Iraq Facts and History

  1. Iraq has one of the world’s oldest cultural histories. Unlike many Arab countries, it embraces and celebrates the achievements of its past in pre-Islamic times.
  2. What is now Iraq was one of the cradles of civilization in ancient Mesopatamia. In the 8 th and 9 th Centuries Iraq was the world’s leading civilization, rich in science, art and literature. This history makes Iraq a world heritage site that is a unique storehouse of art and archaeology.
  3. Iraq is ranked 44 th in population size as of July 2004 its population was 25,374,691 people. Almost 72% of Iraq ‘s population consists of Arabic speakers (mainly Iraqi but some Hejazi); the other major ethnic group is the Kurds (25%), who live in the north and north-east of the country. The Kurds differ from Arabs in many ways including culture, history, clothing, and language. Most Kurds are Shiite Muslims. Other distinct groups are Assyrians, Turkomans, Iranians, Lurs, Armenians (3%) and Yezidis (possible descendants of the ancient Sumerian culture, part of the Kurdish population). About 2,500 Jews and 20,000 – 50,000 Marsh Arabs live in Iraq .
  4. Arabic is the official language, although Kurdish has an official status in the North and English is the most commonly spoken Western language. East Aramaic is also used by the country’s Assyrian population.
  5. There are more Arab Iraqi Muslims members of the Shiite sect than there are Arab Iraqi Muslims of the Sunni sect, but there is a large Sunni population as well. Muslims account for 97% of the population (Shi’ite 60%-65%, Sunni 32%-37%). Three percent are Christian or other small communities including Baha’is, Mandaens, Shabaks and Yezdis.
  6. Iraq is ranked 57 th in geographic area totaling 437,072 km, 1.1% is water. Iraq is divided into 18 provinces. They are sometimes referred to as Governorates. Iraq ’s capitol is Baghdad – the second largest city in Southwest Asia after Tehran , with the 2003 population estimated at 5,772,000. Baghdad is situated on the Tigris River and was founded between 762 and 767 AD. Historically Baghdad was of great importance to international trade with trade routes from India , Persia and Europe meeting at the city.
  7. Iraq’s GDP is ranked 76 th in the world totaling $38,790 billion in 2003, per person GDP is $1,600. Iraq ‘s economy is dominated by the oil sector, which has traditionally provided about 95% of foreign exchange earnings. It has the third largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia and Russia .
  8. The early history of Iraq begins with the Neanderthals who lived in Iraq about 60,000 years ago. For most of historic time, the land area now known as modern Iraq was almost equivalent to Mesopotamia defined by the plain between the two rivers Tigris and Euphrates (in Arabic, the Dijla and Furat, respectively). It was in Mesopotamia about 4000 BC where the Sumerian culture flourished. Eventually, the Sumerians had to battle other peoples. Some of the earliest of these wars were with the Elamites living in what is now western Iran . This frontier has been fought over repeatedly ever since; it is arguably the most fought over frontier in the world.
  9. After the later collapse of the Sumerian civilization, the people were reunited in 1700 BC by King Hammurabi of Babylon and the country flourished under the name of Babylonia . Babylonian rule encompassed a huge area covering most of the Tigris-Euphrates river valley from Sumer and the Persian Gulf . He extended his empire northward through the Tigris and Euphrates River valleys and westward to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea . Under the reign of this dynasty, Babylonia entered into a period of extreme prosperity and relative peace.
  10. Later, Nebuchadnezzar inherited the empire of Babylonia . He added quite a bit of territory to Babylonia and rebuilt Babylon , still the capital of Babylonia . Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 BC) is credited for building the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon one of the Seven Wonders of the World . Various invaders conquered the land after Nebuchadnezzar’s death, including Cyrus the Great in 539 BC and Alexander the Great in 331 BC, who died there in 323. In the second century BC it became part of the Persian Empire , remaining thus until the 7 th Century AD, when Arab Muslims captured it. In the eighth century, Baghdad was established as its capitol and later became a frontier outpost of the Ottomon Empire.
  11. In modern times, Iraq was invaded during the British invasion of Mesopotamia and occupation of Baghdad in 1917. At the end of the war, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and an armistice was signed with Turkey in 1918. The British used chemical weapons when the gassed rebels in the 1920s. Modern Iraq was created by the United Kingdom when it was carved out of the old Ottoman Empire . On November 11, 1920 it became a League of Nations mandate under British control with the name “State of Iraq.” At the end of the war, ownership of and access to Iraq ‘s petroleum was split five ways: 23.75% each to the UK , France , the Netherlands and the United States with the remaining 5% going to a private oil corporation. The Iraqi government got none of the nation’s oil. This remained the situation until the revolution of 1958.
  12. The British government laid out the institutional framework for Iraqi government and politics; the Iraqi political system suffered from a severe legitimacy crisis; Britain imposed a monarchy, defined the territorial limits of Iraq with little correspondence to natural frontiers or traditional tribal and ethnic settlements, and influenced the writing of a constitution and the structure of parliament. The Kurds in the north were lured by a British promise of autonomy within Iraq , a promise that was broken as soon as their incorporation was completed. The Land Settlement Act gave the tribal leaders 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 reduced the tenants to virtual serfdom, forbidding them to leave the land unless all their debts to the landlord had been settled. The British resorted to military force when British interests were threatened. In 1941 a coup led to a British invasion of Iraq resulting in a very rapid defeat for the Iraqi army in May 1941.
  13. The British designated Iraq as a kingdom. The monarch was elected and proclaimed King by a plebiscite in 1921, boycotted by the shi’ite majority, full independence was not achieved until 1932, when the British Mandate officially terminated. In 1927, discovery of huge oil fields near Kirkuk brought many improvements to Iraq . The Iraqis granted oil rights to the Iraqi Petroleum Company, a British-dominated, multinational firm.
  14. In 1945, Iraq joined the United Nations and became a founding member of the Arab League.
  15. After the establishment of Israel a war with Israel followed in 1948, in which Iraqi forces were allied with those of Transjordan , in accordance with a treaty signed by the two countries during the previous year. Fighting continued until the signing of a cease-fire agreement in May 1949. In 1950 the Iraqi parliament finally legalized emigration to Israel , and between May 1950 and August 1951, the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government succeeded in airlifting approximately 110,000 Jews to Israel . In 1956, under the Baghdad Pact, Iraq allied with Turkey , Iran , Pakistan , the United States and the United Kingdom .
  16. The Baghdad Pact constituted a direct challenge to Egypt resulting in President Naser of Egypt criticizing the legitimacy of the Iraqi monarchy and called on the officer corps to overthrow it. On July 14, 1958 in a swift, predawn coup executed by officers of the Nineteenth Brigade known as “Free Officers,” overthrew the Hashemite monarchy. Iraq was proclaimed a republic, and the union with Jordan dissolved. Iraq ‘s activity in the Baghdad Pact ceased. At the same time the new government declared the agreement by which foreign powers controlled the nation’s oil reserves to be null and void but expressed willingness to negotiate appropriate payment.
  17. A period of considerable instability followed, with one military coup swiftly succeeding another, and leaders came and went throughout the 1960s and 1970s in February 1963 the Ba’ath Party took power. The Kurds were rebelling, beginning in 1961. Ba’ath Party Secretary General, Saddam Hussein, was given responsibility to find a solution. It was impossible to defeat the Kurds by military means and in 1970 an agreement was reached. The Kurds were given 5 posts in a new cabinet, the Kurdish language and culture was recognized and they were given a proportional part of the national income. In July 1979 Saddam Hussein assumed the offices of both President and Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council.
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