Iraq Background

Based on the book, Blockade & Desctruction of Iraq by Mohammed Alomari, 2002, with few updates

August 26, 2003

Country Profile

Iraq, a country about the size of California, is located in the southwestern portion of Asia known as the Middle East. Iraq has a very small coastline (58 km) at the head of the Arabian Gulf, located in the southern tip of the country. Iraq is bordered on the east by Iran, on the north by Turkey, to the west by Syria and Jordan, and to the south by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Iraq has two natural flowing rivers, the famous Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which meet together in the south to form another waterway known as Shatt-al-Arab. Iraq also has small lakes in the center of the country as well as mountainous regions in the north.  The central and southern portions are for the most part flatlands.  The southwestern portion of the country is mostly arid and essentially a desert.



Historically, Iraq has been the center of some of the most ancient civilizations in the world. Iraq was also the home of two major Biblical/Quranic prophets, Noah and Abraham.

The name, Iraq, literally means in Arabic, “the land between two rivers.” The first recorded history of the use of the name of Iraq to the country is in the early 630’s AD when the Islamic caliphs began referring to the area as Iraq.

Earlier (pre-Islamic) historians based their writings on the ancient Greek writers who referred to Iraq as “Mesopotamia,” which in Greek also meant, “land between two rivers.”

Prior to the ancient Greek civilization, the Iraq was referred to by the names of the various civilizations.

The ancient history of Iraq goes back to about 7,000 years ago, around 5,000 BC to the Sumerian civilization. The Sumerians had a collection of many different city-states in the southern plains of Iraq.

The Sumerians are credited for many of the inventions we take for granted today, such the invention of the wheel, which all modern land transportation depends on today.  The Sumerians also divided the day into 24 hours, and the hour into 60 minutes and the minute into 60 seconds.  In addition, the Sumerians are credited for having the oldest known written language, known as cuneiform. 

The Sumerians were later succeeded by the Akkadian civilization. The Akkadian period is also sometimes referred to as the Sumerian-Akkadian civilization, because it combined the high culture and scientific achievements of the Sumerians with the military nature of the Akkadians. The Akkadians concentrated on military conquests and forged an empire around in and around Iraq. The most renowned Akkadian king was Sargon I.

The Akkadians were later succeeded by the Babylonians, who came from the southern Iraqi city of Babylon.  During this early Babylonian period, the civilization became known for the arts and sciences. One famous Babylonian king, Hammurabi, was the first ruler to publish laws for all the citizens to read.  The written law gave the citizens an opportunity to publicly learn about the laws, rather than live in fear of what may or may not please the ruler.

Later the Babylonians were succeeded by the Assyrians who came from the northern Iraqi city of Ashur. The Assyrian Empire was much more militaristic than the early Babylonian period. The Assyrians established a sizeable empire in and around Iraq.  One of the most famous Assyrian kings was Sargon II.

Later, the Babylonians were able to fight off the Assyrians, and successfully destroyed the Assyrian Empire.  Although the second Babylonian period was much more militaristic than the first, the Neo- Babylonian civilization nevertheless still had an interest in the arts and sciences, like the first. This Neo-Babylonian period is also sometimes referred to as the Chaldean period.

The Neo-Babylonians also forged an empire in and around Iraq. One of the most famous Neo-Babylonian kings was Nebuchadnezzar.

After the fall of the Babylonian civilization, various empires swept through Iraq including the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans.

It wasn’t until the Islamic period that Iraq regained its independence where it eventually became the center of civilization. By the time of the Abbasid dynasty (750-1258 AD), Baghdad had become the capital of the Islamic caliphate. The most famous Abbasid caliph was Harun Ar-Rasheed.

During the Abbasid period, Iraq was the center of learning and trade around the world.  This golden era saw the development of universities, medical research, arts, and the sciences. Many students of learning around the world (even Europeans) traveled to Iraq to study there. Many merchants flocked to Iraq to buy and sell goods.

After the fall of Baghdad in 1258 by the Mongols, Iraq sunk into chaos, bloodshed, backwardness, and neglect.  It wasn’t until the Ottomans conquered Iraq in the 1500’s that peace and order was re-established in Iraq.  Ottoman rule over Iraq lasted until World War I (1914-1918) when Britain conquered Iraq.

