kurdistan region. After efforts to reach an agreement to establish a politically and culturally autonomous area in the north failed in 1975, the government waged in 1976 a costly campaign to forcibly evacuate 800 Kurdish villages along the border with Iran. This campaign to replace the Kurdish population with Arabs resumed after an 8-year hiatus during the Iraq-Iran war. At least 300,000 Kurds were deported from their villages in the north, and chemical weapons were used against Kurdish civilians at Halabjah in 1988 in which more than 5,000 Kurds were killed. Following Iraq's military defeat in 1991, U.S.-led allied forces carved out an autonomous region for the Kurds in the north, effectively separating the region from the rest of the country. Since 1991, the Iraqi Kurds have enjoyed a large degree of autonomy from the central government in Baghdad under the protection of allied forces. Nevertheless, the Kurds live in primitive conditions, often in large "tent cities," with only the barest necessities (such as food, medicine and clean water) supplied by aid agencies.

In the wake of the Gulf War and its aftermath, the Iraqi government's role in the economy is bigger than ever, as it continues to control the vast majority of imports and foreign exchange flowing into the country from the limited sale of oil allowed under the sanctions. The government, however, lacks a clear economic objective, given its primary goal since the 1990 Gulf War has been to ensure the survival of the regime in the face of international political and economic isolation. Instead of using its limited resources from oil sales to benefit the economy and expand its base, the state has redirected its efforts toward guaranteeing the continued support of the regime's chief domestic allies, mainly the merchant class and the military. This class has been both paid off and allowed to accumulate wealth illegally to ensure its continued allegiance to the state.

Taxation is not and has never been a major source of government income. Iraq's relative prosperity in the years preceding the Iran-Iraq war enabled the government to adopt a welfare system that exempted the population from paying taxes. After the 1990 Gulf War, however, the government has attempted to impose taxes to increase its revenue, but collection enforcement has been rather poor. Private sector employees are required to pay income tax , although the tax is rarely collected. State employees continue to be exempt from taxation.


Prior to the Gulf War, Iraq's infrastructure was one of the most highly developed and extensive in the region. The government has been largely successful in its efforts to repair the severe damage the infrastructure sustained as a result of the 1990 Gulf War. The lack of resources available to the government, however, has meant that most of the repair work is substandard. In 1996, the country was serviced by a network of over 45,550 kilometers (28,304 miles) of primary and secondary roads, 38,400 kilometers (23,862 miles) of which were paved. The nation's 2,032-kilometer (1,263-mile) railway system is in good condition and connects Iraq to its neighbors to the north, Syria and Turkey.

Iraq has 2 major airports, located in Baghdad and Basra. Both airports are in fairly good condition. There are 3 smaller civil airfields at Haditha, Kirkuk and Mosul. All commercial airlines stopped service to Iraq in 1991 under the United Nations sanctions. A number of countries, mainly France, Russia, and Jordan, began sending humanitarian flights carrying food and medicine to Baghdad in mid-2000, in violation of the sanctions. These flights were sent as an expression of opposition to the continuation of the UN sanctions against Iraq. The country has 3 ports at Umm Qasr, Khawr az-Zubayr, and al-Basra, which currently have limited functionality because of the damage sustained during the Gulf War and the subsequent trade sanctions. Since 1997, most of Iraq's needs are serviced at Umm Qasr, the main point of entry for most food imports.

Country Newspapers TV Sets a Radios Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Iraq 19 229 83 N/A 0 N/A N/A 0.00 N/A
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Saudi Arabia 57 321 262 N/A 31 N/A 49.6 1.17 300
Iran 28 28 265 157 0.0 6 N/A 31.9 0.05 100
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

Electric power is supplied to Iraqis by state-owned power stations throughout the country, which have a total capacity of 17,000 megawatts of power. As a result of repeated bombings during the Iran-Iraq war and the Gulf War, power stations today can barely meet local demand, and it is estimated that in 2000, capacity in the central and southern regions supplied only 50 percent of demand. Despite the construction of 4 new power stations after the Gulf War, blackouts are common, and at least 14 central and southern provinces experience an average of 12 hours of power cuts daily. In Baghdad, 4-hour power outages are routine.

Telecommunications services in Iraq are in poor condition and are quite unreliable, mainly as a result of repeated air strikes by allied forces during and after the war. The country had 675,000 working lines in 1995. Mobile cellular service is unavailable. Internet service is available but is both costly and unreliable.


Iraq's economic sectors reflect the state of devastation that the country has endured as a result of war. The economy has traditionally been heavily dependent on the oil sector, which accounted for more than 60 percent of the GDP before the Gulf War. The oil sector's contribution to the GDP, however, greatly diminished in the immediate years after the war, but its contribution to GDP has increased since the 1996 introduction of the United Nations oil-for-food program, which allows limited oil exports in return for food and medicine. Iraq in 1991 exported less than 10 percent of its pre-war oil export levels. By 2001, Iraq had regained three-quarters of the pre-war oil export levels. However, the UN's control of oil exports removed these revenues as a source of the GDP.

In the post-Gulf War era, services was the largest contributor to the GDP at 81 percent in 1993. Industry contributed 13 percent in the GDP, while agriculture accounted for 6 percent of the GDP. Real GDP was cut by around 63 percent in 1991, a direct result of the war and subsequent sanctions. The GDP was estimated in 1999 to be equivalent to US$59.9 billion. The country's major economic sectors witnessed a serious decline in 1990-91 because of the Gulf War, and continued allied bombardment of key Iraqi infrastructure facilities, including power generators and communications equipment. The manufacturing sector was hit by the shortage of imported raw materials and spare parts, while the collapse of the country's irrigation system in the aftermath of the war has left the agricultural sector in dire straits.


Despite intermittent government efforts to develop the sector, agricultural production has always been a modest contributor to Iraq's economy, accounting for 7 percent of GDP prior to the 1980 Iran-Iraq war and 6 percent in 1993. Despite declining performance, however, the sector continues to employ almost one-third of the country's labor force . The agricultural sector employed 30 percent of the labor force in 1989, and although the number is believed to have declined as a result of the sector's declining performance, no hard figures are available to support this contention.

Iraq's arable land is estimated at 8 million hectares, comprising less than 15 percent of the country's total area. However, only 4 to 5 million hectares of this land is being cultivated. Arable land is mostly concentrated in the north and northeast, where winter cropsmainly wheat and barleyare grown, and in the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

The sector's contribution to the GDP has steadily declined since the early 1980s, despite repeated government efforts to boost agricultural production. Until the late 1980s, cultivable land was under the control of the state, the direct result of the land reforms begun in 1958. In 1988-89, in an effort to boost agricultural production, the state privatized agriculture, but the sector's weakness persisted. Further, the government continued to control the price of agricultural products, mainly to protect the urban consumer. Despite government efforts to encourage agricultural production after the Gulf War by raising the price of staple foodsespecially of wheat, barley and ricethe labor-intensive sector remains in 2001 under-developed and inefficient, as a result of the high costs of energy, credit, and land and lack of investment. The problem is further aggravated by the lack of pesticides, fertilizers, and machinery. Further, competition from produce and agriculture products imported under the UN food-for-oil program, which allows the sale of a given amount of oil in return for basic foodstuffs and medicine, has also hurt the sector. In 2000, Iraq's farmers were also hit hard by the worst drought in a century. This drought devastated output and forced many farmers to ask the government to loan them the money to pay local banks back for funds they had borrowed to plant their crops, which in the summer of 2000 were failing.

Major agricultural products are cereals, including wheat and barley. Iraq is also a producer of dates, sheep and goat meat, chicken meat, and milk. Most agricultural activity is concentrated in the fertile lowlands in the Mesopotamian plains irrigated from the Tigris and the Euphrates. The Kurdish areas in the north, which have received minimal attention due to the conflict between the central government and the Kurds, remain underdeveloped and mostly dependent on rainwater. Agricultural production in Kurdish areas has improved under the UN sanctions regime, due to the distribution of fertilizers and spare parts by international agencies in those areas.



Oil dominates the country's mining activity, and accounted for more than 60 percent of the GDP before the 1990 Gulf War. Iraq has 112,500 billion barrels in proven reservesthe second largest known reserves in the world. Prior to its war with Iran, which began in 1980, Iraq was also the second-largest exporter of oil in the world.

Oil production is concentrated in the north in Kirkuk, Jambur, Bai Hassam, Ain Zalah, Butman, and Baiji. Oil fields in the south include Rumaila and Zubeir, and until the Gulf War, oil was exported via the Gulf port at Khor al-Amaya. In addition, smaller fields can be found at Luhais, Nahr Umr, Buzurgan, Abu Ghuraib, and Jabal Fauqi. Iraqi oil exports consist of 2 types of crude. The "Kirkuk Crude," which forms the majority of exported oil, is extracted from the northern oil fields and exported via Turkey. The "Basra Light" comes from the fields in the south and is exported via the Mina al-Bakr terminal on the Persian Gulf.

Oil production and output has more than once been interrupted as a result of armed conflict, first with Iran and then with the allied forces during the Gulf War. Production before the Iran-Iraq war reached as high 3.5 million barrels a day (b/d) in 1979 but declined to 700,000-870,000 b/d with the start of the war in 1980. Although most damage to Iraq's facilities was repaired, and production was restored to 3.07 million b/d by the end of the 1980s, the Gulf War and subsequent UN sanctions imposed once more severely depressed both production and output capacity. Until 1996, Iraqi exports were forbidden under the terms of the UN sanctions, with the exception of 65,000 b/d exported to Jordan as part as a special deal worked out with the United Nations. As a result, oil production averaged only 500,000-600,000 b/d between 1990 and 1996, with the majority used for domestic consumption.

Iraq was allowed to resume partial exports in 1996, as part of the food-for-oil program designed to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. Oil production was estimated at 2.52 million b/d in 1999, 1.76 million of which are exported under the food-for-oil program. Local consumption accounts for 500,000 million b/d, while an estimated 166,000 million b/d are believed to be smuggled through Turkey and Iran. In June 1998, Iraq was permitted to import spare parts in the amount of $300 million every 6 months to repair its oil facilities. In December 1999, the value of imports was doubled to $600 million per 6 months, but Iraq was allowed to purchase parts only from a list of parts drawn up by the United Nations. Despite an increase in production, which reached 2.49 million b/d in July 2000, the oil sector continues to suffer from the lack of adequate investment and of the kind of Western expertise that was once available to Iraq before the war.

Before 1972, a consortium of British, U.S., French and Dutch companies virtually dominated the oil industry through the Iraqi Petroleum Company and its associates. This company was nationalized by the Iraqi government in 1972, and the U.S. and Dutch interests in the last remaining foreign oil firmthe Basra Petroleum Companywere confiscated because of their governments' pro-Israel stance during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. The entire oil sector was nationalized in December 1975 and placed under the control of the state-owned Iraqi National Oil Company. In the late 1990s, however, and as a direct result of the sanctions, the Iraqi government has once again allowed production-sharing agreements with foreign companies, mainly Russian and Chinese, to develop the oil sector and increase production to 3.4 million b/d in the short-term and 6 million b/d in the medium-term. These agreements, however, are contingent upon the lifting of the UN sanctions, and it remains to be seen whether the United States will allow the Russian and Chinese firms to benefit from the development of the Iraqi oil sector.

In addition to oil, Iraq ranks tenth in the world in terms of proven reserves of natural gas, which are estimated at 3.1 trillion cubic meters. In 1998, Iraq's production of natural gas reached 2.9 billion cubic meters, most of which was used for domestic consumption. Natural gas is currently not being exported, although the government has recently signed agreements with Turkish companies to export 10 billion cubic meters worth of gas annually from its northern field.

Iraq also has phosphate deposits located at Akashat near its border with Syria, which are used to produce fertilizers. Sulphur deposits can also be found in Mishraq. European companies were involved in the mining of sulphur before the Iran-Iraq war, but these efforts came to a standstill during the war and have not resumed. The mining of both phosphates and sulphur has largely remained limited in scope due to the dominance of the oil sector.


The manufacturing sector is the second largest non-oil sector, accounting in 1993 for 13 percent of the GDP. The sector's contribution to the GDP in 2001 is hard to assess in the absence of government data about manufacturing activity in the country. Total employment in manufacturing in 1989 stood at 968,000 or 22 percent of the labor force.

Historically, the sector has been dominated by oil refining and natural gas processing industries. Refineries are situated in Baghdad, Basra, al-Hadithah, Khanaqin, Kirkuk, and Qayyarah, and by the late 1980s were producing a total of 743.3 million barrels of petroleum and 3.7 billion cubic meters (131 billion cubic feet) of natural gas per year. Since the 1970s, Iraqi companies have processed iron and steel at plants located at Khawr az-Zubayr. Other manufacturing activities include the production of advanced military hardware, tractors, electrical goods, car assembly, truck manufacture, aluminum smelting, detergents, and fertilizers.

Since the mid-1970s, Iraqi industries have been under the control of the state. The government experimented with privatization in late 1988, right after the end of its war with Iran, in an effort to boost manufacturing production. The state, however, continues to control all heavy industry, the oil sector, power production, and the infrastructure, while private investment is restricted to light industry. An important reason for the failure of the privatization program was the price controls that the government was forced to introduce following the outbreak of popular unrest over rising prices in 1989.

Overall, the sector has been characterized by mismanagement and constant policy shifts, which severely hindered its development. In the 1970s, the government encouraged the development of local food processing and building supplies industries to substitute for imports, but by the late 1970s, the government shifted its focus toward the development of heavy industries, such as iron and steel. The initiative, however, never took off. Efforts to expand the manufacturing sector came to a standstill during the Iran-Iraq war, as resources had to be reallocated to finance the war, and greater emphasis was placed on increasing the output of existing industries.

In the 1990s, the manufacturing sector has also been severely hurt by the UN sanctions and has shrunk considerably as a result. The UN closely monitors the import of industrial raw materials to ensure that implements necessary for the production of weapons of mass destruction do not enter the country. The sector has also been hurt by the lack of the foreign currency needed to purchase imported parts.


The construction sector has been a major contributor to the economy for most of the last 3 decades. The sector's growth can be attributed to the government's continuous involvement since the 1970s in reconstructing war-damaged facilities or in expanding the military infrastructure. Spending on construction dropped significantly in 1991, reaching ID578 million, down from ID1.7 billion in 1990. Spending on construction, however, has been on an upward trend since 1991, reaching some ID20 billion in 1994.



Financial services in Iraq are fairly outdated. As a result of the nationalization of banks and insurance companies in 1964, all financial transactions are controlled by the government through the Central Bank of Iraq, which is responsible for issuing and monitoring all aspects of the Iraqi dinar. Black market currency dealings are prohibited but continue to take place. International banking transactions are undertaken by the Rafidain Bank, which represents the government in all transactions not undertaken by the Central Bank. The Rasheed Bank, established in 1989, deals with domestic transactions. The banking sector was liberalized in 1991, paving the way for the establishment of 6 new banks.


Iraq has a poor retail sector. Baghdad's once well-developed commercial centers have been severely hurt by the UN sanctions, and the lack of imported goods has forced many of them to close in the last 10 years. The majority of shops in major cities, including Baghdad, consist of small family-owned and-run businesses. Small shops and temporary road stands also characterize the majority of towns in the interior of the country.


Iraq's imports have declined dramatically in the last decade, as a direct result of the UN sanctions. In 2001, Iraq's total imports were estimated at US$8.9 billion, almost 40 percent lower than their 1989 levels of US$22 billion. Iraq was not allowed to import any goods until 1997. After the conclusion of the food-for-oil agreement, Iraq's imports have been regulated by the UN, which approves all goods entering the country.

Exchange rates: Iraq
Iraqi dinars (ID) per US$1
2000 N/A
Dec 1999 1,910
Dec 1998 1,815
Dec 1997 1,530
Dec 1996 910
Dec 1995 3,000
Note: Rates are black market rates and are subject to wide fluctuations;Iraqi dinars have been officially fixed at 0.3109 since 1982.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

Iraq imports a variety of goods, but food imports (wheat, rice, barley, sugar and meat) and medicine are by far the largest component of the import bill. However, the Iraqi government and its agencies control the purchase and marketing of imported goods. Before the Gulf War, Iraq imported the majority of its goods from the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Brazil and Turkey. By the late 1990s, France (19.2 percent of total imports), Australia (18 percent), China (12.5 percent), Russia (8.2 percent), and the United States (2.1 percent) are the largest exporters of goods to Iraq.

The majority of exports are dominated by oil, which accounted for about 95 percent of total sales abroad before the Gulf War. Iraq in 2000 had restored three-quarters of its pre-war oil export levels, which means that oil sales in 2001 account for around 70 percent of total exports. Other non-oil exports included fertilizers and dates. Sales of liquefied natural gas are expected to surge, but the prospects for that eventuality are far from certain. In 1999, Iraq exported the majority of its oil to the United States (US$3,879 million), the Netherlands (US$848 million), Japan (US$644 million), France (US$521 million), and Spain (US$402 million). Given its weak industrial base and the unlikely removal of the UN sanctions, oil is expected to continue to be the country's major export. Total exports in 1999 reached US$12.7 billion, with the vast majority of export earnings coming from the sale of oil.


The value of the Iraqi dinar has declined steadily on the world market over a period of 20 years, making it increasingly harder for the average Iraqi to afford imported goods. The value of the dinar held steady until the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war, but that trend was reversed with the collapse of oil prices in mid-1980s. The dinar, which sold at ID0.3109=US$1 in 1982 (which is still the official rate set by the Iraqi government), was further weakened in the aftermath of the Gulf War, reaching a

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Iraq 2,000 2,000 2,400 2,700 2,500
United States 28,600 30,200 31,500 33,900 36,200
Saudi Arabia 10,600 10,300 9,000 9,000 10,500
Iran 5,200 5,500 5,000 5,300 6,300
Note: Data are estimates.
SOURCE: Handbook of the Nations, 17th,18th, 19th and 20th editions for 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 data; CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online] for 2000 data.

low of ID2,660:US$1 in December 1995. Despite occasional peaks, the value of the dinar against the U.S. dollar has held steady in the last 2 years at ID2,000:US$1 on the black market, the same rate sold by state banks since June 1999. However, the dinar's instability is likely to persist as a result of the uncertain political and the continuation of the UN sanctions.

Iraq has a single stock market, established in Baghdad in March 1992 in the wake of the privatization of state enterprises. Trading, however, remains thin due to the uncertain political conditions prevailing in the country.


The UN sanctions imposed on Iraq since 1990 have severely affected the social fabric and living conditions in the country. As a result of the severe deterioration of servicesincluding water and sanitation, health care, and educationthe living standards of all Iraqis have declined. Rising unemployment and inflation , which was estimated at around 250 percent in 1995 and 135 percent in 1999, coupled with the falling purchasing power of salaries and rising prices, have deepened social divisions and inequalities, with all sectors of the society growing more impoverished. Wealth as of 2001 is concentrated in the hands of a small privileged group of regime supporters, mainly from among the military and the business community who have been allowed to benefit from the sanctions. This group is heavily involved in black market currency dealing and the smuggling of food and merchandise on a regional scale.

The economic embargo has also had an uneven impact on different Iraqi regions. Ethnic, religious, and tribal rivalries have always been the dominant feature of Iraqi society. The Sunni-dominated central government in Baghdad has historically discriminated against the Shi'ites in the south and the Kurds in the north. Systematic efforts to "Arabize" the predominantly Kurdish region in the north resulted in a rebellion in the 1970s that brought the Kurds further retribution. Under the sanctions regime, living conditions in the northern provinces that are under Kurdish control have improved, partly because the UN, rather than the government of Iraq, is administering the oil-for-food program there, and partly as a result of the infusion of higher per capita international humanitarian assistance to this region between 1991-96. The future social and economic prospects of this region, however, remain uncertain, given that the status of the region is yet to be determined.

The predominantly Shi'ite south, which witnessed an uprising against the Sunni-controlled Baghdad government in the wake of the 1991 war, has been less fortunate. The military continued its water-diversion and other projects in the south designed to displace the Shi'ite community there, known as the "marsh Arabs." Since the 1980s, the government has drained most of the southern areas by either drying up or diverting the streams and rivers, effectively cutting off water supplies to the Shi'ite community inhabiting those areas for thousands of years.

The government also limited the delivery of food, medical supplies, drinking water, and transportation to the region. The regime has used food rations allowed under the oil-for-food program to reward regime supporters and silence opponents. As a result of this policy, the humanitarian conditions of Shi'ites in the south continued to deteriorate, despite a significant expansion of the oil-for-food program after 1997.


Iraq's labor force has increased steadily since the 1970s, reaching over 6 million workers in 1998. No official statistics are available for the unemployment rate in the country, but it is widely believed that the unemployment rate has increased dramatically as a result of the war and the subsequent sanctions. Iraq suffered labor shortages in the 1980s as result of the conscription of thousands of Iraqi men in the military. Declining economic conditions forced thousands of foreign workers who migrated to Iraq for work opportunities during the war to leave after the war ended. This problem was further aggravated by the exodus of thousands of Iraqi professionals at the outset of the Gulf War. The majority of the labor force (67 percent) is concentrated in the services sector, which is dominated by the military, in comparison to only 14 percent in the agricultural sector and 19 percent in the industrial sector.

Iraq's trade unions were legalized in 1936, and although more than a dozen are in existence today, the labor movement has been largely ineffective due to the domination of the government and Ba'ath Party. In 1987, the government established the Iraqi General Federation of Trade Unions (IGFTU) as the sole legal trade federation, which is used to promote the principles and policies of the Ba'ath party among union members. Iraqi employees work a 6-day, 48-hour week, but working hours in the public sector are set by the head of each ministry. Child labor is prohibited, although children under the age of 14 can work in the agricultural sector and are encouraged to help support their families.

