Ancient Mesopotamia is home to several civilizations from 3000 BC: the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Babylonians and the Assyrians. Conquered by Persians, Greeks and Romans, it became the center of the Arab Empire in the 8th and 9th centuries. The Arabs founded Baghdad in 762 and introduced the Islamic religion. This is followed by invasions by the Mongols and Turks and a long period of decline.
According to proexchangerates.com, modern Iraq was born in 1920, after World War I, when the Turkish-Ottoman Empire was dismembered. A decision by the League of Nations puts the new country under the tutelage of the United Kingdom, which installed on the throne, in 1921, an Arab monarch of the Hashemite dynasty, Faisal Hussein. A brother of Faisal, Abdullah, becomes at the same time the emir of Transjordan (now Jordan), also under British control. In 1932, Iraq is admitted to the League of Nations as an independent state, but the British control their government and thereby obtain exclusive rights to exploit oil.
Nationalism – British troops intervened in 1941, during World War II, to suppress a pro-Nazi coup attempt. In 1948, the country participated in the first Arab-Israeli war. Ten years later, the Iraqi monarchy is overthrown by a military coup led by General ‘Abd al-Karim Qasim, who installs a nationalist regime.
The new government is unstable and faces several coup attempts, led mainly by the Arab Socialist Party Baath (“rebirth”, in Arabic), which defends the union of all Arabs in a single nation. In 1961 a law was passed that limits the rights of foreign oil companies. Qasim is overthrown and shot in 1963, in a military coup with the participation of the Baath, which became a single party in 1968. In 1972, oil is nationalized. A rebellion by the Kurdish minority in the north of the country is suppressed, leaving thousands of people dead between 1974 and 1975.
Iran-Iraq War – The vice president, Saddam Hussein, expanded his influence in the 1970s, until he took over the presidency in 1979 through a coup. In 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, starting a war that lasted until 1988. The country receives the support of Western powers, such as the United States (USA), Israel, the Soviet Union (USSR) and conservative Arab regimes, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, fearful that the Iranian Islamic Revolution would expand to other nations in the Middle East and the Soviet republics of Central Asia. The conflict kills 300,000 Iraqis and 400,000 Iranians, devastates both countries and ends without a winner.
Kurdish separatist guerrillas have attacked the Iraqi military since 1985. Three years later, the Iraqi Armed Forces use chemical weapons – banned by international convention – against the Kurdish village of Halabja, killing 5,000 civilians.
Gulf War – Iraq sparks international conflict by invading Kuwait in August 1990. Saddam Hussein blames the neighboring country for the drop in oil prices by selling more than the quota set by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) .
The United Nations (UN) condemns the attack against Kuwait – an ally of the West – and decrees a trade embargo on Iraq. Saddam Hussein annexed Kuwait as its 19th province. Attempts at a diplomatic solution fail, and on January 16, 1991, coalition forces from around 30 nations, led by the United States, begin bombing Iraq in Operation Desert Storm. On February 24, the coalition launches a ground attack that destroys much of the Iraqi army and puts an end to the occupation of Kuwait. On February 28, a ceasefire is signed. The estimated death toll in the war is 100,000 soldiers and 7,000 Iraqi civilians, 30,000 Kuwaitis and 510 coalition men.
Rebellions – At the end of the war, revolts against Saddam Hussein’s regime broke out. In the south, the Shiite community takes over several cities. In the north, Kurdish separatists occupy territories. The government is cracking down on insurrections with violence. Under pressure from the UN, Hussein suspends military action, and an exclusion zone for Iraqi flights is imposed in the north and south of the country. The Iraqi president begins to negotiate with Kurdish leaders a project for autonomy for Kurdistan. In recent years, guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have used Iraqi territory as a base for attacks on Turkey.
Trade embargo – Problems with the United States and its allies continue, as a result of violations of the ceasefire agreement, by which Iraq has pledged to recognize the borders of Kuwait, to suspend persecution of Shiites and Kurds and to allow inspection and destruction of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. US forces are responding by bombing Iraq. The first happens in 1993, after armaments inspectors of the United Nations Special Commission (Unscom) are prevented from entering the country. At the risk of further military action, Iraq withdraws troops stationed near the Kuwaiti border in 1994 and recognizes the neighbor’s sovereignty.
International inspection – In 1996, Iraq entered into an agreement with the UN to resume selling limited quantities of oil, which happens the following year. The complete suspension of the embargo, however, remains conditional on the end of all weapons of mass destruction in the country. In October 1997, Saddam expelled US members from Unscom, claiming that the team has too much US participation. The tension rises until February 1998, when another agreement is signed, including diplomats from several countries in the commission.
Desert Fox– Iraq again suspends cooperation with Unscom. In reaction, in December 1998, the United States and the United Kingdom launched the largest military offensive against Iraq since the Gulf War, in order to “weaken Iraq’s ability to produce and use weapons of mass destruction”. For 70 hours, the country is the target of bombings and missiles that destroy military and civilian facilities. Seventy people die, according to the Iraqi government. The offensive is followed by clashes in 1999 in the no-fly zones created after the Gulf War. Iraq declares these zones illegal and starts attacking Western planes patrolling the region. The United States and British Air Force respond with bombings against strategic targets. At the end of the year, the UN creates a new Iraqi armaments inspection body, Unmovic. At the same time,
RECENT FACTS – Partial elections held in March 2000 – without opposition – give Baath 165 of the 220 seats in dispute in the Legislature. Saddam’s son, Uday Hussein, is the most voted candidate. Tensions are also mounting with neighboring Iran. Several people were injured in May in a rocket attack on the presidential palace in Baghdad, apparently carried out by pro-Iranian guerrilla groups.
In January 2001, on the 10th. anniversary of the launch of Operation Desert Storm, Hussein celebrates, in a speech, the “Iraqi triumph” over “the enemies of Allah”. In March, Unmovic reveals that Iraq still has the capacity to build and use biological and chemical weapons and launch Scud missiles. In September, the population celebrates suicide bombings in New York and Washington DC on the streets. Initial speculation that the Iraqi government is involved in the attacks is dispelled.
Economic sanctions have punished the people for a decade – Conceived with the aim of mitigating the effects of the economic boycott enacted in 1990, the “oil for food” operation foresees that, every six months, the country can export a quota of oil to acquire foodstuffs (food and medicines) for the population. But UN agencies such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and the World Food Program (WFP) warn that the agreement – which has been renewed consecutively since 1996 – has not been able to circumvent the tragic consequences of the embargo.
In 1998, the coordinator of the “oil for food” program admits that between 4 and 5,000 children die each month in the country due to malnutrition, contamination of water sources, poor sanitary conditions and the deterioration of the health system. Red Cross report, released in 2000, concludes that Iraqi infant mortality has tripled since the imposition of sanctions.
The humanitarian catastrophe that affects the country is increasing the international movement for the end of the economic boycott, mainly in the Arab countries. But the issue divides the UN Security Council: while the United States and the United Kingdom are in favor of maintenance, France, China and the Russian Federation want the suspension.