After the British conquered much of the Middle East, they re-drew much of the boundaries not according to the Ottoman rule or to ethnic lines, but rather according to strategic adjectives and various political agreements with France (such as the Sykes-Picot Agreement).

As a result, much of the border issues that developed later in the twentieth century, such as between Iraq and Kuwait, between Iran and Iraq, and even between Syria and Turkey, were results of the British and French colonial powers drawing of the borders.

The British established a kingdom in Iraq in 1921 and ruled under a mandate granted by the League of Nations. Britain chose the Hashemite family from Mecca (now in Saudi Arabia) to be the royal family in Iraq. The first king of Iraq was Faisal bin Hussein.

Britain then granted Iraq its official independence in 1932, but with a special Anglo-Iraq Treaty guaranteeing Britain that Iraq could never adopt any policy deemed “unfavorable” to the British.

Iraq became a constitutional monarchy with two houses of parliament, a nominated senate or House of Appointees and an elected House of Representatives.  The members of the House of Appointees were appointed by the king, while the members of the House of Representatives were elected by the citizens.

After the sudden death of King Faisal I in 1933, he was succeeded by his young son, Ghazi.  King Ghazi ruled from 1933 until 1939, when he was killed in an automobile crash.

Since King Ghazi’s son, Faisal II was still a boy at the time of his death, Faisal’s uncle, Abdel-Ilah ruled on his behalf, as the Regent.   

After turning 18, Faisal II officially was crowned king in 1953. In February of 1958, Iraq and Jordan officially became united into one nation, called the Hashemite Union.

Later that year (July, 1958), Hashemite rule was overthrown in Iraq by local army officers in a bloody revolution. Both King Faisal II and Crown Prince Abdel-Ilah were killed.

The union with Jordan was summarily dissolved.  Both houses of parliament (House of Appointees and House of Representatives) were dissolved.

Iraq ceased to be a kingdom in 1958, and although it was officially called a republic, it was not functionally set up as a republic. Rather, the presidency was a powerless three-man council, whereby the prime minister held all the real power. There was no parliament.

The leader of the 1958 revolution was Army General Abdel-Karim Qassim, who became the prime minister. Premier Qassim was later overthrown and killed in another bloody revolution in 1963, also led by army officers.

After 1963, Iraq later became functionally more like a republic, where the power was transferred from the prime minister to the president.

The leader of the 1963 revolution was General Abdel-Salam Arif, who later became the president.  President Arif was killed in a helicopter crash in 1966, and was succeeded by his brother General Abdel-Rahman Arif. President Arif was later overthrown in 1968, in yet another revolution, also led by army officers. 

The leader of the 1968 revolution was General Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr, who became the president.

The 1968 revolution brought to power, the Baath Party, an Arab ultra-nationalist party. The party ruled the country for almost 35 years. 

After the 1968 revolution, the army officers established a Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) as the chief executive authority in the country.  The president of the republic has also been the chairman of the RCC.

In 1972, Iraq nationalized all its oil resources, which were previously controlled by foreign multinational oil companies.

President Al-Bakr resigned from his posts in 1979, citing poor health. The vice-chairman of the RCC, at the time, Saddam Hussein, became the chairman of the RCC and the president of Iraq.

Iraq fought a major war with its eastern neighbor Iran for eight years (1980-1988) over several issues, including a political struggle for dominance of the region and some border issues dating back to British colonial times.

In 1990, Iraq conquered its southern neighbor Kuwait over many political, economic, and strategic issues, and to a lesser degree, a few border issues, also dating back to the British colonial period.  The United Nations place a comprehensive trade ban on Iraq, as a result.

In 1991, a coalition of almost thirty nations, including the United States, Britain, and France, led a devastating war against Iraq.  That war destroyed Iraq's civilian infrastructure (electricity, water, sewage treatment, etc). Iraq was forced to withdraw from Kuwait in 1991.

Iraq is still suffering from the effects of the devastation of the 1991 Gulf War and the almost 13-year UN embargo, which prevented Iraq from rebuilding its electric power grid, water pumping stations, sewage treatment plants, schools, hospitals, etc.

On March 19, 2003, the U.S. led a massive invasion of Iraq from neighboring Kuwait, on the claim that Iraq still had banned weapons.  The UN Security Council refused to authorize any military action against Iraq due to the lack of evidence that Iraq violated any UN resolution, and the fact that Iraq was in fact cooperating with UN Weapons Inspectors.

