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History of Iraq

Table of contents
1 The Muslim Conquest
2 Modern Times

Ancient Times

For most of historic time, the land area now known as modern Iraq was almost equivalent to Mesopotamia, the land between the two rivers Tigris and Euphrates (in Arabic, the Dijla and Furat, respectively), the Mesopotamian plain was called the Fertile Crescent. Many dynasties and empires ruled the Mesopotamia region such as Sumer, Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia.

It was in Mesopotamia about 4000BC where the Sumerian culture flourished . The civilized life that emerged at Sumer was shaped by two conflicting factors: the unpredictability of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which at any time could unleash devastating floods that wiped out entire peoples, and the extreme richness of the river valleys, caused by centuries-old deposits of soil.

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; that is it is the most fought over frontier in the world. Sumerian dominance was challenged by the Akkadians, who migrated up from the Arabian Peninsula. The Akkadians were a Semitic people, that is, they spoke a language drawn from a family of languages called Semitic languages.

In 2340 BC, the great Akkadian leader Sargon, conquered Sumer and built the Akkadian Empire stretching over most of the Sumerian city-states and extending as far away as Lebanon. Sargon based his empire in the city of Akkad, which became the basis of the name of his people.

Sargon's ambitious empire lasted for only short time in the long time spans of Mesopotamian history. In 2125 BC[?], the Sumerian city of Ur in southern Mesopotamia rose up in revolt, and the Akkadian empire fell before a renewal of Sumerian city-states.

After the later collapse of the Sumerian civilization, the people were reunited in 1700 BC by King Hammurabi of Babylon (1792-1750 BC), 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. After consolidating his gains under a central government at Babylon, he devoted his energies to protecting his frontiers and fostering the internal prosperity of the Empire. Hammurabi's dynasty, otherwise referred to as the First Dynasty of Babylon, ruled for about 200 years, until 1530 BC. Under the reign of this dynasty, Babylonia entered into a period of extreme prosperity and relative peace

On Hammurabi's death, however, a tribe known as the Kassites began to attack Babylonia as early as the period when Hammurabi's son ruled the empire. Over the centuries, Babylonia was weakened by the Kassites. Finally, around 1530 BC (given in some sources as 1570 or 1595 BC), a Kassite Dynasty was set up in Babylonia.

The Mitanni, another culture, were meanwhile building their own powerful empire. They had only temporary importance, they were very powerful, but were around for only about 150 years. Still, the Mitanni were one of the major empires of this area in this time period, and they came to almost completely control and subjugate the Assyrians (who were located directly to the east of Mitanni and to the northwest of Kassite Babylonia). The Assyrians, after they finally broke free of the Mitanni , were the next major power to assert themselves on Mesopotamia. After defeating and virtually annexing Mitanni, the Assyrians, challenged Babylonia. They weakened Babylonia so much that the Kassite Dynasty fell from power; the Assyrians virtually came to control Babylonia, until revolts in turn deposed them and set up a new dynasty, known as the Second Dynasty of Isin. Nebuchadrezzar I(Nabu-kudurri-usur; c. (1119 BC-c. 1098 BC) was the best known of this dynasty.

Nebuchadnezzar the First, added a good deal of land to Babylonia and eventually came to attack Assyria.

Eventually, during the 800's B.C., one of the most powerful tribes outside Babylon, the Chaldeans (Latin Chaldaeus, Greek Khaldaios, Assyrian Kaldu), entered the scene. The Chaldeans rose to power in Babylonia and, by doing so, seem to have increased the stability and power of Babylonia. They fought off many revolts and aggressors. Chaldean influence was so strong that, during this period, Babylonia came to be known as Chaldea.

In 626 B.C., the Chaldeans helped Nabo-Polassar to take power in Babylonia. At that time, Assyria was under considerable pressure from an Iranian people, the Medes (from Media). Nabo-Polassar allied Babylonia with the Medes. Assyria could not withstand this added pressure, and in 612 B.C., Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, fell. The entire city, once a great capital of a great empire, was burned and sacked.

Later, Nebuchadnezzar II (Nabopolassar's son) inherited the empire of Babylonia. He added quite a bit of territory to Babylonia and rebuilt Babylon, still the capital of Babylonia.

