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Iraq

الجمهورية العراقية

3119

Country codes:IQ
Calling codes:964
Area:437,072.00 km²
Population:28,807,000

Introduction

Iraq (/ɪˈræk/ or /ɪˈrɑːk/; Arabic: العراق‎ al-‘Irāq); officially the Republic of Iraq (Arabic: جمهورية العراق‎ Jumhūriyyat al-‘Irāq, Kurdish: كؤماری عێراق‎‎, Komara Îraqê) is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert.

Iraq is bordered by Jordan to the west, Syria to the northwest, Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to the south. Iraq has a narrow section of coastline measuring 58 km (36 mi) on the northern Persian Gulf. The capital city, Baghdad is in the center-east of the country.

Two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, run through the center of Iraq, flowing from northwest to southeast. These provide Iraq with agriculturally capable land and contrast with the steppe and desert landscape that covers most of Western Asia.

Historically, Iraq was known in Europe by the Greek toponym 'Mesopotamia' (Land between the rivers). Iraq has been home to continuous successive civilizations since the 6th millennium BC. The region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is identified as the cradle of civilization and the birthplace of writing and the wheel. At different periods in its history, Iraq was the center of the indigenous Akkadian, Sumerian, Assyrian, Babylonian, and Abbasid empires. It was also part of the Achaemenid, Hellenistic, Parthian, Sassanid, Roman, Rashidun, Umayyad, Mongol, Safavid, Afsharid, and Ottoman empires, and under British control as a League of Nations mandate.

Iraq's modern borders were demarcated in 1920 by the League of Nations when the Ottoman Empire was divided by the Treaty of Sèvres. Iraq was placed under the authority of the United Kingdom as the British Mandate of Mesopotamia. A monarchy was established in 1921 and the Kingdom of Iraq gained independence from Britain in 1932. In 1958, the monarchy was overthrown and the Republic of Iraq was created. Iraq was controlled by the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party from 1968 until 2003. After an invasion led by American and British forces, the Ba'ath Party was removed from power and Iraq came under a military occupation by a multinational coalition. Sovereignty was transferred to the Iraqi Interim Government in June 2004. A new constitution was then approved by referendum and a new Government of Iraq was elected. Foreign troops remained in Iraq after the establishment of a new government due to an insurgency that developed shortly after the invasion, with violence peaking in mid 2007. In August 2010 the U.S. became the last member of the coalition to cease combat operations in Iraq. 18,000 US troops remain in the country; their full withdrawal is mandated by 31 December 2011.

History

Ancient Iraq

Iraq has the common epithet, the "Cradle of Civilization", as it was home to the earliest known civilization, the Sumerian civilization, which arose in the fertile Tigris-Euphrates river valley of southern Iraq in the Chalcolithic (Ubaid period). It was here in the late 4th millennium BC, that the world's first writing system and recorded history itself were born. The Sumerian civilization flourished for over 3,000 years and was succeeded by the rise of the Akkadian Empire in the 24th century BC. Over two centuries of Akkadian dominance was followed by a Sumerian Renaissance in the 21st century BC. An Elamite invasion in 2004 BC brought the Third Dynasty of Ur to an end. By the 21st century BC, a new Akkadian civilization, Assyria, had risen to dominance in northern Iraq, and by the 19th century BC a contemporaneous Amorite state, Babylonia, had formed in southern Iraq.

Iraq was to be dominated by the Assyrians and Babylonians for the next 14 centuries, and under the Babylonian empire of Hammurabi, the Assyrian Empires of 1365 - 1076 BC and the Neo Assyrian Empire of 911 - 609 BC, and the final Babylonian empire of 620- 539 BC Iraq became a centre of world power. The Neo Assyrian Empire in particular put Iraq at the heart of a massive empire stretching from the Caucasus to Egypt and Arabia, and from Cyprus to Persia.

In the 6th century BC, Cyrus the Great of neighbouring Persia defeated the Neo-Babylonian Empire at the Battle of Opis and Iraq was subsumed into the Achaemenid Empire for nearly four centuries. In the late 4th century BC, Alexander the Great conquered the region, putting it under Hellenistic Seleucid rule for nearly two centuries. The Parthians conquered the region during the reign of Mithridates I of Parthia (r. 171–138 BC). From Syria, the Romans invaded the region several times. Christianity began to take hold in Iraq (particularly in Assyria) between the 1st and 3rd centuries, and Assyria became a center of the Church of the East. The Sassanid Persians under Ardashir I destroyed the Parthian Empire and conquered the region in 224 AD. The region was thus a province of the Persian Empire for four centuries, until the Muslim conquest of Persia in the 7th century, although a number of indigenous states evolved during the Parthian era, such as Adiabene, Osroene and Hatra.