Although labor laws protecting the right of workers have been in place since 1958 and subsequently amended in 1964, working conditions in Iraq are not ideal. Workers do not enjoy the right to strike, as mandated by the 1987 Labor Law; do not have the right to bargain collectively; and are often arbitrarily moved from their positions for political considerations. Salaries in the public sector are set by the government, but no information is available on minimum wages. Declining economic conditions in the 1990s have forced many government employees to take second and third jobs to support themselves.

Since the 1970s, the ruling Ba'ath party has encouraged the participation of women in the labor force and much effort was exerted to improve their level of education. The percentage of women in the labor force has, however, remained rather steady in the 2 decades between 1970 and 1990, hovering at around 16.8 percent. According to World Bank figures, Iraqi women's participation in the labor force has risen consistently since the 1990/91 Gulf War, jumping from 16.6 percent in 1991 to a high of 19 percent in 1998. This increase can be best explained in terms of the harsh economic conditions that Iraqis have had to endure as a result of the war, which have forced many women to seek employment opportunities outside their homes to earn a living.


1917. As the Ottoman Empire collapses, Iraq comes under the control of the British.

1921. The British declare Faisal king of Iraq.

1932. Modern Iraq gains independence. A new government headed by General Nouri al-Said is formed.

1933. Ghazi, the son of King Faisal, becomes king.

1941. The Ba'ath Party is founded by 2 Syrian students, espousing the goals of socialism, freedom, and unity.

1939. King Ghazi is killed in a car accident and is succeeded by his son Faisal II.

1958. Hashemite monarchy is overthrown by officers of the Nineteenth Brigade under the leadership of Brigadier Abdul-Karim Qassem and Colonel Abdul Salam Arif. Iraq is declared a republic.

1963. President Abdul-Karim Qassem is overthrown by Abdul Salam Arif and a coterie of military officers in a bloodless coup.

1970. The government signs a 15-article peace plan with the Kurds after years of rebellion and conflict.

1972. Iraq and the Soviet Union sign a treaty of friendship for political and economic cooperation. Iraqi Petroleum Company is nationalized and Iraq National Oil Company is established to exploit new oil concessions.

1979. President Bakr resigns, and Saddam Hussein officially replaces him as president of the republic, secretary general of the Ba'ath Party Regional Command, chairman of the RCC, and commander in chief of the armed forces.

1979. Shah of Iran is overthrown.

1980. Iran-Iraq War begins.

1988. Iran-Iraq War ends.

1988. Government launches privatization program to spur economy.

1990. Iraq invades Kuwait.

1991. Iraq is defeated by allied forces. United Nations sanctions are imposed.

1997. Iraq is permitted to export limited amounts of oil in return for food and medicine.


Iraq entered the 21st century under a cloud of great uncertainty. Despite the large sums of money that have entered the government's coffers from the sale of oil in the last 50 years, Saddam Hussein's legacy of war, first with Iran and then as a result of the invasion of Kuwait, has left the economy in ruins. The country's economic and social achievements during the 1970s and 1980s have been completely lost. Despite the food-for-oil program approved by the United Nations in 1997, the Iraqi economy will continue to suffer as a result of the sanctions.

Further, the prospects for the lifting of the United Nations sanctions remain uncertain, given that their termination has been made conditional upon the removal of President Saddam Hussein from power. Even after the sanctions are lifted, it is estimated that Iraq will have to pay US$12 billion in debt-servicing annually and to pay for food imports, medicine, and reconstruction. The problem will be further aggravated by the massive reparations payments that Iraq will be forced to pay. Unless forgiven, Iraq's debts will continue to greatly hinder its ability to undertake large-scale reconstruction and repair needed to restore the civilian infrastructure.

Internally, the social and ethnic divisions that have long characterized Iraq are stronger than ever. Despite being greatly weakened by the Gulf War and the sanctions, the repressive Saddam Hussein regime continues to rule the country unchallenged. The country itself has been divided into 3 zones, with the center and the south remaining under the control of the Iraqi government. Meanwhile, the north, where the Kurdish minority is concentrated, has been granted, at least temporarily, the right to administer its own affairs. For the last 10 years, the Kurds have enjoyed the protection of U.S. and British forces against potential military attacks by the Iraqi government. However, it remains uncertain whether such an arrangement can be sustained after the U.N. sanctions are lifted.


Iraq has no territories or colonies.


"Another Dry Year Means Bad Harvest For Iraq."

<,5508, 24836,00.html>. Accessed June 2001.

Arnove, Anthony, editor. Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War. Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press,2000.

Batatu, Hanna. The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq: A Study of Iraq's Old Landed and Commercial Classes and of Its Communists, Bathists, and Free Officers. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978.

Clawson, Patrick. How Has Saddam Hussein Survived?: Economic Sanctions, 1990-93. Washington, D.C.: Institute for National Strategic Studies, 1993.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile Iraq, 2000/2001. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2000.

Helms, Christine Moss. Iraq, Eastern Flank of the Arab World. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1984.

"Kurds Despair Under West's Leaky Umbrella." Guardian Unlimited. < 0,2763,440396,00.html>. Accessed June 2001.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2000. <http://>. Accessed July 2001.

Reem Nuseibeh




Iraqi dinar (ID). One Iraqi dinar equals 20 dirhams, or 1,000 fils. Coins of ID1, and 1, 5, 10, 25, 50, and 100 fils. Notes are in denominations of 5, 10, 50, and 100 dinars.


Crude oil.

CHIEF IMPORTS: Food, medicine, manufactures.


US$59.9 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).


Exports: US$12.7 billion (1999 est.). Imports: US$8.9 billion (1999 est.).

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Iraq
Region: Middle East
Population: 22,675,617
Language(s): Arabic, Kurdish, Assyrian, Armenian
Literacy Rate: 58%
Number of Primary Schools: 8,145
Compulsory Schooling: 6 years
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 2,903,923
  Secondary: 1,160,421
  Higher: 169,665
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 85%
  Secondary: 42%
Teachers: Primary: 145,455
  Secondary: 62,296
  Higher: 8,818
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 20:1
  Secondary: 20:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 78%
  Secondary: 32%

History & Background

Historical Evolution: The Republic of Iraq, aljumhuriyya al-'iraqiyya, is an Arab nation located in southwestern Asia, at the head of the Persian/Arabian Gulf. Iraq is bordered by its Arab neighbors Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria and by non-Arab Turkey and Iran. The capital of Iraq is Baghdad, also its largest city. The land area measures 438,446 kilometers (175,378 square miles). In July 2000 the population was estimated to be more than 22.6 million. About three-fourths of Iraq's people live in the fertile area that stretches from Baghdad, following the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The ancient Greeks named this area Mesopotamia, or "between rivers." For thousands of years, the agriculture of the area has depended on the flow of irrigation from these two sources.

The country is comprised of 18 administrative units, or governorates (muhaafatha, plural muhaafathaat ), further divided into districts and subdistricts. Iraq is a nation of varied ethnic groups and cultural heritages; Iraqis of Arab descent comprise 75.8 percent of the population, while Iraq's Kurdish peoples number 15 to 20 percent. Turkomans, Assyrians, and other groups compose the remaining 5 percent of the population. The three governorates of Arbil, Sulaymaniya, and Dohouk form the Kurdish Autonomous Region, an area of limited self-rule by Iraq's Kurdish minority. Kurdish is the official language of the Autonomous Region and is widely used as the language of educational instruction in the area. Nearly 97 percent of Iraq's people are Muslim, along with tiny groups of Christians, Jews, and Yezidis. The Muslim population is split into the Sunni (32 to 37 percent) and the Shi'a sects (60 to 65 percent). Approximately three-quarters of the population speak Arabic as their native language. Arabic is the official language of Iraq, with Kurdish, Assyrian, and Armenian spoken among their respective ethnic groups.

Iraq's natural resources give it the potential to be one of the wealthiest nations in the region and the world. A founding member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Iraq possesses more than 112 billion barrels of oilthe world's second largest proven reserves. Iraq also benefits from its geography, unique in the region; two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, converge in the heart of the nation, creating a fertile alluvial plain and generous tracts of cultivatable land.

The history of Iraq has been marked by cultural ascendance comparable only to the glory of the ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman civilizations. Mesopotamia sustained its place as an axis of learning for more than 4,000 years, attracting students, thinkers, and intellectuals from around the world. The world's first civilization developed in the area of Mesopotamia known as Sumer around 3500 B.C.E. Ancient Iraq was also the site of the Assyrian and Babylonian civilizations, extant in the period from 3500 B.C.E. to 53 B.C.E. The Code of Hammurabi, the first codified legal system, and cuneiform, the first system of writing, were both invented in what is now modern Iraq. The Arab conquest of 637 C.E. brought with it Arabic, the language of the Qur'an, and the Islamic faith. Mesopotamia was soon to be the hub of trade and culture in the Muslim world, becoming the seat of the Abbasid dynasty in 750 C.E. Saladin, or Salah Al-Din, a Kurdish warrior from Mesopotamia, defeated the Crusaders in Jerusalem in 1187. In 1258, Arab rule over the area was brought to an end by invading Mongol forces from central Asia. Mesopotamia lost its preeminence through Mongol neglect and fell into a deep decline. The Ottoman Empire's domination of the region began in the early 1500s and continued until Britain seized Mesopotamia from the Ottomans during World War I.

Modern Political Contexts: The League of Nations, the international organization that preceded the United Nations, granted Britain a mandate over the area in 1920; Britain promptly renamed the country Iraq and installed a puppet monarchy. France, Britain, and the United States competed for dominance of the Middle East beginning after World War I, when massive oil reserves were discovered there. In 1945, the U.S. State Department described the petroleum of the region as "one of the greatest material prizes in world history." Though Britain's mandate ended in 1932 making Iraq an independent nation, the British continued to exert influence on Iraqi affairs, including a stake in national oil profits and considerable sway over the monarchy they had installed. The year 1958 saw Iraq's first modern revolution: King Faisal I was overthrown by Iraqi army officers and a republic was declared. In 1963, military officers and members of the socialist, pan-Arab Baath Party (Arabic for "resurrection") assassinated the premier, General Abdelkarim Qassem. A second revolution followed in 1968. In 1973, the Iraqi government fully nationalized the nation's oil industry and huge profits were realized, especially in light of the oil explosion of the 1970s. Saddam Hussein rose to power as president in 1980 after years of behind the scenes influence within the ranks of the Baath. The Baath Party continues to dominate contemporary Iraqi politics and government.

The recent history of Iraq is fraught with almost unabated military conflict, at a great cost to the Iraqi government and people. In 1980, Iraq invaded neighboring Iran, and an eight-year long war caused egregious losses on both sides; a cease-fire was declared in 1988 and no clear winner emerged. Conflicts with its Kurdish minorities in the north and Shi'a groups in the south have lead the Iraqi government to take such steps as: the forced resettlement and dispersal of entire communities of Iraqis; the draining of marshland integral to the way of life of its occupants; and the use of armed forces to curb opposition.

In 1990, Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait after protracted disputes involving Iraqi debt to the Gulf state, border disputes, and accusations of illegal oil drilling. Allied forces from more than 30 nations ejected the Iraqi military from Kuwait, and Operation Desert Storm came to a halt in February 1991. In response to Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait, the United Nations, led by the United States, effected a complete trade embargo on Iraq that has crippled its economy. This embargo, a form of international sanctions, legally prevents Iraq from exporting oil or importing any products, save for a small amount intended for humanitarian supplies ("Oil for Food") and reparations to Kuwait.

The Impact of Sanctions: The sanctions have become the key factor preventing the Iraqi government from recovering from its costly conflicts, rebuilding its infrastructure, and providing for its population. The sanctions prevent Iraq from selling oil and, thus, sever the most significant part of the Iraqi economy. Since 1991, Iraq's economy has shrunk by two-thirds; inflation reached 135 percent in 1999. More than 150,000 Iraqi people died as a result of the Gulf War; more than 1 million more have perished as a result of the sanctions, which some have described as genocide. The mortality rate for young children has more than doubled since 1989. Iraq's health care, social infrastructure, employment, and its ability to extend educational opportunity to its citizens, a primary goal of the Iraqi government since the late 1960s, have all been paralyzed by the trade embargo. In 1989, Iraq had a nearly 100 percent primary school enrollment rate. Once on the threshold of the first world, Iraq's standard of living has been reduced to less than that of such developing nations as Bangladesh. Any consideration of the future of this nation must take into account the sanctions' devastating effect on the Iraqi people.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The educational system of Iraq is legally codified in the Provisional Constitution of 1970. In this code, following the precedent of the General Education Law of 1940, primary education is compulsory and universally guaranteed to the Iraqi people. In 1976, the Compulsory Education Law was promulgated, requiring children between the ages of 6 and 15 to attend primary school. Iraq is a signatory to the 1978 Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees in Higher Education in the Arab States.

The Iraqi government, embodied in the Revolutionary Command Council, has long made universal literacy and education a national priority; in the past free schooling was available from the primary to the graduate levels, as well as student nutrition, classroom materials, and the opportunity for graduate study abroad, all at government expense. The government highlights the eradication of illiteracy among Iraqi women as a main goal. Equal educational opportunities are offered to both genders, though some specifically target women, including literacy programs and home economics courses. The Iraqi government has passed detailed educational legislation in order to more closely hone in on areas of development and innovation. Such laws include the formation of parents and teachers' councils, schools for the gifted, teacher training centers, fine arts centers, guidelines for educational television, and the Boy Scout program.

The remarkable successes of the government in the past are due to its commitment to various national planning strategies, including long and short-range plans, and its deep investment in the modernization of Iraqi society. Iraq emphasizes innovation and technology, including computers and media, as cornerstones of its educational system. The government also seeks to consolidate the relationship between education, labor, and production. After the implementation of economic sanctions in 1990, the Iraqi government's ability to continue such ambitious programs has been severely constrained. Only one percent of the funds earned through the "Oil for Food" initiatives embodied in United Nations Resolutions 983 and 1153 (which allow Iraq to sell more than $5 billion semi-annually for food and medicine) is allotted for education.

Educational SystemOverview

In 1976, a number of Arab and international education organizations participated in the Baghdad Conference for the Eradication of Illiteracy. This meeting helped produce a comprehensive national campaign against illiteracy in the nation. Compulsory Education Law 92 was passed in the same year, requiring all children between the ages of 6 and 15 to attend school; the law also stipulates that the state must provide the facilities for such learning.

Students in Iraq begin the school year in September and end in June of the following year. School is in session six days a week and closes on Friday, the Muslim Sabbath. The Iraqi educational system is largely influenced by Western educational systems, including the granting of leaving certificates or their equivalent and the use of standardized, national testing.

Education in Iraq emphasizes Modern Standard Arabic, or fusha, which differs from spoken (Iraqi) Arabic. In the Kurdish Autonomous Region, Kurdish is the main language of instruction, with Arabic and English also used. English and French are the main foreign languages studied in Iraq. Some faculties in colleges and universities, like medicine and engineering, employ English as the language of instruction. Various English language courses are offered throughout Iraq. The most popular destinations for Iraqi graduate students studying abroad in the past have been the United States and the United Kingdom.

School and general examinations are employed to assess the degree to which educational goals are being met among students. The Ministry of Education periodically assesses these methods through a special technical subcommittee, which is also tasked with the development of examinations. Passing the annual promotion exam is required in order to be promoted to the next grade level. The minimum passing grade is 50 percent on a 100 percent scale. Baccalaureate tests (national, standardized examinations) are administered in the sixth, ninth, and twelfth grades. The grading system used in secondary and higher education institutions is based on the 100 percent scale. In secondary schools, the minimum passing grade is 50 percent, while in higher education, it ranges from 50 to 59 percent.

A supreme committee of the Ministry of Education administers an educational guidance program. Provincial committees are also a part of training guidance counselors. The program's aims are to overcome instructional and psychological problems that children face in school, to help them make educational progress, and to develop methods of social interaction.

The government has highlighted religious education in recent years through a campaign to teach students about the Qur'an, the sacred text of Islam. The principles of the National Faith Campaign for the Teaching and Understanding of the Holy Qur'an are derived from the doctrines of the Qur'an itself, as well as the Sunnah (the sayings and actions of the Prophet Mohammad, as recorded by his disciples). The campaign's special curriculum starts from the first grade and ends in (preparatory) grade six.

Preprimary & Primary Education

For children aged four to five, preschools (nurseries) provide preliminary and kindergarten levels of education. Nursery and kindergarten levels teach children aged four to six years. Enrollment in nurseries and kindergartens is voluntary. Primary schools enroll students beginning at age 6 and ending at age 11; students graduate with a Primary Baccalaureate or Certificate of Primary Studies. The number of pupils in nurseries for the academic year 1997-1998 totaled 70,585, with 50.8 percent males and 49.2 percent females. The enrollment rate was 6.8 percent for this age group. The Basrah governorate has the highest enrollment, with 10.4 percent, while the Baghdad governorate had the lowest, with 1.4 percent. In 1991-1992, the enrollment rate for this age group was higher at 8.2 percent. In 1997 some 566,337 new students enrolled in grade one; they ranged in age from 5 to 10 years. Male enrollment in this group was 53.3 percent, while female enrollment totaled 46.7 percent. In 1997, approximately 12.5 percent of students in grade one had attended early childhood development programs. In 1997, a total of 3,029,386 Iraqi children were enrolled in primary school, with 55.4 percent male students and 44.6 percent females. In the same year, primary school teachers with teaching certifications numbered 111,956; they represented 78.9 percent of all primary teachers in the country. Primary school teachers with university degrees numbered 29,981, or 21.1 percent of all primary teachers. The pupil-teacher ratio is 21:1 nationwide, excluding the Kurdish areas.

Repeaters & Dropouts: Repetition continues to be a major issue in Iraq. On the primary level, the repetition rate was 14.5 percent nationwide in 1997-1998 (excluding the Kurdish Autonomous Region). The repetition rates for primary school for the same year were: grade one, 13.2 percent; grade two, 13.2 percent; grade three, 12.0 percent; grade four, 13.7 percent; grade five, 22.7 percent; and grade six, 7.2 percent.

The highest repetition rate was in grade five, with 26.3 percent of all male students and 19 percent of all female students repeating the grade. In 1997-1998, the mean rate of repetition for grades one to five equaled 17.0 percent, down from 20.1 percent in 1991-1992. The government aims to reduce the repetition rate to 4 percent by academic year 2005-2006. The rate of pupils who passed the promotion examination for grade four in 1997-1998 was 70.7 percent.

Dropout or wastage rates are computed for both students and teachers. A total of 259,125 students dropped out of primary school in 1998-1999. Many professionals have left Iraq to escape the depressed economy and shattered national infrastructure brought about by the sanctions, while many students have dropped out of school to work or due to a lack of motivation. There is a high incidence of malnutrition, anemia, and fatigue and diarrhea among students; an absence of adequate heating and cooling in school buildings aggravates such health concerns. The numbers of pupil and student dropouts in 1997-1998 were as follows: primary, 72,598; intermediate, 33,390; preparatory, 3,645; vocational, 1,919; and teacher training, 509. The overall number of dropouts was 112,061.

A total of 26,394 teachers and school staff quit by 1997-1998. The Ministry of Education reported a shortage of 624 teachers for the kindergarten level in 1998-1999, with a projected shortfall of 963 by 2005-2006. By the same academic year, the total primary teacher shortage is expected to reach 12,037 teaching professionals.

The learning plan for the elementary stage in Iraq includes the following subjects for all grades one through six: Islamic education, Arabic language and calligraphy, mathematics, science, technical education, physical education, and singing and music. English is studied in grades five and six along with history, geography, and family education. Civics is studied in grades four through six while social education is studied in grades one through four. In grades one through three, students take a total of 32 classes, while those in grades four through six take 34 classes.

In addition, the Christian religion is taught for two periods in schools where the majority of the student population is Christian. Agricultural education in rural schools is taught for two periods in grades four, five, and six. Workshops that train students in manual, technical, and athletic skills are arranged beyond regular school hours as extracurricular activities. In 1998, the number of school libraries totaled 6,594.

Special education is provided to below average students by way of special classes annexed to various elementary schools in the governorates. In 2000, the number of classes ranging from grades one to four was reported to be 383, with 3,360 pupils and 463 teachers.

The trade sanctions have had a deeply deleterious effect on all phases of education in Iraq. Approximately 40 percent of Iraq's schools, some 4,157 structures, were destroyed in the aftermath of the Gulf War; total damage to the educational infrastructure is estimated at 214,626,319 Iraqi dinars. The embargo prevents the purchase of materials to repair these buildings, though United Nations/UNESCO efforts have mended and updated some structures and provided some students with books and chalk. In 1998, some 3,981 school buildings still needed repair. In 1979-1980, the number of primary school buildings was 9,4609,053 were government buildings and 407 were rented. In 1997-1998, there were 7,419 government buildings (153 were rented). The supply of textbooks is extremely limited; the Ministry of Education has implemented a plan where students use 50 percent new texts and 50 percent used texts, while utilizing a textbook exchange program between schools.

Communicable diseases and malnutrition are rampant, preventing many children from being able to attend school. In 1995, only 41.5 percent of those enrolled in primary schools reached the fifth grade. Many students must drop out and take up jobs in order to support their families, or they simply lack the drive to continue their studies.