In the 6th century BC (586 B.C.), Nebuchadnezzar II conquered Judea (Judah), destroyed Jerusalem; Solomon's Temple was also destroyed; Nebuchadnezzar carried away an estimated 15,000 captives, and sent most of its population into exile in 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 539BC and Alexander the Great in 331BC, who died there in 323 BC, Babylon declined after the founding of Seleucia, the New Greek capital. In the second century BC, it became part of the Persian Empire, remaining thus until the 7th century AD, when Arab Muslims captured it.

The Muslim Conquest In 634 AD, an army of 18,000 Arab Muslims, under the leadership of Khalid ibn al Walied[?], reached the perimeter of the Euphrates delta. Although the occupying Persian force was vastly superior in techniques and numbers, its soldiers were exhausted from their unremitting campaigns against the Byzantine Empire. The Sassanid troops fought ineffectually, lacking sufficient reinforcement to do more.

Muslims conquered Iraq in the 7th century A.D. In the eighth century, the Abassid caliphate established its capital at Baghdad, which became a frontier outpost on the Ottoman Empire.

Modern Times

During World War I, The Ottoman empire collapsed when British forces invaded Mesopotamia in 1917 and occupied Baghdad. Before they succeeded, the British forces suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Turkish army, the siege and surrender of Kut. An armistice was signed with Turkey in 1918.

The British Mandate Period

Iraq was carved out of the old Ottoman Empire by direction of the UK government on January 10, 1919, and 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 USA, with the remaining 5% going to a private oil coroporation headed by Caloste Gulbenkian[?]. The Iraqi government got none of the nation's oil. This remained the situation until the revolution of 1958.

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 Hashemite 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 British also supported narrowly based groups -- such as the tribal shaykhs over the growing, urban-based nationalist movement, and resorted to military force when British interests were threatened, as in the 1941 Rashid Ali Al-Gaylani coup. This coup led to a second British conquest of Iraq, a very rapid defeat for the Iraqi army in May 1941.

The Iraqi Monarchy

The British designated Iraq as a kingdom and placed the country under the rule of Emir Faisal ibn Husayn, brother of the new ruler of neighboring Jordan, Abdullah ibn Husayn, a member of the Hashemite family. Although the monarch was elected and proclaimed King by plebiscite in 1921, 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.

King Faysal I was succeeded by his son , Ghazi, after the death of his father in December 1933. King Ghazi's reign lasted for some five and a half years. The king drove his car into a lamppost and died instantly on the April 3, 1939.

King Faisal II (1935 - 1958) was the only son of King Ghazi I and Queen Aalya. King Faisal II was about four when his father died. For that reason the regency was assumed by his uncle Abd al Ilah, (from April 1939 - May 1953).

In 1945, Iraq joined the United Nations and became a founding member of the Arab League.

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. The war also had a negative impact on the Iraqi economy. The government allocated 40 percent of available funds for the army and for Palestinian refugees. Oil royalties paid to Iraq were halved when the pipeline to Haifa was cut off in 1948. The war and the hanging of a Jewish businessman led to the departure of most of Iraq's prosperous Jewish community. Although emigration was prohibited, many Jews made their way to Israel during this period with the aid of an underground movement. In 1950 the Iraqi parliament finally legalised 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, the Baghdad Pact allied Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, United States and the United Kingdom, and established its headquarters in Baghdad. The Baghdad Pact constituted a direct challenge to Egyptian president Gamal Abdal Nasser. In response, Nasser launched a vituperative media campaign that challenged the legitimacy of the Iraqi monarchy and called on the officer corps[?] to overthrow it. The 1956 British-French-Israeli attack on Sinai further alienated Nuri as-Said's regime from the growing ranks of the opposition. In February 1958 King Hussein[?] of Jordan and Abd al Ilah proposed a union of Hashemite monarchies to counter the recently formed Egyptian-Syrian union, opening its doors for any Arab state to join if they wished ... Nuri as-Said concentrated on the participation of Kuwait as a third country in the proposed Arab-Hashemite Union, Shaikh Abdullah Al-Salim, ruler of Kuwait, was invited to Baghdad to discuss Kuwait's liberation from British protection, and the subject of tri-unity. Britain opposed declaring Kuwait independent at that time. At this point, the monarchy found itself completely isolated. Nuri as-Said was able to contain the rising discontent only by resorting to even greater oppression and to tighter control over the political process.