Islamic Golden Age

The Islamic conquest in the 7th century established Islam in Iraq. Under the Rashidun Caliphate, the prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law Ali moved his capital to Kufa "fi al-Iraq" when he became the fourth caliph. The Umayyad Caliphate ruled the province of Iraq from Damascus in the 7th century. (However, eventually there was a separate, independent Caliphate of Córdoba.)

The Abbasid Caliphate built the city of Baghdad in the 8th century as their capital, and it became the leading metropolis of the Arab and Muslim world for five centuries. Baghdad was the largest multicultural city of the Middle Ages, peaking at a population of more than a million, and was the centre of learning during the Islamic Golden Age. The Mongols destroyed the city during the siege of Baghdad in the 13th century.

Mongol invasions

In 1257, Hulagu Khan amassed an unusually large army, a significant portion of the Mongol Empire's forces, for the purpose of conquering Baghdad. When they arrived at the Islamic capital, Hulagu Khan demanded surrender but the last Abbasid Caliph Al-Musta'sim refused. This angered Hulagu, and, consistent with Mongol strategy of discouraging resistance, Baghdad was decimated. Estimates of the number of dead range from 200,000 to a million.

The Mongols destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate and The Grand Library of Baghdad (Arabic بيت الحكمة Bayt al-Hikma, lit., House of Wisdom), which contained countless, precious, historical documents. The city has never regained its status as major center of culture and influence. Some historians believe that the Mongol invasion destroyed much of the irrigation infrastructure that had sustained Mesopotamia for many millennia. Other historians point to soil salination as the culprit in the decline in agriculture.

The mid-14th-century Black Death ravaged much of the Islamic world. The best estimate for Middle East—Iraq, Iran, Syria, etc.—is a death rate of a third.

In 1401, warlord of Mongol descent Tamerlane (Timur Lenk) invaded Iraq. After the capture of Bagdad, 20,000 of its citizens were massacred. Timur ordered that every soldier should return with at least two severed human heads to show him (many warriors were so scared they killed prisoners captured earlier in the campaign just to ensure they had heads to present to Timur).

Ottoman Empire

During the late 14th and early 15th centuries, the Black Sheep Turkmen ruled the area now known as Iraq. In 1466, the White Sheep Turkmen defeated the Black Sheep and took control. In the 16th century, most of the territory of present-day Iraq came under the control of Ottoman Empire as the pashalik of Baghdad. Throughout most of the period of Ottoman rule (1533–1918) the territory of present-day Iraq was a battle zone between the rival regional empires and tribal alliances. The Safavid dynasty of Iran briefly asserted their hegemony over Iraq in the periods of 1508–1533 and 1622–1638.

By the 17th century, the frequent conflicts with the Safavids had sapped the strength of the Ottoman Empire and had weakened its control over its provinces. The nomadic population swelled with the influx of bedouins from Najd, in the Arabian Peninsula. Bedouin raids on settled areas became impossible to curb.

During the years 1747–1831 Iraq was ruled by the Mamluk officers of Georgian origin who succeeded in obtaining autonomy from the Ottoman Porte, suppressed tribal revolts, curbed the power of the Janissaries, restored order and introduced a program of modernization of economy and military. In 1831, the Ottomans managed to overthrow the Mamluk regime and imposed their direct control over Iraq. The population of Iraq had shrunk to under 5 million by the early 20th century.

World War I

Ottoman rule over Iraq lasted until World War I when the Ottomans sided with Germany and the Central Powers.

In the Mesopotamian campaign against the Central Powers, British forces invaded the country and suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Turkish army during the Siege of Kut (1915–1916). British forces regrouped and captured Baghdad in 1917. An armistice was signed in 1918.

During World War I the Ottomans were driven from much of the area by the United Kingdom during the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The British lost 92,000 soldiers in the Mesopotamian campaign. Ottoman losses are unknown but the British captured a total of 45,000 prisoners of war. By the end of 1918 the British had deployed 410,000 men in the area, of which 112,000 were combat troops.