Secondary Education

Secondary education is divided into two three-year cycles. The intermediate cycle follows a common curriculum and culminates in the Third Form Baccalaureate or Certificate of Intermediate Studies; this level enrolls students from the ages of 12 through 14. The preparatory cycle follows the intermediate cycle. In the general academic schools, the preparatory cycle requires students to choose a specialization; one of two tracks is chosen after the fourth year in secondary school. Students choose scientific or literary studies, both leading to the adadiyah, or Sixth Form Baccalaureate. Vocational secondary education is divided into agricultural, industrial, veterinary, or commercial studies. Courses lead to a Vocational Baccalaureate. After the intermediate cycle, a student may also enroll in a teacher-training institute for a degree in primary education; the period of study is two years.

The learning plan for the intermediate phase includes the following subjects for all grades one through three: Islamic education, Arabic language, English language, history, geography, civics, mathematics, technical education, and athletics/military education. In grades two and three, chemistry, physics, and biology are also studied. General science is studied in grade one, while health, algebra, and geometry are studied in grade three. In grades one through three, female students take a class called "Family Education for Girls." In this phase, all students in grades one through three take a total of 34 classes. During evening school, athletics and military training are eliminated. Vocational training is provided in some secondary schools, as an experimental plan, for two periods per week.

Higher Education

Higher education is provided by public and private universities, private colleges, and the 28 institutes operating under the auspices of the Commission of the Technical Institutes. Universities are legal entities in their own right and are controlled by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research; an internal administrative council also administers each university. Apart from the private colleges, institutions are financed by the state.

A four-year undergraduate phase follows secondary school, after which is added a tertiary phase for those wishing to pursue the Master's or doctoral degree. Most Bachelor's degrees are conferred after four years of study, while in architecture, dentistry, and pharmacy, the Bachelor's is earned after five years. In medicine, the duration of study is six years. The Master's degree requires one year of matriculation and one year of research. The Doctorate is conferred after a further three years' study beyond the Master's degree, with one year of coursework and two years of thesis preparation. Higher Diplomas are mainly conferred in medical fields and admission is based on a Bachelor's degree in the same field. A minimum 65 percent grade average is required. Some specialized institutes offer a two-year, Postgraduate Higher Diploma.

Major universities in Iraq include the University of Baghdad, the University of Mosul, the University of Basrah, the University of Mustansiriyah and Salahaddin University, all of which grant the Bachelor's, Master's and Ph.D. degrees. Salahaddin University, formerly the University of Sulaymaniyya (founded in 1968) was established in the academic year 1982-1983. It is the largest of the three universities in the Kurdish Autonomous Area, situated in the provincial capital town of Arbil.

In view of the economic sanctions and the concomitant state of financial resources in Iraq, a doctoral degree may now require eight years of study, rather than the usual three beyond the Master's degree. Iraq's professors and intellectuals have complained of being isolated from the international academic community since the embargo took effect in 1990; they are not invited to participate in international conferences, and their requests for research materials are denied. Academic materials as well as computers and other technology are banned under the trade embargo. Humanitarian supplies are slow to arrive and insufficient to meet the needs of the country.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Kindergarten, primary, and secondary education are funded and supervised by wizaarat al-tarbiya, the Ministry of Education. The Ministry also administers vocational (industrial, agricultural, and commercial) and teacher's training programs. The Minister of Education leads the Ministry. According to Governmental Decree number 34 (1998), the Ministry of Education is composed of the following: the Minister's office; the offices of the under-secretaries; the legislative division; and 18 general directorates. Each is tasked with various subsets of the educational system, including planning, elementary education, educational technologies, computers, administration, financial affairs, and the production of educational materials. Committees under the direction of the Ministry of Education are responsible for functions such as general examinations, the development of educational media, program development, and the supreme board for scouts and girl guides. On the level of the muhaafatha (governorate), 11 general directorates across the country are responsible for the execution and monitoring of educational plans and the construction and maintenance of schools.

University and postsecondary education are supervised and funded by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, including graduate study abroad. The National Foundation of Technical Institutes directs vocational training centers for the education of skilled laborers. Similar vocational instruction projects are administered by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs; the Ministry of Industry and Military Industrialization; the Ministry of Health; the Ministry of Transport and Communications; and the Ministry of Petroleum.

Iraq is home to a variety of international and pan-Arab educational organizations, including UNESCO's Regional Office for Education in Arab countries. It also hosted the Arabic Research and Studies Institute from the period of 1980-1990.

In 1996, Iraq's primary education expenditures totaled 7 billion Iraqi dinars. The total educational budget for that year equaled 16 billion dinars. Public expenditure on primary education is expected to reach 18 billion dinars in the year 2000, while total projected allotments on all levels of public education are predicted to reach 27 billion dinars for the same year. In 1995-1996, educational allotments were distributed as follows: kindergarten, 2.8 percent; primary education, 64.0 percent; secondary education, 27.9 percent; and vocational training, 5.3 percent.

Educational supervision is achieved through training of teachers and administrators, class visits, educational conferences, and instructional seminars. The Ministry of Education has allotted a segment of supervisors specifically for kindergartens and the elementary stage.

Due to financial and infrastructure difficulties brought on by the trade embargo, Iraqi parents were asked to provide school books and equipment for their children in school beginning in 1999. In September 2000, the Iraqi government suspended free education. The education ministry set a scale of fees ranging from 2,000 dinars for primary school to 25,000 dinars for university matriculation. These rates cover one academic year. Attendance by both teachers and students has dropped off considerably as people struggle to work various jobs to survive. Teachers earn an average of 3,500 dinars a month, worth approximately US$1.70.

Nonformal Education

In striving to achieve its intended goals of eradicating illiteracy and reaching out to urban and rural women, the Iraqi government has embraced a variety of methods. Programs specifically geared to women include labor education, health education, and agricultural training. In 1994, a program jointly administered by UNICEF and the educational ministry was implemented to educate 7,000 girls in reading, writing, arithmetic, sewing, and health issues. This program especially targets girls who have dropped out of formal schooling and exceeded its aim with an enrollment of 7,768 in the year of its inception. During the summer of 1995, a seasonal program enrolled 4,245 students in the first session and 3,077 in the second.

The educational ministry has also expanded vocational training through private institutes, allowing Iraqi students such options as printing, tailoring, and hairstyling; the Ministry of Education supervises these training programs. It has provided additional programs for slower learners, adult education classes, and even summer activities for students. In addition, professional syndicates participate in the process of nonformal education.

Distance Education: The Ministry of Education's General Directorate produces various materials for use inside and outside the classroom, including cassette tapes, colorful visual aids, and flashcards for language learning. Cassettes are also used to teach mathematics and reading at all levels. These materials are distributed to Literacy Centers, spread throughout the country, for use in Arabic and English language projects. The government makes use of these materials in nonformal settings, such as distributing these materials to drivers in Baghdad and to rural women in the countryside, with the aim of reaching a broad spectrum of Iraqi society. Cassettes and teaching materials are specifically aimed at the lowest classes, those that experience the highest level of dropout, or wastage. They are designed to provide workers, women, peasants, and military personnel with additional educational opportunity, specifically via exercises and lessons that can be done after the workday has finished. These methods foster teamwork among adult students, who are encouraged to review their work with others, especially their children and families. For this reason, the cassette and visual aid system has been most effective with regard to Iraqi women.

The education ministry sponsors a variety of educational television programs across a range of instructional levels. In 1977, a children's show called Simsim (sesame) was introduced in order to provide children too young to attend school a means of preparation for formal education, much like the American show Sesame Street. It presents reading, mathematics, and cultural material in an entertaining and lighthearted manner for a preschool audience. In 1997, Iraq devoted renewed energy to this method of teaching and exposure. Mathematics, reading, and culture are taught through programs that are broadcast twice a week to ensure the widest possible audience.

Teaching Profession

Training: The traditional teachers training program in Iraq has depended on independent training institutes in which future teachers enroll after the completion of the intermediate phase. Primary school teachers enroll in a five-year course after secondary intermediate school. Courses lead to a diploma. There also exist two-year training institutes to which students are admitted after completing the secondary phase. Most of these institutes have been converted into four-year teachers' colleges at the university level. The Colleges of Education functioning within the Universities of Baghdad, Mosul, Basrah, Al-Mustansiriyah, and Salahaddin train secondary school teachers. They offer a four-year Bachelor of Arts degree program.

In 1992-1993, many central teachers training centers were converted into teachers colleges. Institutes that specialized in Islamic education, a significant part of modern Iraqi educational philosophy, were opened.

The following describes the training activities of teachers, supervisors, educational specialists, and educational administration employees, in the context of primary and secondary education, during the period 1994-1995. In 1994, 43 courses in nurseries were taught to 195 trainees; in 1995 it was 37 courses to 1,023 trainees. In 1994, there were 904 primary education courses taught to 30,719 trainees, and in 1995 there were 1,017 courses taught to 35,470 trainees. In 1994, 504 secondary education courses were taught to 13,702 trainees; in 1995, 625 courses were taught to 19,013 trainees. In 1994, 11 vocational education courses were taught to 238 trainees; in 1995, nine courses were taught to 151 trainees. In the areas of education and specialization, 10 courses were taught to 208 trainees in 1994, while 11 courses were taught to 242 trainees in 1995.

Teaching skills and pedagogical innovation are reinforced and developed throughout teachers' careers. The Ministry of Education prepares teachers' guidebooks in order to help them develop their teaching styles. Among the activities recommended for teachers are: encouraging students to utilize problem solving methods; teaching of undertaking simplified research and reports; working on individual and collective projects; and using discussions and the exchange of opinions as teaching tools.


Since the mid-to late 1970s, Iraq has made major strides in providing universal, free, or low-cost education to its population. In recent times, the Iraqi people have been among the best educated in the Middle East, with ample opportunities for remedial education, study abroad, and graduate study. The Ministry of Education and other government organizations, as well as private institutions and organizations, have developed a comprehensive system for the planning, implementation, and review of the Iraqi educational infrastructure. Special, ongoing attention has been devoted to the eradication of illiteracy and the education of women. People's schools continue to grant primary school certificates to adults, while women have been the greatest beneficiaries of rural literacy training and outreach programs. The modernization of the nation had, until, the early 1990s, largely dependedand succeededon the strengthening and energizing of the educational system.

Since the outbreak of the Gulf War, Iraq's placement under international sanctions has drastically limited its ability to continue its ambitious educational and social programs. At the level of higher education, professors and academics complain of an "international boycott" that prevents them from accessing the latest materials and research sources. Government funds are unavailable for the construction of schools, hiring of faculty, purchase of textbooks and materials, and the continuation of the school nutrition program. Iraq has seen exponential rises in student absences and dropout rates, as well as teachers quitting to find other work. While the health and social infrastructures continue to deteriorate, costing thousands of lives on a monthly basis, education is often seen as the last target for humanitarian efforts. The future of Iraqi education and the nation itself appears to hinge largely on the elimination of the sanctions and the reconstruction of the country's infrastructure. Until then, any study of the country must reflect Iraq's potential as an educational superpower and the limits under which it must survive as a result of the international sanctions.


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Ali, Dr. Said Ismail, ed. Illiteracy in the Arab Nations: The Prevailing Situation and Future Obstacles. (In Arabic) Amman, Jordan: UNESCO, 1991.

Arnove, Anthony, ed. Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War. Cambridge: South End Press, 2000.

Aziz, Barbara Nimri. "Scientists Outside History." Natural History (September 1996): 14-17.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Fact-book 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, 1 January 2000. Available from

Clark, Victor. Compulsory Education in Iraq. Paris: UNESCO, 1951.

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UNESCO. The EFA (Education for All) 2000 Assessment. Country Reports: Iraq EFA Forum Secretariat, UNESCO. December 1999. Available from:

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Nader K. Uthman

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Iraq or Irak (both: ēräk´, Ĭrăk´), officially Republic of Iraq, republic (2005 est. pop. 26,075,000), 167,924 sq mi (434,924 sq km), SW Asia. Iraq is bordered on the south by Kuwait, the Persian Gulf, and Saudi Arabia; on the west by Jordan and Syria; on the north by Turkey; and on the east by Iran. Iraq formerly shared a neutral zone with Saudi Arabia that is now divided between the two countries. Baghdad is the capital and largest city.

Land and People

Iraq's only outlet to the sea is a short stretch of coast on the northwestern end of the Persian Gulf, including the Shatt al Arab waterway. Basra and Umm Qasr are the main ports. Iraq is approximately coextensive with ancient Mesopotamia. The southwest, part of the Syrian Desert, supports a small population of nomadic shepherds. In the rest of the country, life centers on the great southeast-flowing rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, which come together in the Shatt al Arab at the head of the Persian Gulf. The marshy delta was largely drained in the early 1990s as part of a government program to control the Marsh Arabs, who had participated in the Shiite uprising against Saddam Hussein; the drying out of the marshes led to a dramatic increase in duststorms and sandstorms. Marsh restoration efforts began in 2003, and by 2006 roughly half the area had been restored. Between the two rivers are numerous wadis and water basins.

Very little rainfall occurs in Iraq except in the northeast, and agriculture mainly depends upon river water. The sandy soil and steady heat of the southeast enable a large date crop and much cotton to be produced. The rivers cause destructive floods, though they occur less often as a result of flood-control projects undertaken since the 1950s. Farther upstream, as the elevation increases, rainfall becomes sufficient to grow diversified crops, including grains and vegetables. In the mountainous north the economy shifts from agriculture to oil production, notably in the great fields near Mosul and Kirkuk.

Nearly 80% of the population of Iraq is Arabic-speaking, while over 95% is Muslim (Sunni and Shiite) in religion. There are about twice as many Shiites as Sunnis, the latter sect being more numerous throughout the majority of Arab countries. The hilly uplands of NE Iraq are primarily inhabited by Kurds, who are largely Sunni Muslims; other large minorities include Turkomans (Turks), Armenians, and Assyrians (Nestorian Christians). Most of the country's once large Jewish population emigrated to Israel in the early 1950s. As a result of the insurgent and sectarian fighting that occurred following the U.S. occupation of Iraq in 2003, an estimated 1.6 to 2 million Iraqis had left Iraq by the end of 2006, mainly to neighboring Jordan or Syria; a similar number had relocated within Iraq. Among those who have left are an estimated two thirds of Iraq's Christians.


The oil industry dominates Iraq's economy, accounting for nearly 95% of the country's revenues. Oil is produced mainly by the Iraq Petroleum Company, which was owned by an international group of investors until it was nationalized in 1972. The oil is piped to Turkey, Tripoli (Lebanon), Baniyas (Syria), and the Persian Gulf. Oil exports, which had suffered during the Iran-Iraq War, improved during the late 1980s, only to be severely decreased by embargoes related to the Persian Gulf War. In 1996, a UN agreement allowed Iraq to export oil for the first time since 1990; by 2002, oil production was about 70% of what it was in the 1970s. Following the U.S. invasion in 2003, oil production gradually returned to what it had been in 2002 and began to exceed that in 2012.

Aside from petroleum production and refining, Iraq has a small, diversified industrial sector, including food processing and the production of chemicals, textiles, leather goods, construction materials, and metals. New industries have been started in electronics products, fertilizers, and refined sugar. Agricultural production, which employs about a third of the workforce, is not sufficient to meet the country's food requirements. Iraq's chief crops include wheat, barley, rice, vegetables, dates (Iraq is one of the world's largest producers), and cotton. Cattle and sheep are also raised. Oil is the main export and food, medicine, and manufactures the main imports. The United States, Turkey, and Syria are the chief trading partners.

Iraq has been highly dependent on foreign economic aid in recent years, from both Western and Arab countries. The country also has a severe labor shortage. The Baghdad Railway, long an important means of communication, is declining in importance in favor of travel by road and air. There are international airports at Baghdad and Basra, and a state-owned airline operates within Iraq and abroad.


Iraq is a parliamentary democracy governed under a constitution that was ratified in 2005. The president, who is head of state, is elected by the Council of Representatives. The government is headed by the prime minister. The bicameral legislature consists of the 275-seat Council of Representatives, whose members are elected by proportional representation, and a Federation Council, whose membership had not been defined as of late 2007. Administratively, the country is divided into 18 governorates.


Early History through British Influence

Iraq is a veritable treasure house of antiquities, and recent archaeological excavations have greatly expanded the knowledge of ancient history. Prior to the Arab conquest in the 7th cent. AD, Iraq had been the site of a number of flourishing civilizations, including the Sumer, which developed one of the earliest known writing systems, Akkad, Babylonia, and Assyria. The capital of the Abbasid caliphate was established at Baghdad in the 8th cent. and the city became a famous center for learning and the arts.

Despite fierce resistance, Mesopotamia fell to the Ottoman Turks in the 16th cent. and passed under direct Ottoman administration in the 19th cent. (see Ottoman Empire, when it came to constitute the three Turkish provinces of Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul. At this time the area became of great interest to the European powers, especially the Germans, who wanted to extend the Berlin-Baghdad railroad all the way to the port of Kuwait.

In World War I the British invaded Iraq in their war against the Ottoman Empire; Britain declared then that it intended to return to Iraq some control of its own affairs. Nationalist elements, impatient over delay in gaining independence, revolted in 1920 but were suppressed by the British. Late that year the Treaty of Sèvres established Iraq as a mandate of the League of Nations under British administration, and in 1921 the country was made a kingdom headed by Faisal I. With strong reluctance an elected Iraqi assembly agreed in 1924 to a treaty with Great Britain providing for the maintenance of British military bases and for a British right of veto over legislation. By 1926 an Iraqi parliament and administration were governing the country. The treaty of 1930 provided for a 25-year alliance with Britain. The British mandate was terminated in 1932, and Iraq was admitted to the League of Nations.

In 1933 the small Christian Assyrian community revolted, culminating in a governmental military crackdown and loss of life and setting a precedent for internal minority uprisings in Iraq. Meanwhile, the first oil concession had been granted in 1925, and in 1934 the export of oil began. Domestic politics were turbulent, with many factions contending for power. Late in 1936, the country experienced the first of seven military coups that were to take place in the next five years.

In Apr., 1941, Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, leader of an anti-British and pro-Axis military group, seized power and ousted Emir Abd al-Ilah, the pro-British regent for the child king, Faisal II (who had succeeded his father, Ghazi, ruler from Faisal I's death in 1933 to his own death in 1939). The British reinforced their garrisons by landing troops at Basra, and in May, al-Gaylani, with some German and Italian support, opened hostilities. He was utterly defeated by June, and Emir Abd al-Ilah was recalled. On Jan. 16, 1943, Iraq declared war on the Axis countries. Anti-British sentiment was reasserted after the war, and in 1948 a British-sponsored modification of the treaty of 1930 was defeated by the Iraqi parliament because of animosity arising over the Palestine problem.

Iraq at Mid-Century

Iraq, with other members of the Arab League, participated in 1948 in the unsuccessful war against Israel. Premier Nuri al-Said dissolved all political parties in 1954, and a new parliament was elected. A national development program, financed mostly by oil royalties, was undertaken; the United States extended technical aid, and after 1956, military assistance. In external affairs, Iraq continued adamant opposition to Israel and pledged loyalty to the Arab League. The USSR's support of Kurdish nationalism caused a break in relations in 1955. Later that year Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, and Britain formed the Baghdad Pact. In Feb., 1958, following announcement of the merger of Syria and Egypt into the United Arab Republic, Iraq and Jordan announced the federation of their countries into the Arab Union.

In a swift coup on July 14, 1958, the army led by Gen. Abd al-Karim Kassem seized control of Baghdad and proclaimed a republic, with Islam declared the national religion. King Faisal, Crown Prince Abd al-Ilah, and Nuri al-Said were killed, and the Arab Union was dissolved. Iraq's activity in the Baghdad Pact ceased, and the country formally withdrew in 1959. Diplomatic relations were restored with the USSR, but Iraq pursued a policy of nonalignment in the cold war. Relations with neighbors became antagonistic when Iraq claimed sovereignty over Kuwait and over Iranian territory along the Shatt al Arab. In 1962 the chronic Kurdish problem flared up when tribes led by Mustafa al-Barzani revolted, demanded an autonomous Kurdistan, and gained control of much of N Iraq; fighting continued throughout the 1960s and 70s.

Coups and Conflicts

In Feb., 1963, Col. Abd al-Salam Aref led a coup that overthrew the Kassem regime. The new regime was dominated by members of the Iraqi Ba'ath party, a socialist group whose overall goal was Arab unity. In Nov., 1963, however, the party's members in the governing council were expelled by an army coup engineered by President Aref. In 1966, the president and two cabinet members died in a helicopter crash. Aref's brother, Gen. Abd al-Rahman Aref, assumed office; he was overthrown by a bloodless coup in 1968. Maj. Gen. Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr of the Ba'ath party became president and began a purge of opponents. Espionage trials in 1969 led to the execution of more than 50 persons.

Relations with Syria soured in 1970 when a younger generation of Ba'ath party members took control there, creating a rivalry between Syrian and Iraqi Ba'athists. Relations with the USSR improved, however, and in 1972 a 15-year friendship treaty was signed. The Communist party in Iraq was also legalized. In 1973, another coup was foiled; the internal security chief was blamed, and he and 35 others were executed. Iraq took an active part in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War; it also participated in the oil boycott against nations supporting Israel. In early 1974, years of border conflicts with Iran culminated in heavy armed clashes along the entire length of their border. A year later some agreement between Iraq and Iran over the Shatt al Arab waterway was reached. At this time, Iraq's acquired wealth from its oil revenues enabled the establishment of modernization programs and improved public services throughout the country.