The End of the Monarchy

Inspired by the example of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, a swift, predawn coup executed by officers of the Nineteenth Brigade known as "Free Officers", under the leadership of Brigadier Abdul-Karim Qassem (known as "il-Za`im") and Colonel Abdul Salam Arif[?] overthrew the Hashemite monarchy on July 14, 1958. King Faisal II and Abd al Ilah were executed in al-Rihab Palace. Their bodies (and those of many others in the royal family) were displayed in public, hanging by their feet outside the palace. Nuri as-Said escaped capture for one day after attempting to escape disguised as a veiled woman, but was then caught and put to death, his body tied to the back of a car and dragged through the streets until there was nothing left but half a leg. Iraq was proclaimed a republic, and the Arab Union was dissolved. Iraq's activity in the Baghdad Pact ceased. At the same time the new government declared the agreement by which foreign powers controled the nation's oil reserves to be null and void, but that the govenment was willing to negotiate with western companies to continue their exploitation of Iraqi petroleum with appropriate payment.

In 1961, Kuwait gained its independence from Britain. Abdul-Karim Qassem immediately claimed sovereignty over it, based on the former status of the Amirate as originally part of the Ottoman province of Basrah. Britain reacted strongly to this threat to its ex-protectorate, dispatching a brigade to the country to deter Iraq. Qassem backed down, and in October 1963, Iraq recognised the sovereignty and borders of Kuwait.

A period of considerable instability followed, with one military coup swiftly succeeding another, and leaders came and went throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Qassem was assassinated in February 1963, when Ba'ath Party members took power; under the leadership of General Ahmed Hasan al-Bakr as prime minister and Colonel Abdul Salam Arif[?] as president. Nine months later, President Abdul Salam Mohammad Arif led a successful coup against the Ba'athists, ousting the Ba'ath government. In April 13 1966 President Abdul Salam Arif died in a helicopter crash and was succeeded by his brother, General Abdul Rahman Arif[?]. Following the Six Day War of 1967, the Ba'ath Party felt strong enough to retake the govenment. The Ba'athists overthrew Arif and regained power in the coup of 17 July 1968 coup. Ahmed Hasan al-Bakr became president and chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) following the Ba'athists return to power.

A border dispute between Iraq and Iran was resolved with the signing of the Algiers Accord[?] on March 6, 1975.

In July 1979, Bakr resigned, and his chosen successor, Saddam Hussein, assumed the offices of both President and Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council.

Territorial disputes with Iran led to an inconclusive and costly eight-year war, the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), eventually devastating the economy. Iraq declared victory in 1988 but actually achieved a weary return to the status quo ante bellum. The war left Iraq with the largest military establishment in the Gulf region but with huge debts and an ongoing rebellion by Kurdish elements in the northern mountains. The government suppressed the rebellion by using weapons of mass destruction on civilian targets, including a mass chemical weapons attack on the city of Halabja[?] that killed several thousand civilians.

Invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War

A long-standing territorial dispute led to the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Iraq accused Kuwait of violating the Iraqi border to secure oil resources, and demanded that its debt repayments should be waived. Direct negotiations began in July 1990, but they soon failed; after re-assurance from the United States that they would not get involved (the famous meeting of Saddam Hussein with April Glaspie, the United States Ambassador to Iraq, on 25 July 1990). This was the go-ahead that Hussein needed. Arab mediators convinced Iraq and Kuwait to negotiate their differences in Jiddah[?], Saudi Arabia, on August 1, 1990, but that session resulted only in charges and counter-charges. A second session was scheduled to take place in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, but Iraq invaded Kuwait the next day. Iraqi troops overran the country shortly after midnight on 2nd August 1990.

The United Nations Security Council and the Arab League immediately condemned the Iraqi invasion. Four days later, the Security Council imposed an economic embargo on Iraq that prohibited nearly all trade with Iraq. Iraq responded to the sanctions by annexing Kuwait as the "19th Province" of Iraq on August 8, prompting the exiled Sabah family to call for a stronger international response. Over the ensuing months, the United Nations Security Council passed a series of resolutions condemned the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and implementing total mandatory economic sanctions against Iraq. Other countries subsequently provided support for "Operation Desert Shield". In November 1990, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 678, permitting member states to use all necessary means, authorising military action against the Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait, and demanded a complete withdrawal by January 15, 1991.