In 1916, the British and French made a plan for the post-war division of Western Asia under the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

After the war, the League of Nations granted France mandates over Syria and Lebanon and granted the United Kingdom mandates over Mesapotamia and Palestine (which was subsequently partitioned into two autonomous regions: Palestine and Transjordan). On 11 November 1920 Iraq became a League of Nations mandate under British control with the name "State of Iraq".

British occupation

The Sykes-Picot agreement had been made with the assent of Imperial Russia, defining their respective spheres of influence and control in West Asia after the expected downfall of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The Agreement was concluded on 16 May 1916. Britain imposed a Hāshimite monarchy on Iraq and defined the territorial limits of Iraq without taking into account the politics of the different ethnic and religious groups in the country, in particular those of the Kurds and the Assyrians to the north. During the British occupation, the Shi'ites and Kurds fought for independence.

Faced with spiraling costs and influenced by the public protestations of war hero T. E. Lawrence in The Times, Britain replaced Arnold Wilson in October 1920 with new Civil Commissioner Sir Percy Cox. Cox managed to quell the rebellion, yet was also responsible for implementing the fateful policy of close cooperation with Iraq's Sunni minority.

In the Mandate period and beyond, the British supported the traditional, Sunni leadership (such as the tribal shaykhs) over the growing, urban-based nationalist movement. The Land Settlement Act gave the tribal shaykhs the right to register the communal tribal lands in their own name. The Tribal Disputes Regulations gave them judiciary rights, whereas the Peasants' Rights and Duties Act of 1933 severely reduced the tenants', forbidding them to leave the land unless all their debts to the landlord had been settled. The British resorted to military force when their interests were threatened, as in the 1941 Rashīd `Alī al-Gaylānī coup. This coup led to a British invasion of Iraq using forces from the British Indian Army and the Arab Legion from Jordan.

British Mandate of Mesopotamia

It initially formed two former Ottoman vilayets (regions): Baghdad and Basra into a single country in August 1921. Five years later, in 1926, the northern vilayet of Mosul was added, forming the territorial boundaries of the modern Iraqi state.

For three out of four centuries of Ottoman rule, Baghdad was the seat of administration for the vilayets of Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra. During the mandate, British colonial administrators ruled the country, and through the use of British armed forces, suppressed Arab and Kurdish rebellions against the occupation. They established the Hashemite king, Faisal, who had been forced out of Syria by the French, as their client ruler. Likewise, British authorities selected Sunni Arab elites from the region for appointments to government and ministry offices.

Kingdom of Iraq

Britain granted independence to Iraq in 1932, on the urging of King Faisal, though the British retained military bases and transit rights for their forces. King Ghazi ruled as a figurehead after King Faisal's death in 1933, while undermined by attempted military coups, until his death in 1939. Ghazi was followed by his under age son, Faisal II. 'Abd al-Ilah served as Regent during Faisal's minority.

On 1 April 1941, Rashid Ali al-Gaylani and members of the Golden Square staged a coup d'état and overthrew the government of 'Abd al-Ilah. During the subsequent Anglo-Iraqi War, the United Kingdom invaded Iraq for fear that the Rashid Ali government might cut oil supplies to Western nations because of his links to the Axis powers. The war started on 2 May and an armistice was signed 31 May.

A military occupation followed the restoration of the pre-coup government of the Hashemite monarchy. The occupation ended on 26 October 1947. The rulers during the occupation and the remainder of the Hashemite monarchy were Nuri as-Said, the autocratic Prime Minister, who also ruled from 1930–1932, and 'Abd al-Ilah, the former Regent who now served as an adviser to King Faisal II.

Republic of Iraq

The reinstated Hashemite monarchy lasted until 1958, when it was overthrown by a coup d'etat of the Iraqi Army, known as the 14 July Revolution. The coup brought Brigadier General Abd al-Karim Qasim to power. He withdrew from the Baghdad Pact and established friendly relations with the Soviet Union, but his government lasted only until the February 1963 coup, when it was overthrown by Colonel Abdul Salam Arif. Salam Arif died in 1966 and his brother, Abdul Rahman Arif, assumed the presidency.

In 1968, Abdul Rahman Arif was overthrown by the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party. Ahmed Hasan Al-Bakir became the first Ba'ath President of Iraq but then the movement gradually came under the control of Saddam Hussein, who acceded to the presidency and control of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), then Iraq's supreme executive body, in July 1979.