In 1975 the Kurds once again fought for their independence in N Iraq, but they suffered heavily when Iran withdrew support. Fighting led to the Iraqi bombing of Kurdish villages in parts of Iran, which again exacerbated tensions between the two countries. Opposition within Iraq grew among the Shiites, who were the majority of the population yet were excluded from political power. As the Islamic Revolution in neighboring Iran grew in the late 1970s, Iraqi leaders recognized its threat.

The Presidency of Saddam Hussein

In 1979, President Bakr resigned, and Saddam Hussein Takriti assumed control of the government. He immediately purged the Ba'ath party after an unsuccessful coup, killing leftist members. War between Iran and Iraq, primarily over the Shatt al Arab waterway, erupted full-scale in 1980 (see Iran-Iraq War). The eight-year war became a series of mutual attacks and stalemates, as both countries' oil production fell drastically, the death toll rose, and great mutual destruction was inflicted. Poison gas was used by Iraq against Iran, and by Iraq on Kurdish villages as the Kurdish rebellion continued. Eventually, a cease-fire under the auspices of the United Nations led to the war's end in 1988. Iran and Iraq restored diplomatic relations in 1990.

Throughout 1989 and into 1990, Hussein's repressive policies and continued arms buildup caused international criticism, particularly in the United States, which had favored Iraq during the war with Iran. Hostility against Israel increased, particularly after Israel's bombing of the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981. Hussein accused neighboring Kuwait in July, 1990, with flooding world oil markets, causing oil prices to decrease and threatening Iraq's attempts to boost its war-torn economy. On Aug. 2, 1990, some 120,000 Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait, and Hussein declared its annexation (see Persian Gulf War). Foreigners in Iraq and Kuwait were held hostage but released after a few months.

The United Nations established international trade sanctions against Iraq, but Hussein did not withdraw his troops. U.S.-led coalition forces began air attacks on Iraq on Jan. 16, 1991, which led to a ground invasion to retake Kuwait. During this time, Iraq launched Scud missiles against both Israel and Saudi Arabia. Iraqi forces quickly succumbed to coalition troops and were forced out of Kuwait. While suffering heavy casualties, Iraq retained its elite Republican Guard, and Hussein remained in power. UN inspections imposed as part of the conditions for ending the war found evidence of chemical warheads and of a program to produce materials for nuclear weapons; Iraq destroyed some chemical weapons under UN supervision.

The war left huge amounts of wreckage in the country's major cities and ports and created hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees, who fled to Turkey, Iran, and Jordan. Iraq's major problems were feeding its population and rebuilding its war-torn country. These problems were aggravated by crippling trade sanctions. The Kurds again rose in revolt despite heavy-handed Iraqi military attacks, and in S Iraq, Shiites also lashed out against the government. In 1992 the Kurds established an "autonomous region" in N Iraq. Two rival factions, the Kurdistan Democratic party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, engaged in sporadic warfare during the 1990s; in 1999 the two groups agreed to end hostilities.

Confrontations with the United Nations and former coalition members, especially the United States, continued to flare. In 1993, after Hussein had repeatedly violated terms of the Persian Gulf War cease-fire, bombers from the United States and other coalition members twice struck Iraqi targets. In Oct., 1994, Iraq massed troops on the Kuwaiti border; the United States and other coalition members increased their forces in the area, and Iraq withdrew the troops.

In May, 1996, Iraq reached an accord with the United Nations allowing it to sell $1 billion worth of oil every 90 days, with the money set aside for food and medicine, compensation to Kuwaitis, and other purposes. The program was subsequently renewed (it ended only in Nov., 2003), and many restrictions on civilian trade were removed, but it also became a means (through the use of illicit surcharges) for funneling money to Hussein's government.

In Oct., 1997, the UN disarmament commission concluded that Iraq was continuing to hide information on biological arms and was withholding data on chemical weapons and missiles. U.S. weapons inspectors were expelled from Iraq in Nov., 1997, and a U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf ensued. As Iraq ceased cooperating with UN inspectors, the United States and Britain began a series of air raids against Iraqi military targets and oil refineries in Dec., 1998; raids against military targets continued until the 2003 war. In Jan., 1999, the United States admitted that American spies had worked undercover on the inspection teams while in Iraq, gathering intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs.

A new UN arms inspection plan that could have led to a suspension of the sanctions in place since the end of the war was devised by the Security Council in Dec., 1999, but Iraq rejected that plan and subsequent attempts to restore inspections. Efforts in 2001 to ease the sanctions on civilian trade further (in exchange for tighter controls on oil smuggling and a ban on weapons purchases) proved unsuccessful when Russia, which had close ties with Iraq, objected. Iraq continued to insist on an end to all sanctions, but in May, 2002, the UN Security Council agreed on revised sanctions that focused on military goods and goods with potential military applications, greatly expanding the range of consumer goods that could be readily imported into Iraq.

Suggestions by U.S. government officials that the "war on terrorism" might be expanded to include operations against Iraq as well as in Afghanistan were publicly rejected by Arab League nations in Mar., 2002, but increasing threats of a U.S. invasion to end what Americans asserted was Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction led Iraq to announce in September that UN inspectors could return. Iraqi slowness to agree on the terms under which inspections could take place and U.S. insistence on new, stricter conditions for Iraqi compliance stalled the inspectors' return.

In October, President Hussein won a referendum on a seven-year extension of his presidency, receiving 100% of the vote according to Iraqi officials. The same month the U.S. Congress approved the use of force against Iraq, and in November the Security Council passed a resolution offering Iraq a "final opportunity" to cooperate on arms inspections. A strict timetable was established for the return of the inspectors and resumption of inspections, and active Iraqi compliance was insisted on. The Iraqi parliament rejected the terms of the resolution, but inspectors were permitted to return, and inspections resumed in late November.

An official Iraqi declaration (December) that it had no weapons of mass destruction was generally regarded as incomplete and uninformative. By Jan., 2003, UN inspectors had found no evidence of forbidden weapons programs, but they also indicated that Iraq was not actively cooperating with their efforts to determine if previously known or suspected weapons had been destroyed and weapons programs had been ended. Meanwhile, the United States and Britain continued preparations for possible military action against Iraq.

Iraq after Saddam Hussein's Ouster

Continued U.S.-British insistence on complete Iraqi cooperation with the UN inspections, and continued Iraqi resistance to doing so, led the United States and Britain to demand (Mar., 2003) that Hussein step down or face an invasion. On Mar. 19, 2003, the Anglo-American attack began with an air strike aimed at Hussein personally. Sizable ground forces began invading the following day, surging primarily toward Baghdad, the southern oil fields, and port facilities; a northern front was opened by Kurdish and Anglo-American forces late in March. After less than a month of fighting, Hussein's rule had collapsed, and U.S. and British forces were established in major urban areas.

Hussein survived the war and went into hiding, and guerrilla attacks by what were believed to be Ba'ath loyalists and Islamic militants became an ongoing problem in the following months, largely in Sunni-dominated central Iraq. The Kurdish-dominated north and Shiite-dominated south were generally calmer. L. Paul Bremer 3d was appointed as civilian head of the occupation. UN economic sanctions were lifted in May, 2003 (U.S. sanctions were not ended, however, until July, 2004), and in mid-July an interim Governing Council consisting of representatives of Iraqi opposition groups was established. Nonetheless, civil order and the economy were restored at a slow pace. The cost for rebuilding Iraq was estimated by Bremer in late 2003 to be as much as $100 billion over three years.

In Oct., 2003, the UN Security Council passed a British-American resolution calling for a timetable for self-rule in Iraq to be established by mid-December. Events, however, led the United States to speed up the process, and in November the Governing Council endorsed a U.S.-proposed plan that called for self-rule in mid-2004 under a transitional assembly, which would be elected by a system of caucuses. However, many Shiites objected to this because it would not involve elections; they feared a diminished voice in the government and greater U.S. influence if caucuses were used to choose the assembly. Hussein was finally captured by U.S. forces in Dec., 2003.

In Jan., 2004, U.S. arms inspectors reported that they had found no evidence of Iraqi chemical or biological weapons stockpiles prior to the U.S. invasion; the asserted existence of such stockpiles had been a main justification for the invasion. Subsequently, a Senate investigation criticized the CIA for providing faulty information and assessments concerning Iraq's weapons. In addition, U.S. inspectors concluded in Oct., 2004, that although Hussein never abandoned his goal of acquiring nuclear weapons, Iraq had halted its nuclear program after the first Persian Gulf War. U.S. quietly abandoned their search for weapons of mass destruction by the end of 2004.

An interim constitution was signed by the Governing Council in Mar., 2004, but many Shiites, including nearly all those on the council, objected to clauses that would restrict the power of the president and enable the Kurds potentially to veto a new constitution. At the end of March, Sunni insurgents in Falluja attacked a convoy of U.S. civilian security forces, killing four and desecrating the corpses, which prompted a U.S. crackdown on the town, a center of Sunni insurgency. The fighting there in April resulted in the most significant casualties since since the end of the invasion; the conflict ended with the insurgents largely in place. At about the same time, U.S. moves against the organization of a radical Shiite cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, led him to call for an uprising. There was unrest in a number of cities in S central and S Iraq, but by mid-April al-Sadr's forces were in control only in the area around An Najaf, a city holy to Shiites, and a cease-fire took effect in June.

Revelations in May of U.S. abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in late 2003 and early 2004 sparked widespread dismay and outrage in Iraq, the United States, and the world. The treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was termed "tantamount to torture" in some cases by the International Committee of the Red Cross in a report leaked in 2004, and in 2005 Amnesty International accused the U.S.-led forces of using torture in Iraq.

The president of the Governing Council was assassinated in May, 2004. In June, the United Nations endorsed the reestablishment of Iraqi sovereignty, and at the end of the month, Iyad Allawi, a Shiite, became prime minister and Sheik Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar, a Sunni, president as the interim constitution took effect. Saddam Hussein and 11 other former high-ranking Iraqi officials were formally turned over to the new government and were arraigned. Two trials, involving atrocities against Shiites and Kurds, were brought against Hussein and others in 2005 and 2006, and in Nov., 2006, he was convicted in the first trial and sentenced to death.

Meanwhile, large-scale fighting with al-Sadr's militia occurred again in Aug., 2004, centered on An Najaf and, to a lesser degree, Sadr City, a Shiite section of Baghdad, but the militia subsequently abandoned An Najaf and fighting ceased. By October al-Sadr had shifted to converting his movement into a political force. Also in August, a 100-member National Council, responsible for overseeing the interim government and preparing for elections in 2005, was established. In central Iraq, where a number of Sunni urban areas had been all but ceded to insurgents, U.S. forces began operations to establish control in the fall of 2004. Although U.S. forces regained control of Falluja in November, the insurgents subsequently shifted their attacks elsewhere, including Mosul, which had been relatively peaceful. Shiite targets were also increasingly subject to attack. Estimates of the insurgents' numbers, including foreign guerrillas, ranged from 8,000 to 12,000; by the end of 2004 the most violent anti-U.S., anti–interim government fighters were Sunni forces, which were increasingly dominated by Islamic militants. The ongoing violence in Iraq continued to hamper reconstruction in the following, as a lack of security hindered rebuilding and security needs diverted money away from rebuilding; corruption was also a problem.

In the Jan., 2005, elections for the transitional National Assembly, which would write a new constitution, the United Iraqi Alliance, a Shiite coalition supported by Ayatollah Sistani, won nearly half the vote. The main Kurdish alliance took more than a quarter. Sunni participation in the vote was, in most areas, very low as a result of boycott and intimidation, leading some Sunni clerics to denounce the balloting as illegitimate. The main Shiite and Kurdish coalitions agreed to form an alliance, but it was not until early April that the choices for the top national leadership posts were finalized. A Sunni, Hajim al-Hassani, became speaker of the National Assembly; a Kurd, Jalal Talabani, became president; and a Shi'a, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, was chosen as prime minister.

Hopes for the constitutional process strengthened in July when Sunni membership on the parliamentary committee drafting it was greatly expanded, but the draft that was adopted had only limited Sunni support. Many Sunnis particularly objected to provisions that would permit autonomous regions in the Kurdish north and Shiite south, which could limit national access to future oil revenues from those areas, and that would ban the Ba'ath party and could affect its former members. A referendum in Oct., 2005, however, approved the document. A simple majority was required for approval, unless three provinces rejected it by a two-thirds vote. The constitution was strongly endorsed by Shiites and Kurds and as strongly rejected by Sunnis, who voted in larger numbers this time. Three provinces voted against the constitution, but in one of the provinces the no vote was less than two thirds. Although there were concerns about possible irregularities in the vote after preliminary counts were completed, a partial audit of the vote uncovered no evidence of fraud.

Despite these mixed political successes, the insurgency remained largely undiminished, as foreign Islamic militants continued to infiltrate into Iraq. Ongoing U.S. attempts to eliminate insurgent strongholds were frustrated by the ability to the insurgents to regroup elsewhere and a lack of sufficient U.S. forces to maintain control throughout Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq. Prior to the referendum on the constitution coalition forces mounted several offensives against insurgents in Sunni-dominated W and NW Iraq in an attempt to diminish terror attacks prior to the vote.

In the Dec., 2005, elections for the National Assembly the Sunni turnout was again higher, but when initial results showed that the Shiite religious parties were unexpectedly successful in the Baghdad area, the Sunni alliance and the secular party alliance accused the Shiites and electoral authorities of fraud. Final results, released in Jan., 2006, gave a near majority of the seats to the Shiite religious parties, with the Kurdistan alliance and the Sunni alliance placing second and third. International monitors said there had been some irregularities and fraud, but they did not call into question the final overall result.

The formation of a government, however, became protracted, when Sunnis and Kurds objected to the Shiite religious parties' selection of Jaafari as prime minister. Finally, in Apr., 2006, Jaafari stepped aside, and Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a long-time aide of Jaafari's, was chosen for the post. Meanwhile, the devastating Feb., 2006, terror bombing of a Shiite holy site in Samarra provoked a spasm of sectarian attacks, largely by Shiites against Sunnis, throughout Iraq. Maliki undertook a number of measures intended to reassert government control and pacify some urban areas, and moved to foster an end to the Sunni insurgency and sectarian violence generally by releasing prisoners, offering a limited amnesty, seeking to disarm militias, and other measures. The killing, in June, of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of Al Qaeda–aligned foreign insurgents, was a notable success for U.S. forces, but did little to diminish the violence in Iraq. Some 1.2 million Iraqis were estimated to have fled the country by mid-2006, seeking refuge in Jordan, Syria, and other nations.

By late 2006, with roughly 3,000 Iraqis dying every month, worry over mounting sectarian violence and fear of civil war began to outweigh concerns over insurgents; Sunni-Shiite revenge attacks and clashes had become increasingly common in ethnically mixed Baghdad and urban areas N of Baghdad, while in Shiite-dominated S Iraq rival Shiite militias fought each other for control in some cities. There was increasing doubt on the part of the United States over the ability of Maliki's government to deal with the rising sectarian violence, and a strain in the relations between the governments of the two nations was evident publicly. In Oct., 2006, the parliament passed legislation establishing a process by which provinces could join together, beginning in 2008, to form autonomous regions; the law was opposed by the Sunni parties and Shiite parties based predominantly in central Iraq.

In Dec., 2006, the U.S. Iraq Study Group, established by the Congress to review the war, called the situation in Iraq grave and deteriorating, and recommended, among its many suggestions, seeking the aid of Syria and Iran in resolving the conflict and shifting the burden of the fighting to Iraqi government forces. The success of the plan, however, depending on the willingness of the Iraqi government to work toward national reconciliation, despite the fact that its Shiite leaders seemed increasingly focused on consolidating Shiite rule. At the end of Dec., 2006, Saddam Hussein was hanged for crimes against humanity; the undignified circumstances surrounding his execution provoked outrage from many Sunnis in Iraq and dismay from the U.S. and other nations. Two of his close aides were hanged on the same charges in Jan., 2007.

Also in January, U.S. President Bush announced that he would send an additional 20,000 troops to Iraq, beginning that month, with the primary goals of bring security to Baghdad and establishing control in Anbar prov. (a major Sunni insurgent base in W Iraq). The operation in Baghdad in particular was to be conducted in conjunction with Iraqi government forces and was aimed at controlling sectarian forces and their attacks. The "surge," which reached its plateau in June and also focused on Baquba and Diyala prov., appeared to have suppressed Sunni and Shiite death squads, but suicide bombings continued, aimed mainly at Shiite populations. Demonstrations in April by al-Sadr's supporters called for U.S. forces to leave Iraq, and his party subsequently withdrew from the cabinet. Other parties, however, generally rejected setting a timetable for U.S. withdrawal.

In Aug., 2007, there was an outbreak of fighting between Shiite militias that was generally blamed on Moktada al-Sadr's Madhi Army; it was especially deadly in Karbala. Sadr's party withdrew from the governing coalition in September. Despite these events and other continuing violence, the overall level of violence decreased significantly in much of Iraq as the second half of 2007 progressed. The political and economic measures, however, that were intended to accompany the surge were largely unaccomplished at year's end.

Also in the second half of 2007, Turkey became increasingly confrontational in its calls for an end to the presence of Turkish Kurdish (PKK) rebel bases in N Iraq. The PKK forces, whose presence was, at a minimum, tolerated by Iraqi Kurds, had mounted increasing attacks in Turkey. Both the Iraqi and U.S. governments pressured Iraqi Kurds to close the bases; Turkey mounted raids and shelled N Iraq beginning in October, and mounted a more significant ground incursion in Feb., 2008.

In Mar., 2008, Maliki attempted to establish central government control over Basra by using Iraqi troops to disarm militias there. Sadr's militia resisted, and fighting erupted in Basra and spread to Sadr City in Baghdad and other cities in Iraq. Several hundred died in the strife before Sadr declared a cease-fire after mediation by Iran; the resolution of the conflict offered new evidence of Iran's influence among Shiites in Iraq. Control over Basra was established in April with U.S. and British help, and that month Iraqi and U.S. troops mounted a new effort to establish government control over Sadr City that ended successfully in May after a cease-fire agreement was reached.

The U.S. troop surge officially ended in July, although an increased number of support troops remained in Iraq. Violence had decreased, and the Iraqi army was proving increasingly effective and confident. In addition, the cease-fire by Sadr's militia (extended indefinitely in Aug., 2008) and increasing Sunni rejection of Al Qaeda contributed to improved security in many parts of Iraq. Also by July, U.S.-led coalition forces had turned over control of more than half Iraq's 18 provinces to the Iraqi government; additional provinces came under Iraqi control in the following months, and by the end of 2008 more than two thirds were under government control.

July was marked as well, however, by dissension over a new provincial election law because it treated the ethnic groups in Kirkuk's province equally for the purposes of interim governing. The Kurds objected that the law diminished their influence in the province compared to their numbers there, and President Talabani (a Kurd) and one of the country's two vice presidents vetoed the law. Not until September was an election law passed. The difficulties over the law were part of the increasing tensions between Kurds and the central government over the status of Kirkuk, control of the income from oil in the Kurdish region, and other issues.

An agreement concerning the terms under which U.S. forces would remain in Iraq after the end of 2008 was rejected by the Iraqi cabinet in Oct., 2008, but the cabinet approved the agreement with modifications the following month. In Dec., 2008, that agreement and one concerning allied troops in Iraq were finalized; under the agreements U.S. forces would be withdrawn by the end of 2011 and other foreign forces by mid-2009. (In Feb., 2009, U.S. President Obama said that most U.S. forces would be withdrawn from Iraq by Aug., 2010.) The agreements were seen as strengthening Prime Minister Maliki and further undermining Moktada al-Sadr, and in the Jan., 2009, provincial elections, Maliki's coalition emerged as the strongest political grouping.

Iraqi forces assumed responsibility for security in urban areas in June, 2009; the process had begun in Jan., 2009. The government in August postponed for a year the census planned for Oct., 2009, out of fear that it would inflame ethnic tensions. A parliamentary election law was finally approved in Dec., 2009, after much difficulty, including a veto by the Sunni vice president in order to secure greater representation for (the largely Sunni) Iraqi refugees.

The elections themselves, originally slated for Jan., 2010, were rescheduled for March; Allawi's secular coalition narrowly placed first, followed by Maliki's nominally secular nationalist coalition and Jaafari's Shiite coalition (with Sadr's party forming the principal component of the last); Maliki's grouping subsequently alleged that there had been significant irregularities. A large number of candidates were disqualified because of alleged links to the Ba'ath party, but in at least some instances those links were old and tenuous. Sunnis, who voted in much greater numbers than in 2005, largely supported Allawi's grouping; no coalition secured enough seats to rule alone. The Maliki and Jaafari groupings subsequently formed a coalition but remained short of an absolute majority. A new government was slow to be formed. In November, Talabani was reelected president, and not until Dec., 2010, was a broadly based government with Maliki as prime minister approved in parliament. In Aug., 2010, U.S. combat operations officially ended. Some 50,000 U.S. troops remained, but all U.S. forces were withdrawn by the end of 2011. In early 2011 Iraq, like other Arab nations, experienced large antigovernment demonstrations, as Iraqis in a number of cities protested against corruption and a lack of jobs.

In Dec., 2011, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni, was accused by Maliki's government with having overseen a death squad involving his bodyguards that had targeted (2005–11) Shiite officials. Hashemi denied the charges and fled to the Kurdish north, where officials resisted turning him over to the central government. The allegations contributed to increased tensions between Maliki's government and the Sunni and Kurdish minorities. A judicial panel investigation reaffirmed the charges in Feb., 2012; Hashemi said the charges were politically motivated and that his bodyguards had been tortured. Hashemi left Iraq in April, and subsequently was charged with murder. Divisions within the governing coalition and unhappiness with Maliki's dominance of the government led in June to an unsuccessful attempt to oust Maliki, but his opponents narrowly failed to secure a confidence vote. In September and October, Hashemi was convicted in absentia and sentenced to death on the death-squad and other charges. The end of the year saw increasing tensions between Maliki's government and both Sunnis, who accused Maliki of a political crackdown after raids and arrests involving the finance minister's staff, and Kurds.