When Saddam Hussein failed to comply with this demand, the Gulf War (Operation "Desert Storm") ensued on the 17th of January 1991 (3 a.m. Iraq time), with allied troops of 28 countries, led by the US launching an aerial bombardment on Baghdad. The war, which proved disastrous for Iraq, lasted only six weeks, one hundred and forty thousand tons of firearms had showered down on the country, the equivalent of 7 Hiroshima bombs. Probably as many as 100,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed and tens of thousands of civilians. Allied air raids destroyed roads, bridges, factories, and oil-industry facilities (shutting down the national refining and distribution system) and disrupted electric, telephone, and water service. Conference centres and shopping and residential areas were hit. Hundreds of Iraqis were killed in the attack on the Al-Amiriyah bomb shelter. Diseases spread through contaminated drinking water because water purification and sewage treatment facilities could not operate without electricity. A cease-fire was announced by the US on 28 February 1991. Iraq agreed to UN terms for a permanent cease-fire in April 1991, and strict conditions were imposed, demanding the disclosure and destruction of all stockpiles of weapons.

On August 6, 1990 the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 661[?] which imposed stringent economic sanctions on Iraq, providing for a full trade embargo, excluding medical supplies, food and other items of humanitarian necessity, these to be determined by the Security Council sanctions committee. Iraq is allowed under the UN Oil-for-Food program (Resolution 986[?]) to export $5.2 billion (USD) of oil every 6 months with which to purchase these items to sustain the civilian population. 30% of the proceeds are redirected to a war reparations account.

The sanctions have been amended several times since 1990, although effectively they remain in force.

The United States, in an attempt to prevent the genocide of the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq and the Kurds to the north, declared "air exclusion zones" north of the 36th parallel and south of the 32nd parallel. The Clinton administration judged an alleged attempted assassination of former President George H. W. Bush while in Kuwait to be worthy of a military response on 27 June 1993. The Iraqi Intelligence Headquarters in Baghdad was targeted by 23 Tomahawk cruise missiles[?], launched from US warships in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf. Three missiles were declared to have missed the target, causing some collateral damage to nearby residential housing and eight civilian deaths.

In May 1995 Saddam sacked his half-brother, Wathban, as Interior Minister and in July demoted his notorious and powerful Defense Minister, Ali Hassan al-Majid, known popularly as 'Chemical Ali' because of his role in gassing operations in Kurdistan. These personnel changes were the result of the growth in power of Saddam Hussein's two sons, Udai Hussein[?] and Qusai Hussein, who were given effective vice-presidential authority in May 1995. They have been able to remove most of Saddam's loyal followers and it is clear that Saddam feels more secure protected by his immediate family members. In August Major General Hussein Kamil Hassan al-Majid, his Minister of Military Industries and a key henchman, defected to Jordan, together with his wife (one of Saddam's daughters) and his brother, Saddam, who was married to another of the president's daughters; both called for the overthrow of the Iraqi regime. In response, Saddam promised full co-operation with the UN commission disarming Iraq (UNSCOM) in order to pre-empt any revelations that the defector could make.

The weakening of the internal position of the regime occurred at a time when the external opposition forces were as weak as ever, too divided among themselves to take any effective action. At the same time, France and Russia pushed for an easing of sanctions. US determination to keep up the pressure on Iraq has prevailed however. In any case, the apparent weakening of the regime was illusory, not least when the two defectors returned home and were killed, apparently by other clan members, in a warning to other potential defectors. In fact, during 1996, the regime's grip on power seemed to have significantly strengthened despite its inability to end the UN sanctions against it.

In September 2002 President George W. Bush urged the United Nations to encourage Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to comply with U.N. resolutions or "actions will be unavoidable". Bush said that Saddam has repeatedly violated 16 U.N. Security Council resolutions, which include a call for Iraq to "disarm its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs". Iraqi officials rejected Bush's assertions.

In March 2003 the United States and Great Britain, with some aid from other nations, invaded Iraq. See: 2003 invasion of Iraq.

See also : Iraq



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