Iran-Iraq War

In 1979, Saddam Hussein took power as Iraqi President after overthrowing his close friend and the leader of his party (Ahmed Hasan Al-Bakr) and killing and arresting his leadership rivals. Shortly after his taking power, the political situation in Iraq's neighbor Iran changed drastically after the success of the Iranian Revolution of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which resulted in a Shi'ite Muslim theocratic state being established. This was seen as a dangerous change in the eyes of the Iraqi government, as Iraq too had a Shi'ite majority and was ruled by Hussein's government which, apart from having numerous Sunnis occupying leading positions, had a pan-Arab but non-religious ideology.

This left the country's Shiite population split between the members and supporters of the Ba'ath Party, and those who sympathized with the Iranian position. In 1980, Saddam claimed that Iranian forces were trying to topple his government and declared war on Iran. Saddam Hussein supported the Iranian Islamic socialist organization called the People's Mujahedin of Iran which opposed the Iranian government. During the Iran–Iraq War Iraqi forces attacked Iranian soldiers and civilians with chemical weapons.

In 1977, the Iraqi government ordered the construction of Osirak at the Al Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, 18 km (11 mi) south-east of Baghdad. It was a 40 MW light-water nuclear materials testing reactor (MTR). In 1981, Israeli aircraft bombed the facility, in order to prevent the country from using the reactor for creation of nuclear weapons.

The war ended in stalemate in 1988, largely due to American and Western support for Iraq. This was part of the US policy of "dual containment" of Iraq and Iran. Between half a million and 1.5 million people from both sides died in the 1980–1988 war.

al-Anfal campaign

Saddam's regime was notorious for its human rights abuses with the most large-scale and systematic being the Al-Anfal Campaign, a genocidal campaign that targeted the Kurdish population in Iraq. The campaign led by Saddam Hussein's military commander and first cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, led to the killing of 50,000 - 100,000 civilians.

The Anfal Campaign began in 1986 and lasted until 1989 and included a series of military operations, abductions, transfers and internal displacements, executions, and chemical weapons use. Attacks were launched against approximately 3000 to 4000 Kurdish villages in areas of northern Iraq and forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands among the country's Kurdish population. The most infamous chemical attack was on the Kurdish town of Halabja, which al-Majid tried to justify as a punishment for elements of Kurdish support of Iran.

Gulf War

In 1990, Iraq was faced with economic disaster following the end of the Iran–Iraq War. Kuwait, its small southern neighbor, had increased its production of oil, which kept oil revenues relatively low for Iraq. The Iraqi government also claimed that Kuwait was illegally slant drilling its oil wells into Iraqi territory, a practice which it demanded be stopped; Kuwait rejected this claim. In August 1990, Iraq followed this by invading Kuwait. The Iraqi military rapidly occupied the country, and Hussein declared that Kuwait had ceased to exist, becoming Iraq's 19th province. This brought heavy objections from many countries and the United Nations.

The UN agreed to pass economic sanctions against Iraq and demanded its immediate withdrawal from Kuwait (see Iraq sanctions). Iraq refused and the UN Security Council in 1991 unanimously voted for military action against Iraq. The United Nations Security Council, under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, adopted Resolution 678, authorizing U.N. member states to use "all necessary means" to "restore international peace and security in the area." The United States, which had enormous vested interests in the oil supplies of the Persian Gulf region, led an international coalition into Kuwait and Iraq.

The coalition forces entered the war with more advanced weaponry than that of Iraq, though Iraq's military was one of the largest armed forces in Western Asia at the time. Despite being a large military force, the Iraqi army was no match for the advanced weaponry of the coalition forces and the air superiority that the coalition forces provided. The coalition forces proceeded with a bombing campaign targeting military including an occupied public shelter in Baghdad.

Iraq responded to the invasion by launching Scud missile attacks against Israel and Saudi Arabia. Hussein hoped that by attacking Israel, the Israeli military would be drawn into the war, which he believed would rally anti-Israeli sentiment in neighboring Arab countries and cause those countries to support Iraq. However, Hussein's gamble failed, as Israel reluctantly accepted a U.S. demand to remain out of the conflict to avoid inflaming tensions. The Iraqi armed forces were quickly destroyed, and Hussein eventually accepted the inevitable and ordered a withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Before the forces were withdrawn, however, Hussein ordered them to sabotage Kuwait's oil wells, which resulted in hundreds of wells being set ablaze, causing an economic and ecological disaster in Kuwait.

After the decisive military defeat, the agreement to a ceasefire on February 28, and political maneuvering, the UN Security Council continued to press its demands that Hussein accept previous UN Security Council Resolutions, as stated in UNSCR 686. By April, UNSCR 687 recognized Kuwait's sovereignty had been reinstated, and established the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). Two days later, UNSCR 688 added that Iraq must cease violent repression of ethnic and religious minorities.