Beginning in Dec., 2012, Sunnis mounted protests against perceived mistreatment; in a number of instances protesters were killed by government troops. As tensions escalated in 2013, aggravated in part by Shiite support for Syria's government and Sunni support for Syria's rebels, the number of deadly ethnic attacks and clashes increased; the year proved to be the most deadly in five years. Maliki's coalition won the largest number of seats in the April provincial elections but failed to win a majority in any province. In June, a law was passed transferring a number of powers from the central government to the provinces. The law and another allowing many former members of the Ba'ath party to serve in the government were enacted in response to Sunni protest demands, but Sunnis remain largely alienated by Maliki's government.

Clashes over the army's removal of a Sunni protest camp in Ramadi in late December led to the occupation of Ramadi, Falluja, and other towns in Anbar prov. by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Sunni Islamist militants who were an outgrowth of Al Qaeda–aligned forces in Iraq; they subsequently fought in the Syrian civil war, where their reputation for brutality and their differences with Al Qaeda's leadership led to a break with Al Qaeda. Control of the region continued to be contested into 2014 as government forces moved slowly against the militants, but in June ISIL forces made rapid advances in other Sunni-dominated areas, taking Mosul, Tikrit, and other cities and contesting other locations.

In July ISIL renamed itself the Islamic State (IS) and declared the establishment of a caliphate in areas it controlled in Syria and Iraq. The collapse of many army units, weakened by incompetent commanders appointed by the government, forced the government to turn to Shiite militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards for forces. Kurdish forces took control of Kirkuk and some areas neighboring Kurdistan when the army fled the region. The brutality of the Sunni militants, who often massacred opponents and civilians they regarded as infidels, led Shiites and non-Islamic minorities as well as Kurds to flee from areas the IS controlled and increased the sectarian and ethnic divisions in Iraq. Beginning in August, the United States and other nations militarily supported forces fighting against the IS, mainly through air strikes, and gains by the IS subsequently slowed or were reversed.

The Apr., 2014, parliamentary elections resulted in a plurality for Maliki's coalition, but it fell far short of a majority. In June, the Sunni militant successes increased Sunni and Kurdish demands for the replacement of Maliki by a new prime minister. Maliki, however, resisted stepping aside and agreement on an alternative was not reached in the early sessions of the new parliament, so he remained in office as caretaker prime minister. A new president, moderate Kurdish politician Fouad Massoum, was elected in July, 2014. Massoum subsequently named Haider al-Abadi, a Dawa party member, as prime minister, and a new government was formed in September. In December, the government and the Kurdish region reached an agreement on sharing the revenues from oil in areas controlled by the Kurds; the government also agreed to allow Kurdish forces to be resupplied with weapons. By Apr., 2015, government forces, supported by Shiite militias with Iranian advisers and combat forces and by air strikes by and aid from the United States, Iran, NATO, and others had made some significant gains in some areas against the IS, but Shiite militias were accused of carrying out retribution against Sunnis in areas where the IS was forced out. In May, however, IS forces captured Ramadi.


See G. Roux, Ancient Iraq (1965, repr. 1976); E. Ghareeb, The Kurdish Question in Iraq (1981); T. Y. Ismael, Iraq and Iran (1982); P. Marr, The Modern History of Iraq (1985); T. Naff, Gulf Security and the Iran-Iraq War (1985); R. S. Simon, Iraq between the Two World Wars (1986); A. H. Cordesman, The Iran-Iraq War and Western Security (1987); S. al Khalil, Republic of Fear (1989); C. Gripp, A History of Iraq (2002); T. Dodge, Inventing Iraq (2003); H. J. Nissen and P. Heine, From Mesopotamia to Iraq (2009); M. Kukis, Voices from Iraq: A People's History, 2003–2009 (2011); D. R. Khoury, Iraq in Wartime (2013).

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Major country of the Middle East.

Iraq, with its current political boundaries, is a new country. It is a product of the twentieth century, formed in the aftermath of World War I. The term Iraq was adopted by the government in 1921. Historians disagree about the origin of the word. The most common interpretation is that it is derived from al-Raq al-Arabi, a term used in the Middle Ages to designate the southern delta region of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers from the al-Raq al-Ajami, the Persian Mountains. Before Iraq was established as a state, the Europeans referred to the area as Mesopotamia, a name that was given to the area by the
ancient Greeks which means the land between two rivers. It corresponds roughly to the Ottomans' provinces of Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul.

Geography and Population

Iraq covers about 169,000 square miles and is surrounded by six countriesKuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, and Syria. It is essentially a landlocked country. The country's access to the high seas is through two major ports, Umm Qasr on the Persian Gulf and Basra, which is located at the Shatt al-Arab, the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Geographically, the country is divided into four areas: the Syrian Desert in the west and southwest; the river valleys of the central and southeast areas, which contain the most fertile agricultural soil; the upland between the Upper Tigris and Euphrates Rivers; and the mountains of the north and northeast. The climate is subtropical, with long dry summers and a wide difference in temperatures between summer and winter. Rain falls mostly between the months of October and April, but not heavily.

Iraq's population of about 24 million is a mixture of ethnic and religious communities. About 95 percent is Muslim, of which 60 percent are Shiʿite. Four percent are Christians of various denominations. There are a few other small religious communities of Yazidis, Sabeans, and Jews. About 80 percent of the population is Arab. They live in an area that stretches from Basra to Mosul including the western part of the country. The Kurds represent 18 percent of the population, and they live mainly in the mountains of the northern and eastern areas of the country. The majority of the Kurds are Sunni; a small minority are Kurdish Shiʿa called Fiyliaya. The Kurds of Iraq speak two different dialects of the Kurdish languageSorani and Karmanji. Other small ethnic communities include the Turkomen, Assyrians, Yazidis, and Armenians. Arabic is the official language of Iraq; Kurdish is used in the Kurdish area in addition to Arabic.

Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, is the largest city in the country, with a population of five million. Basra, the second largest city, has a population of more than a million and half, and is the gateway to the Persian Gulf. Mosul, in the north, is the third largest city, and has a population of more than a million. Kirkuk City, also in the north, has more than half a million people. It is situated among major oil reserves. In addition to these cities, Iraq is the site of several Shiʿite holy cities, including alNajaf, where Imam Ali is buried, and Karbala, where Imam Husayn is buried. Both cities are located on the Euphrates River southwest of Baghdad.

Oil was discovered in large quantities in 1927 near Kirkuk City. The Iraqi Petroleum Company (IPC), a consortium of the British Petroleum Company, Shell, Mobil, Standard Oil of New Jersey (Exxon), and the French Petroleum Company, was formed to manage oil production. IPC and its subsidiaries obtained concessions from the Iraqi government and had total control over oil production. The concessions covered practically the entire land area of Iraq, and they lasted for many decades. For all intents and purposes, Iraq played no role in oil development from the time it was first discovered until the 1950s. Oil production was very limited before 1950, but it began to rise in the 1950s when the Iraqi government slowly but steadily gained control over it. The production increased significantly after Iraq nationalized its oil industry in 1972. Oil production reached its peak in 1979, reaching 3.5 million barrels a day, twice the amount produced in 1971, a year before the nationalization. Since then, the production has decreased as a result of the Iran-Iraq War (19801988), the Gulf Crisis and War of 1991, and the invasion of Iraq by U.S. forces in March 2003. Iraq has a proven oil reserve of more than 112 billion barrels, second only to the reserve in Saudi Arabia. Since the 1950s, oil has been the mainstay of the Iraqi economy and the major source of funds for social and economic development.

Pre-Twentieth-Century History

Although Iraq is a new country, it has an extraordinarily rich and complex history. Historians and
archaeologists consider Iraq to be the cradle of civilization. It is associated with many ancient civilizations such as the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Babylonians, the Chaldeans, and the Assyrians. It is the land of the biblical Garden of Eden and of the Hanging Garden of Babylon, the site of the first farming settlements and urban settlements and of the invention of writing and the wheel, and the home of Hammurabi (18001760 b.c.e.), the great lawgiver (author of the Code of Hammurabi).

In 637 c.e. Islam poured into Iraq. In 750 c .e. the Abbasids triumphed and the center of the Islamic empire shifted from Damascus to Iraq. In 762 c.e. the second caliph Abu Jaʿfar al-Mansur (754775 c.e.) founded the new city of Baghdad as the
new capital of the empire. During the reign of Harun al-Rashid (786810 c.e.) and his son Maʾmun (813833 c. e.), the Abbasid Empire reached its peak in material splendor and intellectual advances. Baghdad enjoyed grand glory and prosperity as the center of Islamic culture. The city became an international trade center for textiles, leather, paper, and other goods from areas ranging from the Baltic to China. Baghdad also became a magnet for scientific and intellectual achievements. The famous Bayt alHikma Academy was established in 830 c.e. by the great patron of scholarship, Caliph al-Maʾmun. The academy included several schools, astrological observatories, libraries, and facilities for the translation of scientific and philosophical works from Greek, Aramaic, and Persian into Arabic.

The empire began to disintegrate gradually, and in 1256 Baghdad and the Abbasid caliphs were destroyed by the Mongols. The Ottoman sultan, Süleiman the Magnificent, incorporated Iraq into his empire in 1534. Thereafter, except for a period of Persian control in the seventeenth century, Iraq remained under Ottoman rule until the Ottoman Empire came to an end at the end of World War I.

Administratively, during the Ottoman rule, Iraq was divided into three provinces: Mosul, where most of the Kurds lived; Baghdad; and Basra, where most of the Arabs lived. During that period, Iraq was totally neglected and the economy was in a state of dis-array and confusion. In the second half of the nineteenth century a few Turkish governors, such as the reform-minded Midhat Paşa, introduced a few modern improvements such as the establishment of modern secular schools, reorganization of the army, creation of codes of criminal and commercial law, improvement of provincial administration, and a new system of transportation.

The British occupied Iraq during World War I. After the war, the Treaty of Sèvres placed Iraq under a British mandate. In 1921 the British established a constitutional monarchy headed by Faisal I ibn Hussein, a member of the Hashimite House (House of Hashim) of Arabia and one of the leaders of the anti-Turk Arab Revolt of 1916.

Early Nationhood

On 13 October 1932 Iraq became independent and joined the League of Nations. Between 1932 and 1941 Iraq's political situation was unstable, marked by tribal and ethnic revolts, military coups, and countercoups. In 1941 a nationalistic government assumed power, angering the British and prompting them to reoccupy Iraq and to install a pro-British government.

Between 1941 and 1958 Iraq was basically ruled by two British-oriented rulers: Nuri al-Saʿid, who assumed the office of prime minister several times; and Abd al-Ilah, the regent. From 1932 to 1958, Britain exercised significant influence over the ruling elite. During this time, modern secular education was expanded and became accessible to the general public in a limited way. Economic development was slow but gained some steam in the early 1950s when oil revenue increased. Political life was
marred by corruption and manipulation of the election process and domination by a few personalities.

After World War II, Iraq, like many other developing nations, experienced a rise in anti-imperial sentiment that demanded the reduction of British domination and the introduction of social and economic reform. These trends culminated in the nationalistic military coup of 14 July 1958. The coup was executed by the Free Officers, led by General Abd al-Karim al-Qasim, who stayed in power until February 1963. During the coup the king, the regent, and Nuri al-Saʿid were killed. This coup brought significant changes in Iraq's domestic and foreign policies. The Hashimite monarchy was replaced with a republican regime, and Iraq withdrew from the Baghdad Pact and began a foreign policy of nonalliance. The new regime initiated land reform and expanded education on all levels. It also challenged the existing profit-sharing arrangement with oil companies, and in December 1961 it enacted Public Law No. 80, which resulted in the expropriation of 99.5 percent of the IPC group's concession area that was not in production. This was also a period of political turmoil: There was an attempted coup in Mosul in 1959 and an attempted assassination of Qasim, and the Kurds launched armed rebellion against the government.

The Rise of Saddam Hussein

In February 1963 the Baʿth Party, along with nationalistic officers, seized power in a bloody coup. Nine months later, the Baʿth Party was kicked out of power by a coup led by Abd al-Salam Arif, one of the original Free Officers of the 1958 coup. On 17 July 1968 the Baʿth Party came back to power through a bloodless coup. This marked the ascendance to power of Saddam Hussein, which lasted until the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. From 1968 to 2003 Hussein dominated the political scene, even when he was vice president from 1968 to 1979. He was the undisputed leader, ruling Iraq with an "iron fist" and discouraging opposition through elimination, imprisonment, and the use of multiple security forces. For all practical purposes, all political activities outside of the Baʿth Party were outlawed.

In the 1970s Iraq nationalized its oil industry. As the price of crude oil went up, the government invested a lot of money in improving the infrastructure of the country, its education system, and social services. The Kurdish revolt reached its peak in the mid-1970s due to the support it had received from Iran, Israel, and the United States. These countries viewed Iraq as a threat. During this period, Iraq advocated Arab nationalism, adopted anti-imperialism policies, and allied itself more with Soviet Union. Also, Iraq adopted a policy against the so-called reactionary regimes of the Gulf who were allies of the United States. Therefore, Iran, Israel, and the United States were interested in destabilizing the regime through the Kurdish revolt.The attempt to quell the Kurdish rebellion in the north was unsuccessful, and in 1975 Saddam signed a treaty with the shah of Iran in which Iraq agreed to share the Shatt al-Arab with Iran in return for the ending of Iran's support of the Kurds. Within a few weeks of concluding the agreement, the Kurdish revolt was quashed, and for more than a decade, the Kurdish region was relatively quiet.

On 16 July 1979 Saddam formally assumed the presidency of Iraq. He began his presidency by eliminating a number of high-ranking members of the Baʿth Party, accusing them of plotting against him. Soon his relationship with Iran began to deteriorate in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution (1979). A border skirmish between the two countries was used by Saddam to justify the invasion of Iran on 22 September 1980. Saddam erred in his assumption that the war was going to be quick; it lasted for eight years. Iraq was left with hundreds of thousands dead and wounded and a seriously damaged economy. Iranian bombardments of oil facilities in Iraq's south significantly impaired the oil industry, which was the mainstay of the Iraqi economy. The government shifted spending from projects of modern development to spending on the military to meet the requirements of the war. The Kurds resumed their revolt against the Iraqi government with the support of the Iranian government. By the time the Iran-Iraq War ended in July 1988, Iraq was $80 billion in debt to several countries, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, France, the Soviet Union, and Japan.

Between 1988 and 1990, Saddam's government struggled to put the country back in order. After the war, Saddam turned against the Kurds. His forces savaged their villages for siding with Iran during the war, forcing many of the Kurds to leave the mountains for detention centers in other parts of the country. The drop in oil prices on the international front led to serious tensions between Iraq and Kuwait. Saddam accused both Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates of conducting an economic war against Iraq by intentionally flooding the oil market by exceeding their export quotas within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). According to Saddam, the high output of these two countries kept prices low, leading to a big reduction in Iraqi oil revenue that was sorely needed to rebuild the country.

The Kuwaiti government stubbornly refused to yield, and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq gave mixed messageson the one hand declaring that any dispute between Arab countries was not a U.S. matter, and on the other joining Britain in encouraging Kuwait not to accommodate Iraq. Saddam's invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990 ultimately led to the first Gulf War, which was executed by the United States and its coalition on 17 January 1991. The war's code name was Operation Desert Storm, and it lasted for forty-three days. The United States and its allies flew more than 110,000 sorties that dropped a total of 99,000 to 140,000 tons of explosives on Iraqi targetsthe firepower equivalent of five to seven of the nuclear bombs that were dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima during World War II. The war destroyed the infrastructure of Iraq, knocking out electricity grids, roads, bridges, communication systems, sewage and water purification systems, factories, and telephone systems. A United Nations (UN) report written shortly after the war stated that the destruction caused by the war returned Iraq to a preindustrial state.

In the aftermath, both the Kurdish ethnic community in the north and the Shiʿite Muslim community in the south revolted against Saddam's regime. The Kurds hoped to establish an independent state in the north, and the Shiʿa hoped to topple Saddam's regime and replace it with a more sympathetic government. Despite Saddam's recent defeat in the war, he was able to muster enough power to crush both rebellions. He dealt with the rebels harshly, killing thousands of people and wounding many more. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds fled Iraq to the neighboring countries of Turkey and Iran. This massive flight prompted the United States, along with Britain and France, to impose a no-fly zone for Iraqi aircraft in the north. Also, the United States, Britain, and France established a Kurdish Autonomous Zone in Iraq, which Iraqi forces were not allowed to enter, and where Kurds ruled themselves. This new arrangement allowed hundreds of thousand of refugees to return to their homes and villages. The Kurdish zone, for all practical purposes, was independent. It had its own currency, taxes, and educational system. In this area, Kurdish was the primary language and Arabic was waning as the official language.

On 6 August 1990, four days after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 661, imposing on Iraq the most repressive sanctions and embargo in the history of the organization. When the Gulf War ended, the United Nations Security Council passed several new resolutions concerning Iraq. Resolution 687, passed on 3 April 1991, continued the sanctions and the embargo on Iraq until it dismantled its weapons program, including all long- and medium-range missiles, and all chemical, biological, and nuclear facilities. The dismantling was to have been implemented by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which had been inspecting Iraq for any possible military use of its nuclear facilities since the 1970s, and the newly established UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) under the chairmanship of Rolf Ekeus, a Swedish diplomat. Resolution 713 established a permanent UN monitoring system for all missile test sites and nuclear installations in the Iraq. Resolution 986, passed in 1992, allowed Iraq to sell $1.6 billion worth of oil every six months, subject to renewal, for the purchase of food and medicine. About one third of the money raised through the sale of oil was designated for war reparations for Kuwait and payments to the UN for its operations in Iraq. Iraq agreed in principle to the first two resolutions, but it rejected the third one on the grounds that it did not allow Iraq to control the funds realized from the sale. But by 1996 the life of the Iraqi people was approaching destitution, and the government was forced to accept the terms of Resolution 986. In 1998 the sale limit was raised to $5.52 billion worth of oil every six months, and in 1999 to $8.3 billion.

Iraq was not happy with UNSCOM's intrusive inspections, and there were confrontations between Iraqis and the inspection teams. The United States, the driving force behind the inspections, used these confrontations as grounds for bombing Iraq in 1993, 1996, and 1998. The last bombardment, codenamed Operation Desert Fox, lasted for four days. Before it began, Richard Butler, the second head of UNSCOM, withdrew the inspections teams without the authorization of the UN Security Council. The bombardment put the future of UNSCOM in doubt, and the inspectors did not return until 2002, and then under a different name. By the time of the 1998 confrontation, the UN had destroyed more than 95 percent of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (Iraq claimed that it had destroyed the last 5 percent, but could not account for it). There were two reasons for the difficulties that the inspection teams faced: Iraq's concern that the inspection teams violated its sovereignty, and the U.S. govern-ment's misuse of some members of the inspection teams as spies.

The sanctions and the embargo begun in 1990 had a dreadful impact on Iraqi society. They hit the sanitation and health-care systems hard, and also led to the breakdown of the electric system, which contributed to chronic problems with sewage and water treatment. The sanctions also contributed to inadequate diets, resulting in malnutrition and a proliferation of diseases, which led to a high mortality rate among children. Furthermore, the sanctions led to many social ills such as homelessness of children, increased crime rates, high divorce rates, a drop in the marriage rate, and the virtual destruction of the educational system. Thousands of schools were left in a state of disrepair. The sanctions weakened the oil industry, the mainstay of the Iraqi economy, because of a lack of spare parts and a lack of investment to update oil facilities. The sanctions lasted for almost thirteen years and contributed to the deaths of more than one million people, many of them children, women, and elderly people. Two UN chief relief coordinatorsDenis Halliday in 1998 and Han von Sponeck in 2000resigned their posts in protest of the continuation of the sanctions.

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001 marked a turning point in U.S. policy toward Iraq. The foreign policy of the Republican administration of George W. Bush was controlled by neoconservatives who advocated a regime change in Iraq. Some of the planners of the new policy were behind the passage of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, in which the Congress allocated $100 million to help Iraqi opposition groups in their quest to remove Saddam from power. After 11 September, the neoconservatives pushed for the removal of Saddam by military means. The UN adopted Resolution 1441, which demanded that Iraq allow the weapons inspections teams to return. There were two teamsone from the International Atomic Energy Agency, headed by Muhammad El-Baradei from Egypt, and another from the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), headed by Hans Blix from Sweden. The new resolution gave the inspectors more freedom to operate and conduct their activities inside Iraq, and it imposed more restrictions on Saddam's regime than previous resolutions had. Iraq agreed to the resolution and emphatically denied having any weapons of mass destruction, stating that it had destroyed all of them. However, the Iraqi government could not give a full accounting of the missing items. Both heads of the inspection teams asked for more time to finish their job.