The massive U.S. and British military assualt on Iraq severly overwhelmed the Iraqi military, and the Baghdad government completely collapsed on April 9, 2003. 

The fact that Iraq did not use any of the supposed banned weapons it was accused of having, added to the fact that even after several months of a massive U.S.-UK military occupation, no banned weapons were ever found in Iraq, it became quite clear that Iraq in fact did not have these weapons. The pretext for the invasion was in fact just that, a pretext.

The U.S. and British forces established military rule over Iraq, under the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).  Although the CPA established an Interim Iraqi Council, the CPA held all the power and issued all the laws and decrees.  The first head of the CPA was retired General Jay Garner.  He was soon replaced by Ambassador Paul Bremer, who is now the defacto ruler of Iraq.




The statistical information used in this book of the makeup of the Iraqi population is based primarily on official U.S. government reports, including ones from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which periodically produces country profiles and fact books, and the UN Oil-for-Food program.

According to these reports, Iraq’s population is estimated at just over 23 million (2001), and is made up of various ethnic and religious groups.  More recent estimates (2003) put Iraq's population at 26 million.  The overwhelming ethnic group is the Arabic majority whom comprise approximately 80% of the population.  The largest single ethnic minority is the Kurdish minority, who are mainly in the northern regions bordering Turkey and Iran. 

Other smaller ethnic minorities include the Turkomans (who speak an older form of Turkish), Assyrians and Chaldeans (who speak Syriac), and Armenians.

The overwhelming majority of Iraqis are Muslims, comprising about 97% of the population, and consisting of both Sunnis and Shiites. The single largest religious minority is the Christian community, consisting of Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians. The other much smaller religious minorities include the Mandean Sabians, Yazidis, and Jews.*

Due to Iraq's unique makeup of different denominations and ethnic groups, it is noteworthy to mention some percentages of the ethnic/religious makeup. 

The 2003 Census by the Iraqi Ministry of Trade, as approved by the UN, offers a break-down of the sectarian make-up of Iraq.

In Iraq, as previously mentioned, 97% of Iraqis are Muslims, both Shiites and Sunnis.  The Shiites in Iraq are primarily Arabs, although some are of Iranian origin, and some very small numbers are Kurdish Faylis and some Turkoman Shabak.  The Sunnis in Iraq are primarily Arabs, although many are Kurds and Turkomans. 

Many people when mentioning the Sunni-Shiite percentage in Iraq make the mistake of comparing only the Shiite Arabs to the Sunni Arabs, where in fact the Kurds and Turkomans compromise a sizeable portion of the Sunni population.  Shiite Arabs are more than Sunni Arabs, but not all Sunnis.  Sunnis althogether, which include Arabs, Kurds and Turkomans, althogether compromise almost 60 % of the Iraqi people. 

We know for instance the south is not all Shiite as some mistakenly believe. In fact, half of Basra is Sunni, southern towns like Zubair and Fao are predominately Sunni, and so on.  That is in addition to major cities like Baghdad which is majority Sunni, and Mosul, etc. To put these percentages in their proper perspective, here are some figures:

Total Sunnis ---------- 58%
Total Shiites ---------- 40%

Arab Shiites ---------- 39%
Arab Sunnis ---------- 36%
Kurdish Sunnis ------ 16%
Turkoman Sunnis ----  5%
Christians ------------- 1.5%
Other Shiites
(Feylis, Shabak, etc) - 1%
Sabians, Yazidis, oth - 0.5%

Finally, one note that needs to be made is that in spite of this unique makeup, inter-marriage between these groups is very wide-spread. In fact major tribes like Al-Jabbour, Al-Shammar, Al-Taaee, and Al-Tameemi are divided into both Sunni and Shiite parts.  In addition, there is much inter-marriage between Arabs, Kurds, and Turkomans.

The hope of most Iraqis is that they can overcome the ethnic and religious differences and forge a unified state that puts an emphasis on capabilities over denomination.  A true democracy will secure the rights of all and promote the principle of plurality.

© 2003 All Rights Reserved by Mohammed Alomari.


* U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Country Factbook, as of March, 2002. For details see