The aftermath of the war saw the Iraqi military, especially its air force, destroyed. In return for peace, Iraq was forced to dismantle all chemical and biological weapons it possessed, and end any attempt to create or purchase nuclear weapons, to be assured by the allowing UN weapons inspectors to evaluate the dismantlement of such weapons. Finally, Iraq would face sanctions if it disobeyed any of the demands.

Shortly after the war ended in 1991, Shia Muslim and Kurdish Iraqis engaged in protests against Hussein's regime, resulting in an intifada. Hussein responded with violent repression against Shia Muslims, and the protests came to an end. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 people were killed. The US, UK, France and Turkey claiming authority under UNSCR 688, established the Iraqi no-fly zones to protect Kurdish and Shiite populations from attacks by the Hussein regime's aircraft.

UN sanctions

While Iraq had agreed to UNSCR 687, the Iraqi government sometimes worked with inspectors, but ultimately failed to comply with disarmament terms, and as a result, economic sanctions against Iraq continued. After the war, Iraq was accused of breaking its obligations throughout the 1990s, including the discovery in 1993 of a plan to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush, and the withdrawal of Richard Butler's UNSCOM weapon inspectors in 1998 after the Iraqi government claimed some inspectors were spies for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. On multiple occasions throughout the disarmament crisis, the UN passed further resolutions (see United Nations Resolutions concerning Iraq) compelling Iraq to comply with the terms of the ceasefire resolutions.

Studies dispute the number of childen who died in southern and central Iraq during the sanctions. With humanitarian and economic concerns in mind, UNSCR 706 and UNSCR 712 allowed Iraq to sell oil in exchange for humanitarian aid. This was later turned into the Oil-for-Food Programme by UNSCR 986. Over the years, U.S. land forces were deployed to the Iraq border, and bombings were carried out to try to pressure Hussein to comply with UN resolutions.

As a result of these repeated violations, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of Defense William Cohen, and US National Security Advisor Sandy Berger held an international town hall meeting to discuss possible war with Iraq, which seemed to have little public support. In October 1998, U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, calling for "regime change" in Iraq, and initiated Operation Desert Fox. Following Operation Desert Fox, and end to partial cooperation from Iraq prompted UNSCR 1284, disbanding UNSCOM and replacing it with United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC).

The George W. Bush administration made a number of allegations against Iraq, including that Iraq was acquiring uranium from Niger and that Iraq had secret weapons laboratories in trailers and isolated facilities throughout Iraq; none of these allegations have proven true. Saddam Hussein, under pressure from the U.S. and the U.N., finally agreed to allow weapons inspectors to return to Iraq in 2002, but by that time the Bush administration had already begun pushing for war.

In June 2002, Operation Southern Watch transitioned to Operation Southern Focus, bombing sites around Iraq. The first CIA team entered Iraq on July 10, 2002. This team was composed of elite CIA Special Activities Division and the U.S. Military's elite Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) operators. Together, they prepared the battle space of the entire country for conventional U.S. Military forces.

Their efforts also organized the Kurdish Peshmerga to become the northern front of the invasion and eventually defeat Ansar Al-Islam in Northern Iraq before the invasion and Saddam's forces in the north. The battle led to the killing of a substantial number of militants and the uncovering of what was claimed to be a chemical weapons facility at Sargat. In October 2002, the U.S. Congress passed the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq, and in November the UN Security Council passed UNSCR 1441.

US-led invasion

On March 20, 2003, a United States-organized coalition invaded Iraq, with the stated reason that Iraq had failed to abandon its nuclear and chemical weapons development program in violation of U.N. Resolution 687. The United States asserted that because Iraq was in material breach of Resolution 687, the armed forces authorization of Resolution 678 was revived. The United States further justified the invasion by claiming that Iraq had or was developing weapons of mass destruction and stating a desire to remove an oppressive dictator from power and "bring democracy to Iraq." In his State of the Union address on January 29, 2002, President George W. Bush declared that Iraq was a member of the "Axis of Evil", and that, like North Korea and Iran, Iraq's attempt to acquire weapons of mass destruction posed a serious threat to U.S. national security. These claims were based on documents that were provided to him by the CIA and the government of the United Kingdom. Bush added,

"Iraq continues to flaunt its hostilities toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade...This is a regime that agreed to international inspections — then kicked out inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world...By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes [Iran, Iraq and North Korea] pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred."