The United States and Britain refused to wait for UN consensus on the issue. The United States government continued to claim that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and that he was a threat to U.S. and world security, and on 17 March 2003 the United States, along with Britain, initiated a military invasion against Iraq, defying world opinion. On 9 April 2003 Baghdad fell, and the occupation of Iraq began. The claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, including biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, turned out to be questionable. In May, under pressure from the United States, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1483, which legalized the result of the invasion (though most UN member nations had considered it to be illegal). On 16 October 2003 the UN adopted Resolution 1511, again under U.S. pressure, which authorized a multinational force under U.S. leadership to replace and reduce the burden on the U.S. occupying forces.

see also arab revolt (1916); arif, abd alsalam; baghdad; baghdad pact (1955); basra; baʿth, al-; faisal i ibn hussein; gulf war (1991); hashimite house (house of hashim); hussein, saddam; iranian revolution (1979); iraniraq war (19801988); iraq petroleum company (ipc); karbala; kirkuk; kurdish autonomous zone; kurdish revolts; kurds; midhat paŞa; mosul; najaf, al-; sÈvres, treaty of (1920); shatt al-arab; tigris and euphrates rivers; united nations special commission (unscom); war in iraq (2003).


Graham-Brown, Sarah. Sanctioning Saddam: The Politics of Intervention in Iraq. London: I. B. Tauris, 1999.

Mackey, Sandra. The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.

Tripp, Charles. A History of Iraq. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

ayad al-qazzaz

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Beef with Fruit............................................................. 94
Adas Bil Hamod (Lentils with Lemon Juice).................. 96
Red Lentil Soup........................................................... 96
Yalanchi (Tomatoes Stuffed with Rice)......................... 97
Ma'mounia (Wheat Pudding)...................................... 98
Khubaz (Pita with Jelly)................................................ 99
Kebabs........................................................................ 99
Kibbe Batata (Potato-Beef Casserole)......................... 100
G'shur Purtaghal (Candied Citrus Peels) .................... 101


Iraq is located in southwestern Asia, in the heart of the Middle East. Its land area is comparable in size to California. There are four distinct land regions in Iraq. The Delta region is a broad plain in the southeast. To the west are the Steppe-Desert Plains, made up of sand and stony plains. The north region, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, is a fertile area of grassy flatlands and rolling hills. The Zagros Mountains rise steeply in the northeast.

The climate in Iraq is as varied as the different regions, ranging from tropical in the east and southeast, to dry and desert-like in the west. The north is pleasant during summer months and freezing in the winter months. On average, Iraq is a dry country, even in the fertile lands between the rivers. In the summer, a dry, dusty wind called the shamal blasts through the country with dust storms, lasting for several days.

Since the country is so dry, there are few plants, except for the date palm, known for its fruit (dates). In fact, more than 80 percent of the world's date supply is grown in Iraq.


Settled between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the area known as Iraq today was called Mesopotamia up until the end of World War I (19141918). In ancient Greek, Mesopotamia translates to "land between rivers." The first human civilization (called Sumer) is thought to have flourished here around 4000 B.C.

Although the area received little rainfall, the soil around the rivers fertilized many different crops. The rich soil, commonly referred to as the "Fertile Crescent," produced crops such as leeks, onions, lentils, wheat, and barley. Grapes also grew plentifully and were used for wine. The native olive tree was valued for both its fruit and oil. Sumerian stone tablets dating to 2500 b.c. record the usage of figs, which when cooked, were used as sweeteners in place of sugar.


Iraqi food is so strongly influenced by its neighboring countries, Turkey and Iran, it is one of the few nations of the Middle East to lack a unique cuisine. Like the Turks, Iraqis like to stuff vegetables and eat a lot of lamb, rice, and yogurt. Like Iranians, they enjoy cooking fruits with beef and poultry.

Beef with Fruit


  • 1 cup dried prunes, pits removed
  • 1 cup dried apples
  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • 2 pounds beef, cut into cubes
  • 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • cup tomato sauce
  • 4 cups cooked rice


  1. Place the dried fruits in separate bowls and pour boiling water over them. Let sit for about 15 minutes, then drain.
  2. In a frying pan, heat the oil and sauté the meat until browned.
  3. Add the prunes and cook on low, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
  4. Add the apples, apricots, seasonings, and tomato sauce.
  5. Stir well and cook uncovered for another 10 minutes. Serve hot over rice.

Serves 8.

Although Iraq may not have a distinct cooking style, there are several dishes native to the country. Masgoof is a whole-skewered fish barbequed on an outdoor grill. Iraqis cook almost every part of an animal, from the kidneys and liver, to the brain, feet, eyes, and ears.Pacha is a slowly cooked combination of sheep's head, stomach, feet, and other parts in a broth. A popular side dish, turshi, is a mixture of pickled vegetables.

Wheat, barley, rice, and dates are the staple foods of Iraq. Sheep and goats are the most common meat, but lamb, cows, chickens, fish, and sometimes camels are eaten as well. The meat is usually cut into strips, then cooked with onions and garlic, or minced for stew and served with rice. For the majority of Iraqis who practice the Muslim religion (95 percent of Iraqis), eating pork is forbidden.

Alcohol is also forbidden to Muslims, so Western soft drinks, ice water, tea, and coffee are drunk. Coffee and tea are served before and after, but never during, a meal. Iraqis usually drink their coffee with sugar and cream or milk. The rich, dark coffee prepared in Iraq is unique. The beans are ground, then heated and cooled nine times before the coffee is served. This is believed to remove all impurities from the imported coffee.


The majority of Iraqis are Muslim, about 95 percent. Of those, 54 percent are Shi'ite, and 41 percent are Sunni. The difference between the Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims is a conflicting belief in authority dating back to the early history of the religion. The two groups, however, share the same Muslim beliefs and religious holidays.

Ways to Enjoy Dates

Eat them plain.

Mix with different nuts and chopped bananas for a snack.

Cut up and use in cookie recipes in place of chocolate chips or raisins.

The fast of Ramadan is celebrated the entire ninth month of the Muslim year. This means for the whole month, no food or water may be consumed from sunrise to sunset. Cooks (or people who are buying foods) may taste them, but they cannot be swallowed. Muslims believe fasting makes them stronger in their faith. They also believe it helps them understand how it feels to be poor and hungry. Families who can afford it slaughter a lamb and share the meat with the less fortunate.

During Ramadan, Muslims rise before dawn to eat a meal called suhur (pronounced soo-HER). Foods containing grains and seeds, along with dates and bananas, are commonly eaten because they are considered slow to digest. This helps to ease hunger during the fast, which can be as long as 16 hours in the summer. At sunset, the day's fast is broken with iftar, a meal that traditionally starts with eating a date. The rest of the meal might include assorted mezze (appetizers) such as nuts or cooked fava beans, lentil soup, bread, and fresh fruit.

Adas Bil Hamod (Lentils with Lemon Juice)


  • 1½ pounds (about 3 cups) lentils
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ¼ cup coriander, chopped
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil


  1. In a pot, boil lentils in water for 15 minutes.
  2. Add the potatoes and continue cooking until both vegetables are tender.
  3. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry garlic and coriander until slightly tender (about 5 minutes).
  4. Add mixture to pot of lentils and potatoes.
  5. Mix flour with water in a little bowl.
  6. Add this to the pot of lentil mixture.
  7. Cook 30 minutes on medium heat.
  8. Before serving, add lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot or cold with pita bread.

Serves 8 to 10.

Red Lentil Soup


  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • ½ large onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery with leaves, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • ¾ cup lentils
  • 3¾ cups water or chicken stock
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Pita bread
  • Lemon juice, to taste (optional)
  • Cumin, to taste (optional)


  1. In a large pot, heat the butter over medium to high heat.
  2. Add onion, celery, and carrot and stir until soft. Add the lentils, water or stock, and salt.
  3. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Stir.
  4. Let soup cook for 45 minutes to 1½ hours, or until lentils are soft, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add more water if the soup thickens too much. Add lemon juice and cumin to taste (optional). Serve with pita bread.

Serves 6.

At the end of Ramadan comes a three-day festival called Eid al-Fitr. Friends and family gather to pray and share a large meal. In some cities, fairs are held to celebrate the end of the fast. Eating pork is forbidden to Muslims, but other meats such as beef, lamb, and fish are served on elegant platters. Other common dishes may include kebabs, yalanchi (spicy rice stuffing for eggplants or other vegetables), and ma'mounia, a dessert that dates from the 800s.

Yalanchi (Tomatoes Stuffed with Rice)


  • 6 medium to large, firm, ripe tomatoes
  • 2 to 4 Tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • ½ cup raisins, soaked in warm water 10 minutes, drained
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 to 2½ cups cooked rice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Cut a slice from the top of each tomato, about ¼- to ½-inch down.
  3. Cut the middle of the tops out (core) and finely chop the remaining tops.
  4. Scoop out tomatoes with a spoon and turn upside down on paper towels to drain. Throw the pulp and seeds away.
  5. Heat 2 Tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium to high heat.
  6. Add onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Stir frequently.
  7. Add chopped tomato tops, raisins, pine nuts, and cinnamon and mix well.
  8. Reduce heat to low and simmer, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add cooked rice. Season with salt and pepper and mix gently until well blended.
  9. Fill tomatoes with mixture and set side-by-side in a greased baking pan. Drizzle remaining oil on tomatoes so they are well greased.
  10. Bake in oven until tender but still firm, about 25 minutes.
  11. Serve warm or at room temperature for best flavor.

Serves 6.

Ma'mounia (Wheat Pudding)


  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • ½ cup butter, unsalted
  • 1 cup wheat flour
  • Whipped cream
  • Cinnamon


  1. Combine water and sugar in a large saucepan. Over low heat, stir constantly until sugar dissolves.
  2. Increase heat slowly to bring mixture to a boil (mixture will look like syrup). Add lemon juice.
  3. Reduce heat and simmer until syrup thickens, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
  4. In another saucepan, melt butter and add flour. Stir until lightly browned.
  5. Add the syrup from the other pan. Simmer mixture about 10 minutes, stirring constantly.
  6. Remove from heat and let cool 20 minutes.
  7. Spoon ma'mounia into bowls and top with whipped cream and cinnamon.

Serves 6.

Khubaz (Pita with Jelly)


  • 1 package of whole wheat pita bread
  • Butter
  • Jelly


  1. Spread each pita lightly with butter. Top with a layer of jelly.
  2. Cut the pitas in half and serve. Khubaz is usually served as an accompaniment for salad.

Serves 12.


Hospitality is considered a highly admired asset to the Iraqis. Iraqis are known for being very generous and polite, especially when it comes to mealtime. Meals are more often a festive, casual experience than a formal one. Many Iraqis were raised to feed their guests before themselves, and to feed them well. Most Iraqis hosts feel that they are failing in their role as hosts if their guests have not tried all of their dishes. In fact, proper appreciation is shown by overeating.

A typical Iraqi meal starts with a mezze (appetizer), such as kebabs, which are cubes of marinated meat cooked on skewers. Soup is usually served next, which is drunk from the bowl, not eaten with a spoon. For gadaa and ashaa, Arabic for lunch and dinner, the meals are much alike. A simple main course, such as lamb with rice is served, followed by a salad and khubaz, a flat wheat bread served buttered with fruit jelly on top. Other popular dishes include quzi (stuffed roasted lamb), kibbe (minced meat, nuts, raisins, and spices), and kibbe batata (potato-beef casserole).



  • 1½ pounds boneless lamb, beef, or chicken cut into medium-sized cubes
  • cup soy sauce
  • cup cooking oil
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 large green pepper, seeds removed, cut into 12 pieces
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and cut into pieces
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, or three tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 12 fresh mushrooms
  • Salt
  • ½ teaspoon ginger


  1. Measure soy sauce, oil, lemon juice, ginger, pepper, and garlic into a large mixing bowl. This is marinade; reserve about 3 Tablespoons of it to use later.
  2. Add the meat cubes to the marinade in the mixing bowl, and stir to coat all the meat thoroughly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or overnight.
  3. Prepare vegetables. Remove meat from the refrigerator, pour off marinade, and throw away.
  4. Assemble 6 kebabs by alternating meat cubes, green pepper, tomatoes, and mushrooms on skewers.
  5. Brush with the marinade you set aside earlier.
  6. Cook outdoors on a charcoal or gas grill, or broil in the oven, 3 to 4 inches from the heat source for 5 to 7 minutes.
  7. Brush with marinade (as needed) during cooking to prevent drying.
  8. Sprinkle with salt and pepper before serving.

Serves 6.

Kibbe Batata (Potato-Beef Casserole)


  • ½ pound ground lamb or beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ¼ cup parsley, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ cup rice
  • 4 potatoes, peeled and quartered (chopped in 4 halves)
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • Cinnamon (optional)


  1. Combine meat and onion in skillet. Cook and stir until meat is brown and crumbly.
  2. Add parsley, garlic, and season with salt.
  3. In a deep saucepan, cook rice with potatoes in water (enough to cover potatoes) until potatoes are tender (about 25 minutes).
  4. Drain potato mixture in a strainer. Return to saucepan. Add turmeric and season with salt. Mash until smooth.
  5. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  6. Spread half the potato mixture in a greased 13 x 9-inch baking pan.
  7. Spread the meat filling over potato layer.
  8. Top with remaining potato mixture.
  9. Sprinkle with cinnamon (optional).
  10. Dot with butter on top and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden.
  11. Cut into squares to serve.

Serves 8.

Many Iraqi households keep pastries, desserts, and candies on hand for snacks and as gifts to visiting friends. Desserts are a favorite among the Iraqis. They can include shirini (pumpkin pudding) and baklava, a pastry made of honey and nuts layered between paper-thin sheets of dough. However, only fruits, not sweets, are eaten at the end of a meal. Candied lemon, grapefruit, or orange peels called g'shur purtaghal are very popular. Once the meal has ended, Iraqis say to one another "sahtayn," which means "two healths to you."

G'shur Purtaghal (Candied Citrus Peels)


  • 1 pink grapefruit
  • 2 oranges
  • Water
  • 3½ cups sugar
  • Cooking spray


  1. Using a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, carefully peel thin strips of grapefruit and orange rind (peel). Remove only the colorful part of the peel, leaving as much pith (the bitter white skin just under the peel) as possible. Save fruit for another use.
  2. Place the peels into a saucepan and cover with water.
  3. Bring to a boil and cook over medium to high heat, about 10 minutes.
  4. Drain in a strainer. Repeat this procedure 2 more times to remove the bitterness of the peel.
  5. Pour 1¼ cups water into medium saucepan. Add 1½ cups of the sugar and stir until dissolved. Bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce heat to medium and add peel.
  7. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the syrup is absorbed, about 45 minutes.
  8. Cover a cookie sheet with waxed paper and spray the waxed paper with the cooking spray.
  9. Arrange the peels on the papered cookie sheet and cool for at least 3 hours.
  10. Put remaining sugar into a plastic bag. Add the peels and shake until they are well covered.
  11. Place them an another piece of wax paper and let dry overnight.

Serves 6 to 8 as a snack.


When Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait in 1990, it set off the Gulf War. The 15 member countries of the United Nations Security Council agreed to stop trading with Iraq (this action is called "imposing economic sanctions"). The countries hoped that if they stopped trading with Iraq, Saddam Hussein would feel pressure to cooperate with the other countries of the world. Because of the sanctions, no food was allowed to be imported into Iraq. The people of Iraq, particularly children, did not receive enough nutrition as a result.

About 15 percent of the population of Iraq is classified as undernourished by the World Bank. This means they do not receive adequate nutrition in their diet. Of children under the age of five, about 12 percent are underweight, and more than 22 percent are stunted (short for their age).



Dosti, Rose. Mideast & Mediterranean Cuisines. Tucson, AZ: Fisher Books, 1993.

Middle East. Melbourne, Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet Publications, 2000.

Osborne, Christine. Middle Eastern Food and Drink. New York: Bookwright Press, 1988.

St. Elias Church Ladies Guild. Cuisine of the Fertile Crescent. Cleveland, OH: St. Elias Ladies Guild, 1993.

Weiss-Armush, Anne Marie. Arabian Cuisine. Lebanon: Dar An-nafaés, 1993.

Web Sites [Online] Available (accessed April 6, 2001).

Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. [Online] Available (accessed April 6, 2001). [Online] Available (accessed April 6, 2001). [Online] Available (accessed April 6, 2001).

Refugee Service Center. [Online] Available (accessed April 6, 2001).

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Iraq
Region (Map name): Middle East
Population: 23,331,985
Language(s): Arabic, Kurdish, Assyrian, Armenian
Literacy rate: 58.0%
Area: 437,072 sq km
Number of Television Stations: 13
Number of Television Sets: 1,750,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 75.0
Number of Radio Stations: 74
Number of Radio Receivers: 4,850,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 207.9

Background & General Characteristics

The Republic of Iraq is home to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. Turkey borders Iraq to the north, Iran to the east, Kuwait and the Persian Gulf to the southeast, Saudi Arabia to the south and southwest, Jordan to the west and Syria to the northwest.

In 2001 it was estimated Iraq had a population of 23.33 million. Seventy-seven percent of Iraqis are Arab, 19 percent are Kurds, and the remaining 4 percent are other ethnic groups. Iraq's Kurdish population lives in the northeastern highlands.

Iraq's official religion is Islam. A little more than 50 percent of the population is Shiite Muslims but the Sunni Muslims, who make up a little more than 40 percent of the population, tend to dominate Iraq's governmental bureaucracy. Minority religions include Christianity and Judaism. More than 80 percent of the population speaks the country's official language, Arabic. English, Kurdish, Turkish and Assyrian are among the minority languages spoken in Iraq.

Almost 42 percent of Iraq's population was below the age of 14 in 2001; 55.3 percent were 15 to 64 years of age; 3 percent were over the age of 65. Iraq's literacy gender gap is significant. Only 46 percent of Iraqi adult females are literate, while 66 percent of its adult male population is literate. Iraq's female illiteracy rate is the third highest in the world.

Iraqi society is primarily urban, with more than 70 percent of Iraqis living in urban areas. In 2001 the country's major cities were Baghdad (with a population of about 4.87 million), Mosul (1.1 million) and Irbil, (1.04 million). Baghdad is the country's capital.

Iraq was admitted to the League of Nations (the predecessor of the United Nations) after becoming a sovereign state in 1932. Iraq is a single political party republic and is governed by the Revolutionary Command Council. Saddam Hussein is president of the country, leader of the Ba'ath political party, prime minister and president of the Revolutionary Command Council, the country's highest governmental authority.

Iraq's daily newspapers are Al-Baath Alryadi, Babil, Al-Iraq, Al-Jumhuriya, Al-Qadissiya, and Al-Thawra. Newspaper circulation was 20 per 1,000 persons in 1996. Individual newspaper circulation rates were not available.

Economic Framework

In modern times Iraq has been known for its repeated violations of basic human rights, particularly of its minority populations as well as those who express any sort of political opposition to its government. Before and after being admitted to the League of Nations, Iraq disputed the international boundaries set for it by League members. Consequently Iraq entered into numerous border conflicts with Iran. The most recent Iraq-Iran war ended in 1988. In 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait, another area over which it claimed ancient political rights. Iraqi military forces were expelled from Kuwait by U.S.-led international forces in the 1991 military operation called Desert Storm. Immediately after the Desert Storm cease-fire, Iraq launched a military offensive against the Kurdish population residing in the Iraqi northern highlands.

As part of the ceasefire conditions Iraq was to provide proof of the destruction of its biological, ballistic and nuclear weapons and development facilities. Iraq refused to allow UN weapons inspectors into the country and continued its abuse of Kurdish and other minority groups. As a result, the United Nations imposed import/export sanctions on Iraq in 1990.

The UN sanctions prohibit exports from Iraq and imports to Iraq with the exception of medicine and other essential civilian needs not covered by the import ban. Under the UN's 1996 "food for oil" program, Iraq is permitted to sell set amounts of oil to fund the purchase of food, medicines and other humanitarian goods, and equipment to repair the civilian infrastructure. Since 1998 Iraq has been allowed to purchase equipment and spare parts for the rehabilitation of its oil industry.

Due to Iraq's refusal to allow UN weapons inspectors into the country and its continued abuse of Kurdish and other minority groups, UN sanctions have continued. The UN Commission of Human Rights 2000 report indicated that women, children and men continued to be arrested and detained on suspicion of political or religious activities or because they were related to members of the opposition.

According to the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), the Iraqi government and the Ba'ath Party control or own all print media in Iraq. The party and the government also control the broadcast media. Iraq's publishing and broadcast media consist of six daily newspapers, one television service, one radio service and one satellite. All are state controlled.

Uday Hussein, son of the Iraqi president, heads an extensive media empire that supposedly includes more than a dozen weekly and daily newspapers as well as the most popular of the country's three television channels. Uday Hussein also heads the national press union.

Opposition presses such as Al-Thawra and Al-Jumhuriya operate in the northern Kurdish enclaves and on the Internet. The U.S. government has operated Radio Free Iraq since 1998.

Press Laws

Criticism of Iraq's government is prohibited and a death penalty is imposed upon anyone, including journalists, criticizing Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council or the Ba'ath party.


The Iraqi government censors all news.

State-Press Relations

The Committee to Project Journalists and the BBC independently report that Iraq's press is entirely controlled by the Iraqi state. According to BBC News, the media does not report views opposed to the Iraqi government.

Reporters Without Borders reported that Iraqi security police arrested the editor-in-chief of an Iraqi daily newspaper in 1999 after he attempted to flee the country. The editor tried to flee Iraq because Uday Hussein had reportedly threatened him when he refused the position of manager of an Iraqi magazine. In 2001 the International Press Institute reported that about 50 Iraqi journalists fled the country due to governmental press controls.

Attitude Toward Foreign Media

Foreign media, if allowed into Iraq, is closely inspected and subject to expulsion.

News Agencies

The Iraqi News Agency (INA), located in Baghdad, is controlled by the Iraqi government and is Iraq's only news agency. The INA reduced its number of foreign offices from 48 to 15 in the period following the 1990 UN sanctions.

Broadcast Media

According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, 13 television stations operated in Iraq in 1997. There were 75 televisions per 1,000 Iraqis in 1997, and 208 radios per thousand. Broadcast media, particularly radio, is the most widely used media in Iraq. According to the BBC, numerous alternative radio services are aimed at Iraq, including the U.S. government-backed Radio Free Iraq.

Electronic Media

In 2000 one Internet service provider (ISP) operated in Iraq. However, the government totally controlled access to the Internet. Numerous newspapers, such as Alef-Ba, Alwan, Al-Islam, Al-Iktisadi, Al-Ittehad, Al-Mawied, Nabdh Ashabab, Al-Raae, Al-Rafedain, Saut Alta-meem, and Al-Talabah, have Arabic language Web sites.

The Iraq Daily and the Iraqi News Agency (INA) operate Web sites with English translations. The web address for INA is

Education and Training

Iraq's major universities are the University of Baghdad (36,000 students), the University of Mosul (20,000), the University of Basrah (18,000) and the University of Salahuddin (10,000). These Iraqi universities offer bach-elor's, master's and Ph.D. degrees. Iraq's major universities offer their courses in Arabic and in English. The University of Salahuddin, located in the northern Kurdish area, offers its courses in Arabic, English and Kurdish.

In 2001 the University of Baghdad was the only university listing journalism as a course of study.


Freedom of the press does not exist in Iraq. All mass media elements are either owned and or controlled by the Iraqi government. Iraq's broadcast media provides the greatest market penetration since newspaper circulation was estimated at 20 per 1,000 Iraqis in 1996. The low literacy rate of Iraq's population may explain some of the country's low newspaper circulation rate.

Significant Dates

  • 1990: The UN imposes import/export sanctions on Iraq.
  • 1996: The UN's "Food for Oil" program allows Iraq to sell oil to fund food, medicine and other humanitarian goods purchases and to purchase equipment to repair the civilian infrastructure.
  • 1998: Radio Free Iraq (operated by the United States) begins operation.


"Countries Ranked by Population." U.S. Census, International Data Base. Washington, DC, 2000.

"Focus International: Human Rights in Iraq Deteriorate." Foreign & Commonwealth Office. London, England, November 2000.

"Focus International: Iraq: Sanctions and the 'Oil for Food' Agreement." Foreign & Commonwealth Office. London, England, 1991.

"Focus International: The Work of the United Nations Special Commission in Iraq." Foreign & Commonwealth Office. London, England, October 1998.

"Iraq Annual Report 2002," Reporters Without Borders. Washington, DC, 2002.

"Literacy and Non Formal Education Sector Estimates and Projections of Adult Illiteracy for Population Aged 15 years Old and Above by Country." UNESCO Institute for Statistics, January 2002.

Metz, Helen Chapin, editor. "Iraq: A Country Study," Federal Research Division, U.S. Library of Congress. Washington, DC, 1988.

"World Press Freedom Review," International Press Institute. Vienna, Austria, 2002.

"Saddam Hussein's Iraq." U.S. Department of State. Washington, DC, September 1999.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Fact-book 2002. Washington, DC, 2002.

Sandra J. Callaghan

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Official name: Republic of Iraq

Area: 437,072 square kilometers (168,754 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Ebrāhīm (3,600 meters/11,811 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 3 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 730 kilometers (454 miles) from east-northeast to west-southwest; 984 kilometers (611 miles) from south-southeast to north-northwest

Land boundaries: 3,631 kilometers (2,256 miles) total boundary length; Iran 1,458 kilometers (906 miles); Jordan 181 kilometers (112 miles); Kuwait 242 kilometers (150 miles); Saudi Arabia 814 kilometers (506 miles); Syria 605 kilometers (376 miles); Turkey 331 kilometers (206 miles)

Coastline: 58 kilometers (36 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Iraq is a Middle Eastern state located on the h2rsian Gulf between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The heartland of the country, which has been known since ancient times as Mesopotamia, is the area between Iraq's two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. With an area of 437,072 square kilometers (168,754 square miles), Iraq is slightly more than twice as large as the state of Idaho. Iraq is divided into eighteen provinces.


Iraq has no territories or dependencies.


Summer temperatures range from 22°C to 29°C (72°F to 84°F) minimum to 38°C to 43°C (100°F to 109°F) maximumin the shade. Temperatures higher than 48°C (118°F) have been reported, with June through August usually the hottest months. Winter temperatures range from 3°C to about 16°C (27°F to about 61°F), but have been recorded below 14°C (7°F) in the western desert. Severe winter frost is frequent in the north. Ninety percent of the precipitation falls between November and April, mostly occuring from December through March. The months of May through October are dry. Mean annual rainfall is between 10 and 17 centimeters (4 and 7 inches). Rainfall is higher in the foothills southwest of the mountains (between 32 and 57 centimeters /12 and 22 inches), and in the mountains annual rainfall reaches 100 centimeters (39.4 inches).


In the north the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers pass through elevated terrain, but near the middle of the country the rivers enter a vast alluvial plain that extends to the Persian Gulf. Rugged, inhospitable mountains extend to the north and northeast; the Syrian Desert, which is almost completely uninhabited, blankets the west and southwest.


Iraq has a short coastline on the Persian (Arabian) Gulf between Iran and Kuwait.

Coastal Features

Iraq's short Persian Gulf coast, which has no significant indentations or bays, consists entirely of the Shatt al Arab River Delta.


The many lakes in central Iraq are fed largely by the flooding of the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers, as well as by streams and canals from these rivers. As a result, the lakes vary considerably in volume and area, depending on the flow of the rivers. In general, the largest are Ath-Tharthār, Ar-Razzāzah, and Hawr alHabbānīyah. South of Baghdad the lakes tend to be increasingly saline, reflecting the heavy silt content of the two great rivers and the poor drainage in this region.


The Euphrates is the longest river in the country. Originating in Turkey, it flows through Syria, where it receives several tributaries before entering Iraq. Once within Iraq, it has no permanent tributaries but is fed by the wadis of the western desert during the winter rains. The Tigris also rises in Turkey and flows through a brief section of Syria before entering Iraq. It has many tributaries in Iraq, all of which enter it from the northeast. The most important are the Great Zab, Little Zab, Uzaym, and Diyala. All of these join the Tigris above Baghdad except for the Diyala, which joins it about 36 kilometers (22 miles) below the city. After the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers converge, they are known as the Shatt al Arab, which flows for roughly 193 kilometers (120 miles) southeast to the Persian Gulf. The river forms the border between Iran and Iraq for about half its length.


The area west and southwest of the Euphrates River is a part of the Syrian Desert, which also covers sections of Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The region, sparsely inhabited by pastoral nomads, consists of a wide, stony plain interspersed with rare sandy stretches. A complicated pattern of wadis, which are watercourses that are dry most of the year, runs from the border to the Euphrates. Some wadis are more than 400 kilometers (248 miles) long and carry brief but torrential floods during the winter rains.


The alluvial plain of Mesopotamia begins north of Baghdad and extends to the Persian Gulf. The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers lie above the level of the plain in many places, held within natural embankments. During the frequent flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, they deposit a heavy coating of silt over a wide area, forming fertile farmland.


The northeastern highlands begin just southwest of a line drawn from Mosul to Kirkūk and extend north to the borders with Turkey and Iran. High ground, separated by broad, undulating steppes, gives way to mountains ranging from 1,000 to nearly 4,000 meters (3,280 to 13,123 feet) near the Iranian and Turkish borders. The high mountains are an extension of the Zagros Mountains of Iran and include Iraq's highest peak, Mount Ebrāhīm (3,600 meters/11,811 feet).


The Euphrates winds through a gorge 2 to 16 kilometers (1 to 10 miles) wide in the hilly Al Jazīrah region before reaching the plains at Ar Ramādi.

The Shanidar Cave, in the Shanidar Valley of northern Iraq overlooking the Great Zab River, is a significant archaeological site where Neanderthal remains have been excavated.


Iraq derives its name from the Arabic term "cliff." West of the central river plain rises a plateau that extends into Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, reaching heights of about 1,000 meters (3,281 feet). Some of this plateau is revealed in exposed cliff rock, but the boundaries between Iraq and its western neighbors are physically indistinguishable.


During the twentieth century, Iraq built an extensive system of dams, barrages, canals, and irrigation systems to harness the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers for irrigation and help control their potentially disastrous seasonal flooding. Among the numerous reservoir sites are Samarra, Dukan, and Darband on the Tigris River, and Mosul and Al Hadithah on the Euphrates. Lake Al-Qādisīyah is a sizable reservoir on the Euphrates in the northwestern part of the country.

In the 1990s, Saddam Hussein's regime channeled river waters away from the marsh-lands at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers into the Persian Gulf for military purposes, destroying the unique ecosystem of the region. A shallow canal, called Nahar al-Aaz (the Glory River), diverts water from the Tigris; another canal, the Mother-of-All-Battles River, channels water from the Euphrates; and a third one, named Saddam's River, carries agricultural runoff to the gulf. By 2001, this diversion had destroyed an estimated 90 percent of Iraq's wetlands.



Cockburn, Andrew, and Patrick Cockburn. Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.

Stark, Freya. Baghdad Sketches. Marlboro, VT: Marlboro Press, 1992.

Tripp, Charles. A History of Iraq. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Web Sites

"Iraq." ArabNet. (accessed April 24, 2003).

Iraq History and Culture. (accessed April 24, 2003).

Pictures from Iraq. (accessed April 24, 2003).

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Iraq .

Country statistics


438,320sq km (169,235sq mi)



capital (population):

Baghdad (5,408,659)


Single-party republic

ethnic groups:

Arab 77%, Kurdish 19%, Turkmen, Persian, Assyrian


Arabic (official), Kurdish


Shi'a Muslim 63%, Sunni Muslim 35%


Iraqi dinar = 20 dirhams = 1000 fils

Republic in sw Asia. The Republic of Iraq has only a narrow outlet, via the Shatt al Arab delta, to the Persian Gulf. Its main port, Basra, is located here. Part of the Syrian Desert forms most of w Iraq and there are mountains in the ne. Central Iraq is dominated by the valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, including the capital, Baghdad.

Climate and Vegetation

Iraq's climate varies from temperate in the n to subtropical in the s and e. The central feature is the lack of adequate rainfall, except in the ne. Forests account for 3% of the land. Dry grassland and low shrubs grow in the n. The desert provides winter grazing land. The s is mainly marshland. Dates are grown in the sandy se.

History and Politics

The ancient region of Mesopotamia roughly corresponds with modern Iraq. Sumeria was the first great civilization, c.3000 bc. In c.2340 bc, Sargon I conquered Sumeria. In the 18th century bc, Hammurabi established the first empire of Babylonia. In the 8th century bc, Babylonia fell to Assyria. In the 1st century bc, the Assyrian kings Sargon II, Sennacherib and Ashurbanipal added to the splendour of Nineveh. Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem in 597 bc, beginning the Babylonian Captivity. In 539 bc, Babylon fell to Cyrus the Great, who founded the Achaemenid dynasty. Mesopotamia became part of the Persian Empire. Islam was introduced via the Arab conquest in ad 637. In the 8th century, Baghdad became capital of the Abbasid caliphate (750–1258). Mongols captured Baghdad in 1258. From 1534, Mesopotamia was part of the Ottoman Empire. Britain invaded Mesopotamia in 1916, and in 1920 it became a British mandated territory. Britain renamed the country Iraq, and set up an Arab monarchy. Iraq finally became independent in 1932, and oil was first exported in 1934.

As a member of the Arab League, Iraq participated in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. By the 1950s, oil dominated Iraq's economy and funded national development programmes. In 1958, a proposal to form an Arab Union with Jordan precipitated a military coup. A republic was established and the king executed. In 1962, the Kurds of n Iraq demanded autonomy, beginning a protracted war of secession. In 1968 the Ba'ath Party emerged as the dominant power. Iraq participated in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

In 1979, Saddam Hussein became president, purging the Ba'ath Party of opponents. Iraq invaded Iran, starting the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88). The Kurdish rebellion continued and Saddam Hussein used gas against villagers. In 1990, Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait, precipitating the Gulf War (1991). After Iraq's forced withdrawal from Kuwait in 1991, a rebellion broke out in the Kurdish n highlands and Shi'ite s marshlands. The revolt was brutally suppressed and UN forces formed ‘no-fly’ zones to protect the civilian population. In 1994, an autonomous Kurdish administration collapsed amid in-fighting. In 1995, UN weapons inspectors discovered evidence of attempts to gain a nuclear capability. Lack of Iraqi cooperation with UN weapons inspection teams led to US and British bombing raids in 1998 and 2001. Conflict with the US continued as Hussein remained defiantly in power. In 2003, US and British troops invaded Iraq and deposed Saddam Hussein and his regime, though fighting between insurgents and occupying forces continued. In December 2003, Hussein was captured by US forces. Power was officially transferred to an interim Iraqi government on June 28, 2004, led by Iyad Allawi. Elections were held in January 2005.


Wars, sanctions, and financial mismanagement created economic chaos. Oil accounts for 98% of revenue and 45% of GNP. (2000 GDP per capita, US$2500). In 1990, a UN embargo halted oil exports. In 1996, concern about the suffering of civilians led to a UN ‘oil-for-food’ deal. Instability following the US-led invasion has left the economy in an uncertain state. Farmland covers c.20% of Iraq. Products are barley, cotton, dates, and fruits, but Iraq depends on imports. Petroleum dominates manufacturing.

Political map

Physical map


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Iraq, which formed part of the Turkish empire, was the scene of heavy fighting in the First World War, the British capturing Baghdad in 1917. At the end of the war the territory became a mandate under the League of Nations, though there was a substantial nationalist rising in 1920. From 1921 until 1958, when Faisal II was assassinated, the country was a monarchy. The second Labour government gave notice in 1929 that it would relinquish the mandate in 1932 and in that year Iraq entered the League of Nations as an independent country. The mandate was replaced by an Anglo-Iraq treaty which gave Britain military bases, held until after the Second World War. The attack on Kuwait in 1990 by Saddam Hussein, who had come to power in 1979, led to the Gulf War, in which Britain sent troops under United Nations auspices. A second war in 2003, undertaken by America and Britain, overthrew the Saddam regime in three weeks but the implementation of democracy in Iraq proved to be difficult and protracted.

J. A. Cannon

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Culture Name



Identification. Modern Iraq covers almost the same area as ancient Mesopotamia, which centered on the land between the Tigres and the Euphrates Rivers. Mesopotamia, also referred to as the Fertile Crescent, was an important center of early civilization and saw the rise and fall of many cultures and settlements. In the medieval era, Iraq was the name of an Arab province that made up the southern half of the modern-day country. In today's Republic of Iraq, where Islam is the state religion and claims the beliefs of 95 percent of the population, the majority of Iraqis identify with Arab culture. The second-largest cultural group is the Kurds, who are in the highlands and mountain valleys of the north in a politically autonomous settlement. The Kurds occupy the provinces of As Sulaymaniyah, Dahuk and Irbil, the area of which is commonly referred to as Kurdistan.

Location and Geography. Iraq, in the Middle East, is 168,754 square miles (437,073 square kilometers), which is comparable to twice the size of Idaho. Iraq is bordered by Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and the Persian Gulf. Baghdad was the name of a village that the Arabs chose to develop as their capital and is in the central plains. The northern border areas near Iran and Turkey are mountainous and experience cold, harsh winters, while the west is mostly desert. The differences in climate have influenced the economies of the various areas and ethnic groups, especially since a large part of the economy used to be agriculturally based.

Demography. The estimated Iraqi population for 2000 is 22,675,617 people. Arabs comprise about three-fourths of the population, and Kurds compose about one-fifth. The remaining people are divided into several ethnic groups, including Assyrian, Turkoman, Chaldean, Armenian, Yazidi, and Jewish.

Linguistic Affiliation. Almost all Iraqis speak and understand their official language, Arabic. Arabic, a Semitic language, was introduced by the Arab conquerors and has three different forms: classical, modern standard, and spoken. Classical Arabic, best known by scholars, is the written language of the Qur'an. Modern standard Arabic, which has virtually the same structure in all Arabic-speaking countries, is taught in schools for reading and writing. The spoken language is Iraqi Arabic, and is extremely similar to that which is spoken in Syria, Lebanon, and parts of Jordan. Those who go to school learn Modern Standard Arabic, and many that do not attend school are likely to at least understand it. The major differences between modern standard and Iraqi Arabic are changes in verb form, and an overall simplicity in grammar of the spoken Arabic.

Kurdish is the official language in Kurdistan, and serves to distinguish Kurds from other Iraqis. It is not of Semitic origin nor an Arab or Persian dialect, but a distinct language from the Indo-European family. Other minority languages include Aramaic, Turkic, Armenian, and Persian.

Symbolism. In the 1970s a cultural campaign was launched to influence a national consciousness based on Iraq's history, including the pre-Islam era and the former glory of Mesopotamia and Babylon. The goal was to focus on a new cultural life for modern Iraq and to emphasize Iraq's uniqueness, especially in the Arab world. Archaeological museums were built in several cities, which held exhibitions and educational programs especially for children, so that they were made aware of the historical importance of their culture and nation. In order to promote this center of attention on history, several ancient sites from the city of Babylon were reconstructed, such as the Ziggurat of Aqarquf, the ruins of Babylon, the temple of Ishtar, the southern fortress of Nebuchadnezzar, and the Greek amphitheater.

The Iraqi flag is also an important national symbol, and is composed of three colored, horizontal sections, starting with red on the top, white, and black. On the white band there are three green five-pointed stars. During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the phrase Allahu Akbar (God is great) was added to the flag. The flag resembles other Arab countries' flags and demonstrates Iraqi faith in Allah and Arab unity.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Starting from prehistory, the area of Mesopotamia has been under the control of several civilizations. In about 4000 b.c.e. the land belonged to the Sumerians, who built advanced irrigation systems, developed cereal agriculture, invented the earliest form of writing, a math system on which time in the modern world is based, the wheel, and the first plow. Literature was produced, including the first known recorded story, the Epic of Gilgamesh. Unlike their Egyptian counterparts who believed that all land belonged to the pharaoh, Sumerians believed in private property, still an important notion in Iraq today.

When the Sumerian civilization collapsed in about 1700 b.c.e., King Hammurabi took over the area and renamed it Babylonia. Hammurabi, a great leader known for creating the first recorded legal code in history, united the Assyrians and Babylonians in harmony. Following several changes in power, Nebuchadnezzar II came to rule from 604 to 562 b.c.e., and restored Babylonia to its former glory. Babylon, which is about thirty miles (forty-eight kilometers) south of modern-day Baghdad, became the most famous city in the world, and boasted, among other things, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

In 323 b.c.e. Babylonia became part of the Persian Empire, until Arab Muslims overtook it in 634 c.e. At the time of the invasion, the people of Mesopotamia were mostly Christian, and paid non-Muslim taxes to the invaders. As the Persians were eventually defeated, the people of Mesopotamia began to convert to Islam and intermarry with Arabs. In 762 c.e. the capital city of Baghdad was founded, and it became an important commercial, cultural, and educational center. It linked Asia to Mediterranean countries via trade; welcomed visitors, scholars, and commercial traders from all over the world; and produced incredible philosophical and scientific works by both Arab and Persian thinkers.

The 1200s witnessed yet another invasion, and control went to the Mongols, who ruled until the 1400s. The Ottoman Turks took control in the sixteenth century, in a reign that lasted until the end of World War I. When the Ottoman Empire was defeated in that war, the League of Nations assigned Britain to set up the administration in Mesopotamia. The British defined the territory of Iraq, and in doing so paid little attention to natural boundaries and ethnic divisions. They set up the institutional framework for government and politics, which included installation of a monarchy and influence in writing the constitution. On 14 July 1958 the monarchy was overthrown, and Iraq was declared a republic. The following ten years were followed by much political instability. Then, on 17 July 1968, another coup d'état occurred, which brought to power the Baath Party, today's government leader.

National Identity. Arab rule during the medieval period had the greatest cultural impact on modern Iraq. The dominating culture within Iraq is Arab, and most Arabs are Muslim. Iraqi Muslims are split into two groups, the Sunnis and the Shias (Shiites). The Sunnis, a majority in Islam, are a minority in Iraq, and the Shias, a minority in the Arab world, are the majority in Iraq. Between the Shia and Sunni Muslims, loyalty to Iraq has come to be a common factor. Though they have differing views, both Sunnis and Shias hold high leadership positions in the government (including the Sunni Saddam Hussein), as do some Christians.

The Arab culture, as influenced by the conquerors in the seventh century, withstood many changes of power throughout the centuries, and managed to remain influential. In the nineteenth century, while the Ottoman Empire was focusing on the "Turkification" of its people, rebels in Mesopotamia were building their Arab nationalist movement. They were granted an opportunity to act during World War I, when the British agreed to recognize Arab independence in Mesopotamia if they helped fight against the Turks. Though Iraq was subject to British mandate rule following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, Arab nationalism stood strong. For the next few decades, even after independence from Britain, the government's attitude wavered between being pro-British and Arab nationalist. Today Iraq stands firm in its belief in pro-Arab nationalism.