However, according to a comprehensive U.S. government report, no weapons of mass destruction have been found. There are accounts of Polish troops obtaining antiquated warheads, dating from the 1980s, two of which contained trace amounts of the nerve gas cyclosarin, but U.S. military tests found that the rounds were so deteriorated that they would "have limited to no impact if used by insurgents against coalition forces. The possible effect upon civilians was not discussed."

Occupation

Following the invasion, the United States established the Coalition Provisional Authority to govern Iraq. Government authority was transferred to an Iraqi Interim Government in June 2004, and a permanent government was elected in October 2005.

After the invasion, al-Qaeda took advantage of the national resistance to entrench itself in the country. On December 30, 2006, Saddam Hussein was hanged. Hussein's half-brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Hassan and former chief judge of the Revolutionary Court Awad Hamed al-Bandar were likewise executed on January 15, 2007; as was Taha Yassin Ramadan, Saddam's former deputy and former vice-president (originally sentenced to life in prison but later to death by hanging), on March 20, 2007. Ramadan was the fourth and last man in the al-Dujail trial to die by hanging for crimes against humanity.

At the Anfal genocide trial, Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid (aka Chemical Ali), former defense minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, and former deputy Hussein Rashid Mohammed were sentenced to hang for their role in the Al-Anfal Campaign against the Kurds on June 24, 2007. Al-Majid was sentenced to death three more times: once for the 1991 suppression of a Shi'a uprising along with Abdul-Ghani Abdul Ghafur on December 2, 2008; once for the 1999 crackdown in the assassination of Grand Ayatollah Mohammad al-Sadr on March 2, 2009; and once on January 17, 2010 for the gassing of the Kurds in 1988; he was hanged over a week later on January 25.

Acts of sectarian violence have led to claims of ethnic cleansing in Iraq, and there have been many attacks on Iraqi minorities such as the Yezidis, Mandeans, Assyrians and others. A U.S. troop surge to deal with increased violence and improve security became a contentious political issue in the United States. The surge in troops was enacted in early 2007; in his September 2007 testimony to Congress, General Petraeus stated that the surge's goals were being met. Iraq also suffered a cholera outbreak in 2007.

Violence in Iraq began to decline from the summer of 2007.

The mandate of the multinational force in Iraq, last extended by UN resolution 1790, expired on December 31, 2008.

On June 29, 2009, U.S. troops formally withdrew from Baghdad streets, in accordance with former U.S. President George W. Bush's security pact with Iraq known as the Status of Forces Agreement. The SOFA pact stated, among other things, that U.S. troops will withdraw from Iraq's cities by June 30, 2009, and will leave the country on December 31, 2011. Throughout the country, as the citizens of Iraq celebrated with fireworks, television programs declared June 30 as National Sovereignty Day. However, crime and violence initially spiked in the months following the US withdrawal from cities. As Iraqi security forces struggled to suppress the sudden influx of crime, the number of kidnappings, robberies, bomb assaults, and shootings increased dramatically. According to the Associated Press, Iraqi military spokesman Major General Qassim al-Moussawi said investigations found that 60 to 70 percent of the criminal activity is carried out by former insurgent groups or by gangs affiliated with them — partly explaining the brutality of some of the crimes. United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the withdrawal caused a change of chemistry with “a real sense of empowerment on the part of the Iraqis.” U.S. troops continue to work with Iraqi forces after the pullout. Despite the initial increase in violence, on November 30, 2009, Iraqi Interior Ministry officials reported that the civilian death toll in Iraq fell to its lowest level in November since the 2003 invasion. On August 31, 2010 US forces ended combat missions in Iraq. The remaining 50,000 US troops are in an advisory role.

Culture

Music and dance

Iraq is known primarily for its rich maqam heritage which has been passed down orally by the masters of the maqam in an unbroken chain of transmission leading up to the present. The maqam al-Iraqi is considered to be the most noble and perfect form of maqam. As the name implies, it is native to Iraq; it has been known for approximately four hundred years in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk. It is performed by a singer (qari’) and three instrumentalists playing santur (box zither), jawzah (rebab/spike fiddle), dumbek (goblet drum) and sometimes joined by a riqq (tambourine). Al-Chalghi al-Baghdadi is the name of the ensemble that performs this music, and al-maqam al-Iraqi is the collection of sung poems written either in one of the sixteen meters of classical Arabic or in Iraqi dialect (zuhayri). This form of art is recognized by UNESCO as “an intangible heritage of humanity”. Unfortunately, due to the catastrophic invasion of the United States, this art form is being threatened with dwindling numbers of students and masters.