Ethnic Relations. The largest minority in Iraq, the Kurds, continually battle with the majority Arabs, and the sparring between these two cultural groups has contributed to a survivalist mentality for the Kurds. The Turkomans, who populate the northern mountainous areas, also have had strained relations with the Kurds due to their historical role as buffers between Arab and Kurdish areas. Other cultural groups who are sometimes subject to the will of the Arab majority are the Yazidis, who are of Kurdish descent, but differ from the Kurds because of their unique religion. There are the Assyrians, who are direct descendents of the ancient Mesopotamian people and speak Aramaic. They are mainly Christian, and though they compose a significant minority in Iraq, the government does not officially recognize them as an ethnic group. Regarding relations with other countries, Iraq's Shias have been the traditional enemies of Persians for centuries; this contributed to Iraq fighting Iran in a costly war from 1980 to 1988 over a land dispute. The Iraqi Kurdish population is surrounded by fellow Kurds in the countries of Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Azerbaijan.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Iraq's economy was once based on agriculture, which stipulated a large rural population. However, due to oil production, an economic boom hit Iraq in the 1970s, and with the change of economic basis, much of population migrated toward urban centers. Modern apartment and office buildings sprang up in Baghdad, and programs and services such as education and health care developed with the shift from rural areas to urban population centers. In addition to modernization, the influx of monetary resources allowed Iraq to do things for its cultural identity and preservation, especially in architecture. High priority was placed on restoring and building according to historic style, and the structures targeted included archaeological sites, mosques, and government buildings. Some of the traditional aspects of the architecture include rooms surrounding an open center or courtyard, and use of multiple colors, tiles, and arches.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Prior to the United Nations economic sanctions, the traditional diet included rice with soup or sauce, accompanied by lamb and vegetables. Today, because food is tightly rationed, most people eat rice or another grain sometimes with sauce. Both vegetables and meat are hard to come by. In rural areas it is customary for families to eat together out of a common bowl, while in urban areas individuals eat with plates and utensils.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. It is traditional to sacrifice a lamb or a goat to celebrate holidays. However, today few Iraqis have the means to do this, and celebrations are now minimal.

Basic Economy. Iraq's economy is currently in a difficult position. Following the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the United Nations imposed Security Council Resolution 687, which requires Iraq to disclose the full extent of its programs to develop chemical and nuclear weapons and missiles, and to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction. Until Iraq complies with these requirements, the United Nations attests that there will be an economic embargo and trade sanctions against Iraq. At first the resolution meant that Iraq could not assume trade relations with any foreign country. In 1996 the United Nations modified the sanctions and implemented the oil-for-food program, which allows Iraq to pump and sell a limited amount of oil for humanitarian purposes, with no direct exchange of cash, but rather with all transactions taking place through an offshore escrow account. Two-thirds of the proceeds are to be spent on food and medicine for the Iraqi people; the remaining third is to be directed to victims of Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.

Prior to the sanctions, Iraq imported about 70 percent of its food. However, food shortages have forced people to grow their own, but given the severity of the economic situation of the country, it is difficult for Iraqis to find the means to do this. Items that are imported through the oil-for-food program are distributed to people in a food basket on the first of each month. The rations are estimated to last twenty to twenty-three days and include flour, tea, sugar, rice, beans, milk, cooking oil, soap, and salt.

Land Tenure and Property. Private property was an important notion first introduced by the Sumerians during their control of Mesopotamia, and emerged again in the late nineteenth century. The reintroduction of private property had a major impact on Iraq's social system, as it went from a feudal society where sheikhs provided both spiritual and tribal leadership for the inhabitants, to one separated between landowners and sharecroppers. At present many people have sold or are selling their land to the government to purchase essentials such as food and medicine. Though private property does exist, fewer and fewer people can now claim it.

Commercial Activities. Oil, mining, manufacturing, construction, and agriculture are the major types of goods and services produced for sale.

Major Industries. Crude oil, refined petroleum products, and natural gas are products produced by the most important industry in Iraq. Other products and services include light manufacturing, food processing, textiles, and mining of nonmetallic minerals.

Trade. Iraq may only legally trade with other countries through the oil-for-food program, wherein they are allowed to sell oil to buy basic food supplies. However, diplomatic reports have indicated that Iraq has been illegally exporting some of its medical supplies and food, purchased through the oil-for-food program, to Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. Prior to the sanctions, Iraq's main exports were crude oil, refined petroleum products, natural gas, chemical fertilizers, and dates. Its major trade partners were Russia, France, Brazil, Spain, and Japan.

Division of Labor. It is common for jobs to be assigned through knowing people in the government. Those who enter the military may have more opportunity locating work, as they are trained for jobs that are specifically needed in the country.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Arabs, Kurds, and other ethnic groups each have their own social stratospheres, and no one ethnicity dominates another in a caste system. In terms of social class there is great disparity between rich and poor. Those who compose the high class in society of Iraq are essentially chosen by the government, since there is no opportunity to start a business or make a name for oneself without the endorsement of the government. The once-dominant middle class of the 1970s has deteriorated in the face of the economic crisis. These people, who are very well educated, now perform unskilled labor, if they have jobs at all, and have joined the ranking of the majority lower or poor class.

Political Life

Government. Iraq is a republic divided into eighteen provinces, which are subdivided into districts. There is a National Assembly elected every four years, and they meet twice annually and work with the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) to make legislative decisions. The RCC holds ultimate authority over legislative decisions, and the chairman of the RCC is also president of the country. The president exercises all executive decision-making powers, and he as well as the vice presidents are elected by a two-thirds majority vote of the RCC. There is universal suffrage at age eighteen, and the popular vote elects 220 of the 250 seats in the National Assembly. The president chooses the remaining 30 seats, which belong to the three provinces of Kurdistan; he also appoints judges.

Leadership and Political Officials. On 16 July 1979 Saddam Hussein became president of Iraq, and has been reelected since. He is also the prime minister, as well as chairman of the RCC. The Baath Party, which stands for Arab Socialist Resurrection, is the controlling party of the government and the most powerful political party. Its authority is the Regional Command, and the secretary general of the Regional Command is Saddam Hussein.

Political activities are carried out through the Progressive National Front (PNF), which is an official organization of political parties. PNF participants include the Iraqi Communist Party, Kurdish political parties, and other independent groups. Politics that try to be exercised outside the framework of the PNF are banned.

Though granted the right to vote for some positions, many Iraqis feel that elections are fixed. They also fear that they might vote for the "wrong" candidate and that they may be punished for doing so. It is a crime for any Iraqi to speak out against the government, and those who disagree with it place themselves and their families at great risk of being persecuted, as many citizens will turn in fellow Iraqis they feel are not loyal to the government or Saddam Hussein.

Social Problems and Control. The head of the formal judicial system is the Court of Cassation, which is the highest court in the country. There are other levels of courts, and all judges are government-appointed. Personal disputes are handled by religious community courts, which are based on Islamic law. Normally punishment is swift for crimes, with no long court trials and with severe sentences.

The crime rate has been traditionally low, but following the United Nations embargo, there has been an increase in crime, especially theft. In addition to crimes by the general public, many crimes by corrupt police and military forces have been reported, the most common being bribery and blackmail. Conditions in prisons are said to be extremely harsh. Prisoners are housed with more than twenty people in a cell meant for two, with no sanitation system, and no food is given unless brought by relatives. Other punishment practices include torture, often in front of family members, and execution.

Military Activity. Current statistics about Iraq's military are not available, though it is believed to be one of the strongest in the world. In 1994 a report indicated that Iraq spent $2.6 billion (U.S.) on its military. Iraq has not officially stated that military service is compulsory, but another statistic from 1994 stated that most of the 382,000 service people were required to be in the military. The average length of service was eighteen to twenty-four months, and there were another 650,000 in the reserves. Regarding compensation, wages for those who fought in the Iran-Iraq War were generous. Journalists reported that families who lost a son in the fighting would receive compensation in such forms as an automobile, a generous pension for life, real estate, and loans with easy terms for repayment. It is estimated that current compensation to the military has changed, but no specific information is available.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Before the Persian Gulf War, welfare benefits such as Social Security, pensions for retirees and disabled people, and money for maternity and sick leaves were available. Currently the only known welfare programs are food distribution and medical aid food. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been involved, but unless the Iraqi government can direct NGO operations, they are not permitted to function.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

The most important NGOs are those that are responsible for food rationing and distribution, medical aid, and rebuilding of water and sewage treatment facilities. Many of the NGOs, such as the World Food Program, are associated with the United Nations. Currently Iraqi leaders have been turning down humanitarian efforts and have refused offers of relief from private medical groups. They recently expelled representatives of the Middle East Council of Churches, and denied entry of a Russian envoy from the United Nations who was to investigate the cases of missing persons since 1990. The only NGOs Iraq allows are foreign antisanctions protesters, who bring in small amounts of aid but who are welcome principally because of the propaganda they provide.

The presence of NGOs is different between the south and the three provinces of Kurdistan in the north. The Kurds welcomed NGOs in 1991, immediately following the Persian Gulf War, while they were not allowed in the South until 1996. Kurdistan hosts more than thirty NGOs, while in 1999 there were eleven in the south, with even fewer in 2000. Local Kurdish officials work with the United Nations to manage food, health, and economic programs, while the resources and control of the NGOs are restricted in the south. Due to the attitude toward NGOs as well as other contributing factors such as arable land, population, and availability of natural resources, the north is more productive agriculturally and economically and has a more advanced health system infrastructure. The south, under Iraqi control and closed to outside help, has suffered with more food, health, and economic problems.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. During the Iran-Iraq War, with so many men fighting in the military, women were required to study in fields and to work in positions normally filled by men. Many women joined the labor force as teachers, physicians, dentists, factory workers, and civil servants, with the majority performing unskilled labor. Women professionals, such as doctors, are normally pediatricians or obstetricians, so that they work with only women or children. Those drafted into the workforce during the Iran-Iraq War were also made to comply with about a one-third deduction from their salary to go toward the war effort.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. The General Federation for Iraqi Women (GFIW) is a government organization for women with eighteen branches, one in each province. Its stated goal is to officially organize women, promote literacy and higher education, and encourage women in the labor force. The federation supported big legislative steps, such as a 1977 law that said a woman may be appointed an officer in the military if she has a university degree in medicine, dentistry, or pharmacy. However, it has had little impact on issues that affect women as individuals, such as polygamy, divorce, and inheritance.

Many believe that the GFIW is not really functioning in the interests of women, but rather in the interests of the Baathist regime. Instead of trying to improve the situation of women in Iraq, the government seems to use the federation as a means to exercise control over them. In an address to the federation, Saddam said that an educated and liberated mother is one who will give back to the country conscious and committed fighters for Iraq. An underlying goal of the GFIW, whether it is stated or not, is to encourage women to "liberate" themselves through commitment to the Iraqi revolution.

In politics Iraq was the first Arab country ever to elect a woman to a parliamentary position. Though an incredible advancement for women in the Arab world, many believe that rather than exercising real authority, she was put in power to falsely demonstrate the controlling regime as a progressive one. Today there are women in politics, though the legitimacy of their authority is often questioned. In Islam, the state religion, women do not hold any leadership roles. Many cannot go to the mosque to pray, and if they do, they are segregated from the men. It is largely due to Islamic influence that women do not enjoy the same social rights and privileges as men, and if gender reform is to take place, it will have to be within the context of Islamic law.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. In the past, arranged marriages were common. However, this practice is becoming more rare, and a law was passed that gave authority to a state-appointed judge to overrule the wishes of the father in the event of an early marriage. The Muslim majority traditionally views marriage as a contract between two families, as the family's needs are considered most important. In urban settings, women and men have more options in choosing their spouses, though the proposed spouse still must have parental approval. Partners often come from the same kin group, and though marriage between different ethnic groups is accepted, it is not too common. The ruling Baath regime considers marriage to be a national duty that should be guided and encouraged. Starting in 1982, women were forbidden to marry non-Iraqi men. If they were already married, they were prohibited from transferring money or property to their spouses.

Following the Iran-Iraq War, the loss of men's lives was so severe that the government embarked on a campaign to increase the population. Government grants were given to men to marry war widows, and polygamy, once rare, became more common. Divorce is accepted, but usually is left solely as a decision of the husband. If the husband wishes to be divorced, it is normally without question or problem, while it is close to impossible for a woman to initiate a divorce proceeding. In the event of divorce, custody is supposed to be granted based on what is best for the child's welfare.

Domestic Unit. Couples can live in either of two ways: with the husband's extended family, or as a nuclear family. At present, with economic hard-ships, families tend to live with extended households. The extended family unit consists of the older couple, sons, their wives and families, and unmarried daughters. Other dependent relatives also may make up part of this group, and the oldest male heads the group. He manages property and makes the final decisions regarding such things as the type of education the children receive, their occupations, and whom they will marry. In this living arrangement household and child-rearing tasks are shared among all female members of the larger families. If the couple can afford to live in a nuclear household, women, even though they work outside the home, retain all domestic and child-care responsibilities. The challenge of the woman's role in this situation is that there is no change in cooking methods or materials, and they are isolated from the help and emotional support of other female family members. Families often grow large, because the Iraqi government has stated that every family should have five children, as four children or fewer is considered a threat to national security. Considering the extreme hardships families now face in light of economic hardship and harsh living conditions, the goal of many is now to simply feed their families and preserve a semblance of some sort of home life.

Inheritance. Based on the Islamic rule, a man inherits twice as much as a woman. The justification for this is that women are to be protected by their male relatives, so men need to be granted more means to provide. Normally, property and belongings are passed down through the family, split two-to-one between sons and daughters.

Kin Groups. Large kin groups are the fundamental social units, and are of higher importance than ethnic, social class, and sectarian lines. Familial loyalty is considered an essential quality, and the family is mutually protective of each other. The kin group usually is organized through descent and marriage and involves three generations, many of whom live together. They often cooperate in areas such as agriculture and land ownership. If some family members live in nuclear families, they keep up practices such as depending on one another and asking the elders for advice. Individual status within the group is determined by the family's position and the individual's position within that group.


Infant Care. Children are the mother's responsibility, and in extended domestic units other female members also take care of the children. Children normally imitate older siblings, and obedience and loyalty to elders are of vital importance. Boys and girls have different upbringings, as a boy's birth into the family is usually celebrated, while a girl's typically is not. The boy is thought to be more valuable to a family, given his potential to work, while the girl is considered more of a dependent. At puberty girls are separated from boys and have much less freedom than boys.

Child Rearing and Education. The family holds an important role in teaching values, and they consider it their duty and feel responsible for other family members' behaviors. A good child is loyal, obedient, and does not question authority. The most important value impressed upon young girls and boys is premarital chastity. In addition, girls are taught ideas of weakness, naïveté, resignation, and passivity, while boys go with men at an early age to learn the worth of authority and dominance.

In urban settings, more authority is found in schools rather than with the family. Schools teach about religion and values that stem from it. One present problem, however, is that differing values are taught in schools than are taught in families. State schools tend to emphasize national sovereignty, Arab unity, economic security, and socialism, while families usually focus on such values as love, people, generosity, and religion. Many families also fear that their children acquire violent views and habits such as spying while in school.

Higher Education. Prior to the Persian Gulf War higher education was greatly prized, and the state used to pay for all of it, even literacy classes for adults. In the 1980s the literacy rate was about 80 percent, and there were several plans to build new universities and expand existing ones. During the Iran-Iraq War the government refused to recruit or draft university students, claiming that they would ensure the future of Iraq. However, the situation has gravely changed since the Persian Gulf War. No current literacy statistic is available, but in 1995 the rate was estimated to be 42 percent, a sharp drop from the previous decade. Also, there is no indication that the universities were ever expanded. Fewer women than men receive the highest levels of education.


In general, both adults and children keep to themselves and are not loud and boisterous, especially in public. Men commonly hold hands or kiss when greeting each other, but this is not the case for men and women. Respect is given to the elderly and women, especially those with children, as men give up their seats to them on buses and trains.


Religious Beliefs. Islam is the officially recognized religion of Iraq and is practiced by 95 percent of the population. Islam itself does not distinguish between church and state, so any distinctions between religious and secular law are the result of more recent developments. There are two forms of Muslims in Iraq, the majority Shias (Shiites) and the minority Sunnis. The Shias believe that the original twelve imams (Islamic leaders) were both spiritual and temporal leaders and that the caliph, or successor of Muhammad and leader of Islam, is selected through lineage and descent. The Sunnis believe that the imams were strictly temporal leaders and that the caliph should be elected. The Sunni sect is considered the orthodox branch of Islam. A small percentage of the population is Christian, divided into four churches: Chaldean, Nestorian, Jacobite (Syrian) Orthodox, and Syrian Catholic. The Yazidis, a cultural group living in the northern mountains, believe in a religion that combines paganism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam. They are concentrated in the Sinjar Mountains in the north and are herders and cultivators. In the past they have been victims of persecution due to their religious beliefs and practices, of ten being called heretical.

Religious Practitioners. There are five pillars of Islam: praise of Allah as the only God, with Muhammad as his prophet; prayer five times per day; almsgiving; fasting; and pilgrimage to Mecca. Muezzins invoke a call to prayer, reminding everyone it is either time to pray or to call them to the mosque, and imams lead the prayers. Imams are not required to go through formal training, but usually are men of importance in their communities and are appointed by the government. During Ramadan, men gather in homes or the marketplace to participate in readings of the Qur'an led by mumins (men trained at a religious school in An Najaf) or by mullahs (men apprenticed with older specialists). Christians are organized under a bishop who resides in Baghdad, and gather for Mass on Sundays.

Rituals and Holy Places. Muslims gather at the mosque every Friday for afternoon prayer. Ramadan falls in the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, which is on a lunar cycle and thus falls during different times of the year. The month entails a period of fasting from all food, drink, and activities such as smoking and sexual intercourse during daylight hours. At night the fast is broken, and on the first day of the tenth month there is a celebration, Id al Fitr, to acknowledge the end of the fast. During Id al Adha, on the tenth day of the twelfth month, there is a sacrificial festival. Both this and the one following Ramadan last for three or four days, and people dress up, visit each other, exchange gifts, and also visit cemeteries.

Death and the Afterlife. Funerals are very simple and somber events. People are buried on the day following their death, and are wrapped in a white cloth and placed in a plain box, if available. Whether the person is rich or poor, funerals are generally the same for everyone.

Medicine and Health Care

Health care is socialized, with a few private hospitals. The current situation of hospitals is dire, as they are tremendously understaffed, under-equipped, and overbooked. There has been a dramatic rise in disease since 1990, due to chemicals used in the fighting of the Persian Gulf War, and from malnutrition and bacterial disease exacerbated by conditions resulting from the economic embargo. In the 1980s Iraq was extremely advanced in health care, but lack of resources and education has compromised medical advancement, and in fact has caused it to regress. Doctors who could once cure many diseases through medicine or surgery are no longer able to do so due for lack of resources. Because Iraq was so advanced in medical expertise in the past, there was little reliance on traditional medicine. The current situation is disheartening for older physicians, because they are not able to do medical procedures that they have the capability to perform, and young physicians are no longer educated in the available techniques that older physicians know. The health care situation is rapidly deteriorating, and once-controlled diseases such as malnutrition, diarrhea, typhoid fever, measles, chicken pox, and cholera are reappearing in great numbers; in addition, there is a large increase in diseases such as leukemia and other cancers.

Secular Celebrations

The Anniversary of the Revolution is 17 July and the most important secular holiday. It was on this day in 1968 that the Baath Party took control of the Republic of Iraq. Other holidays celebrate Islamic feasts and include the day following the month-long fast of Ramadan (Id al Fitr), the sacrificial festival of Id al Adha, the birth of Muhammad, and a pilgrim's return from Mecca.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. The government supports artists, provided they are chosen by the state and do works requested by the state. For example, all writers, when commissioned by the state, must include praise to Saddam Hussein in their work. In general, artistic forms of thought and expression have been banned. Private ownership of typewriters and photocopiers is prohibited, so that no independent writings may be published or distributed. In addition, publishing houses, distribution networks, newspapers, art galleries, theaters, and film companies are subject to state censorship and must register all writing equipment with authorities. The end result is that artists are unable to express themselves freely.

Graphic Arts. Islamic art is very important, as are ceramics, carpets, and Islamic-style fashion design. In 1970 the Iraqi Fashion House opened, and design concentrated on the preservation of traditional attire and historical style. At present historical art, which is colorful and fine, has been reduced to art produced for function, such as sculptures of political figures and propaganda for the government.

Performance Arts. Music festivals have been important, such as the Babylon International Music and Arts Festival (last held in 1987 and 1995). International orchestras and performance troupes were invited to perform in the restored sites of Babylon, and people from all over the world attended. At present due to the harsh and severe living conditions, there are no resources to allocate to performance arts.


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CARDRI (Committee Against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq). Saddam's Iraq: Revolution or Reaction?, 1986.

Chalian, Gerard, ed. A People Without a Country: The Kurds and Kurdistan, 1993.

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Fernea, Elizabeth and Robert. The Arab World: Personal Encounters, 1985.

Fisher, W. B. The Middle East and North Africa 1995, 1994.

Hazelton, Fran, ed. Iraq Since the Gulf War: Prospects for Democracy, 1994.

Hopwood, Derek; Ishow, Habib; and Kozinowski, Thomas, eds. Iraq: Power and Society, 1993.

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U.S. State Department. CIA World Factbook 2000: Iraq.

Elizabeth C. Pietanza

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The people of Iraq are known as Iraqis. The Kurds, an Islamic non-Arab people, are the largest and most important minority group, constituting about 19 percent. Other minorities include Turkmens (about 2 percent), Yazidis, Assyrians, and Armenians. For more information on the Kurds and the Turkmens, see the chapters on Turkey and Turkmenistan, both in Volume 9; and on the Armenians, the chapter on Armenia in Volume 1.

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American Psychological Association

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