Iraq is also known for an instrument called the oud (similar to a lute) and a rebab (similar to a fiddle); its stars include Ahmed Mukhtar and Munir Bashir. Until the fall of Saddam Hussein, the most popular radio station was the Voice of Youth. It played a mix of western rock, hip hop and pop music, all of which had to be imported via Jordan due to international economic sanctions. Iraq has also produced a major pan-Arab pop star-in-exile in Kathem Al Saher. The folk songs of Iraqi Turkmens are also well known, and Abdurrahman Kızılay is a leading name.

Early in the 20th century, many of the most prominent musicians in Iraq were Jewish. In 1936, Iraq Radio was established with an ensemble made up entirely of Jews, with the exception of the percussion player. The nightclubs of Baghdad also featured almost entirely Jewish musicians. At these nightclubs, ensembles consisted of oud, qanun and two percussionists, while the same format with a ney and cello were used on the radio.

One of the reasons for the predominance of Jewish instrumentalists in early 20th century Iraqi music was a prominent school for blind Jewish children, which was founded in the late 1920s. Many of the students became musicians, eventually forming the Arabic Music Ensemble Qol Yisraeli (Israel Radio).

Singers, on the other hand, were Muslim, Jewish and Christian. The most famous singer of the 1930s–1940s was perhaps the Jew Salima Pasha (later Salima Murad). The respect and adoration for Pasha were unusual at the time, since public performance by women was considered shameful and most female singers were recruited from brothels.

Numerous instrumentalists and singers of the middle and late twentieth century were trained at the Baghdad Conservatory.

For much of the 20th century, Egypt was the center for Arab popular music, with only a few stars from other countries finding international success. The most famous early composer from Iraq was Ezra Aharon, an oud player, while the most prominent instrumentalist was Daoud Al-Kuwaiti. Daoud and his brother Saleh formed the official ensemble for the Iraqi radio station and were responsible for introducing the cello and ney into the traditional ensemble.

In recent years the Iraqi school of oud players has become very prominent, with players such as Salman Shukur and Munir Bashir developing a very refined and delicate style of playing combining older Arabic elements with more recent Anatolian influences.

Art and architecture

Some important cultural institutions in the capital include the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra – rehearsals and performances were briefly interrupted during the Occupation of Iraq but have since returned to normal. The National Theatre of Iraq was looted during the 2003 invasion, but efforts are underway to restore it. The live theatre scene received a boost during the 1990s when UN sanctions limited the import of foreign films. As many as 30 movie theatres were reported to have been converted to live stages, producing a wide range of comedies and dramatic productions.

Institutions offering cultural education in Baghdad include the Academy of Music, Institute of Fine Arts and the Music and Ballet school Baghdad. Baghdad also features a number of museums including the National Museum of Iraq – which houses the world's largest and finest collection of artifacts and relics of Ancient Iraqi civilizations; some of which were stolen during the Occupation of Iraq.

The capital, Ninus or Nineveh, was taken by the Medes under Cyaxares, and some 200 years after Xenophon passed over its site, then mere mounds of earth. It remained buried until 1845, when Botta and Layard discovered the ruins of the Assyrian cities. The principal remains are those of Khorsabad, 10 miles (16 km) N.E. of Mosul; of Nimroud, supposed to be the ancient Calah; and of Kouyunjik, in all probability the ancient Nineveh. In these cities are found fragments of several great buildings which seem to have been palace-temples. They were constructed chiefly of sun-dried bricks, and all that remains of them is the lower part of the walls, decorated with sculpture and paintings, portions of the pavements, a few indications of the elevation, and some interesting works connected with the drainage.

Sport

Football is the most popular sport in Iraq. Football is a considerable uniting factor in Iraq following years of war and unrest. Basketball, swimming, weightlifting, bodybuilding, boxing, kick boxing and tennis are also popular sports.

The Iraqi Football Association (Arabic: الاتحاد العراقي لكرة القدم‎) is the governing body of football in Iraq, controlling the Iraqi National Team and the Iraqi Premier League (also known as Dawri Al-Nokba). It was founded in 1948, and has been a member of FIFA since 1950 and the Asian Football Confederation since 1971. The Iraqi National Football Team are the 2007 AFC Asian Cup Champions after defeating Saudi Arabia in the final.

Cuisine

Iraqi cuisine has a long history going back some 10,000 years – to the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians and Ancient Persians. Tablets found in ancient ruins in Iraq show recipes prepared in the temples during religious festivals – the first cookbooks in the world. Ancient Iraq, or Mesopotamia, was home to many sophisticated and highly advanced civilizations, in all fields of knowledge – including the culinary arts. However, it was in the medieval era when Baghdad was the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate that the Iraqi kitchen reached its zenith. Today, the cuisine of Iraq reflects this rich inheritance as well as strong influences from the culinary traditions of neighbouring Turkey, Iran and the Greater Syria area.

Some characteristic ingredients of Iraqi cuisine include – vegetables such as aubergine, tomato, okra, onion, potato, courgette, garlic, peppers and chilli, cereals such as rice, bulgur wheat and barley, pulses and legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and cannellini, fruits such as dates, raisins, apricots, figs, grapes, melon, pomegranate and citrus fruits, especially lemon and lime.

Other Iraqi culinary essentials include butter, olive oil, olives, tamarind, vermicelli, tahini, pistachios, almonds, honey, date syrup, yogurt and rose water, cheeses such as baladi, feta and halloumi, and herbs and spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, fenugreek, cumin, oregano, saffron, baharat, sumac and za'atar. Similarly with other countries of Western Asia, chicken and especially lamb are the favourite meats. Most dishes are served with rice – usually Basmati, grown in the marshes of southern Iraq. Bulgur wheat is used in many dishes – having been a staple in the country since the days of the Ancient Assyrians.

Meals begin with appetizers and salads – known as Mezze. Some popular dishes include Kebab (often marinated with garlic, lemon and spices, then grilled), Shawarma (grilled meat sandwich wrap, similar to Döner kebab), Bamia (lamb, okra and tomato stew), Quzi (lamb with rice, almonds, raisins and spices), Falafel (fried chickpea patties served with amba and salad in pita), Kibbeh (minced meat ground with bulghur or rice and spices), Masgouf (grilled fish with pepper and tamarind), and Maqluba (a rice, lamb, tomato and aubergine dish). Stuffed vegetable dishes such as Dolma and Mahshi are also popular.

Geography

Iraq lies between latitudes 29° and 38° N, and longitudes 39° and 49° E (a small area lies west of 39°). Spanning 437,072 km (168,754 sq mi), it is the 58th-largest country in the world. It is comparable in size to the US state of California, and somewhat larger than Paraguay.

Iraq mainly consists of desert, but near the two major rivers (Euphrates and Tigris) are fertile alluvial plains, as the rivers carry about 60,000,000 m (78,477,037 cu yd) of silt annually to the delta. The north of the country is mostly composed of mountains; the highest point being at 3,611 m (11,847 ft) point, unnamed on the map opposite, but known locally as Cheekah Dar (black tent). Iraq has a small coastline measuring 58 km (36 mi) along the Persian Gulf. Close to the coast and along the Shatt al-Arab (known as arvandrūd: اروندرود among Iranians) there used to be marshlands, but many were drained in the 1990s.

The local climate is mostly desert, with mild to cool winters and dry, hot, cloudless summers. The northern mountainous regions (Kurdistan region هه‌رێمی کوردستان) have cold winters with occasional heavy snows, sometimes causing extensive flooding.

With its 143.1 billion barrels (2.275×10 m) of proved oil reserves, Iraq ranks second in the world behind Saudi Arabia in the amount of Oil reserves; yet the United States Department of Energy estimates that up to 90% of the country remains unexplored. These regions could yield an additional 100 billion barrels (1.6×10 m). Iraq's oil production costs are among the lowest in the world, but only about 2,000 oil wells have been drilled in Iraq, compared with about 1 million wells in Texas alone.

Climate

Most of Iraq has a hot arid climate with subtropical influence. Summer temperatures average above 40 °C (104 °F) for most of the country and frequently exceed 48 °C (118.4 °F). Winter temperatures infrequently exceed 21 °C (69.8 °F) with maximums roughly 15 to 19 °C (59 to 66.2 °F) and night-time lows 2 to 5 °C (35.6 to 41 °F). Typically precipitation is low; most places receive less than 250 mm (9.8 in) annually, with maximum rainfall occurring during the winter months. Rainfall during the summer is extremely rare, except in the far north of the country.

Inforamtion above from the Wikipedia article Iraq, licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.

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