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Atlas Iraq

Country (long form)
Republic of Iraq
Total Area
168,754.44 sq mi
437,072.00 sq km
22,675,617 (July 2000 est.)
Estimated Population in 2050
Arabic, Kurdish (official in Kurdish regions), Assyrian, Armenian
58.0% total, 70.7% male, 45% female (1995 est.)
Muslim 97% (Shi'a 60%-65%, Sunni 32%-37%), Christian or other 3%
Life Expectancy
65.54 male, 67.56 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
1 Iraqi dinar (ID) = 1,000 fils
GDP (per capita)
$2,700 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
agriculture N/A%, industry N/A%, services N/A%
petroleum, chemicals, textiles, construction materials, food processing
wheat, barley, rice, vegetables, dates, cotton; cattle, sheep
Arable Land
crude oil
food, medicine, manufactures
Natural Resources
petroleum, natural gas, phosphates, sulfur
Current Environmental Issues
government water control projects have drained most of the inhabited marsh areas east of An Nasiriyah by drying up or diverting the feeder streams and rivers; a once sizable population of Shi'a Muslims, who have inhabited these areas for thousands of years, has been displaced; furthermore, the destruction of the natural habitat poses serious threats to the area's wildlife populations; inadequate supplies of potable water; development of Tigris-Euphrates Rivers system contingent upon agreements with upstream riparian Turkey; air and water pollution; soil degradation (salination) and erosion; desertification
Telephones (main lines in use)
675,000 (1995)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
1 (1999)

Iraq became independent in 1932 after a period of Ottoman and then British rule. On 14 July 1958, the monarchy was overthrown in a military coup and Iraq became a republic, ushering in a period of instability characterised by a series of coups and countercoups that continued throughout the 1960s.

The Arab-Israeli conflict of 1967 caused Iraq to turn to the Soviet Union for support, accusing the USA and UK of supporting Israel. On 17 July 1968, a bloodless coup by the Ba'ath Party, a secular socialist party founded in Syria in 1942, put General Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr in power. Despite some minor border skirmishes with Iran over the question of sovereignty over the Shatt al-Arab waterway in 1969, the 1970s represented a period of relative stability for Iraq. In 1975, Iraq and Iran decided to settle their differences, and a boundary line was drawn down the middle of the Shatt al-Arab (Iraq had been granted exclusive control of the waterway in 1937).

Iran also stated that it would stop giving aid to Iraqi Kurds. By the end of 1977, Kurdish had become an official language and greater autonomy had been granted, offering hope for a lasting peace between the Kurds and Iraqi authorities, conflict between whom had been simmering since 1961. These factors resulted in Iraq becoming a more stable country, and the growing oil revenues brought about an unprecedented improvement in the economy.

In 1979 Saddam Hussein replaced Al-Bakr as president, the revolution in Iran took place and relations between the two countries quickly sank to an all-time low. Iraq declared that it was dissatisfied with the 1975 boundary agreement of the Shatt al-Arab and wanted a return to the exclusive control of the waterway. The Iraqi government had always been dominated by Sunni Arabs, even though Shiites form a majority of the Iraqi population, and Hussein became increasingly concerned about the threat of a Shiite revolution in his own country.

Clashes took place along the border during 1980 and full-scale war broke out on 22 September, with Iraqi forces entering Iran along a 500km front. The eight years of war that followed were characterised by human-wave infantry advances and the deliberate targeting of urban residential areas by enemy artillery, all for little territorial gain.

The waters of the Persian Gulf also became a battleground as oil and other supply ships were destroyed. In March 1988 Kurdish guerrillas occupied government-controlled territory in Iraqi Kurdistan, and the Iraqi government in response killed thousands of civilians, forcing many more to escape to Iran and Turkey. It is alleged that chemical weapons were used – an allegation that Iraq continues to deny.

In August 1988 the UN brokered a ceasefire between Iran and Iraq. In the eight years of war, a million lives had been lost on both sides, and the economic cost to Iraq is estimated at more than US$100 billion. As Iraq started to emerge from the ravages of the war, relations with neighbouring Kuwait began to sour. In July 1990, Hussein accused the Kuwaitis (with some justification) of waging 'economic warfare' against Iraq by attempting to artificially hold down the price of oil, and of stealing oil from the Iraqi portion of an oilfield straddling the border.

Arab attempts to mediate a peaceful end to the dispute failed and on 2 August 1990 Iraq sent its troops and tanks into Kuwait. The UN quickly passed a series of resolutions calling on Iraq to withdraw. Instead, on 8 August, Iraq annexed the emirate as its 19th province.

Western countries, led by the USA, began to enforce a UN embargo on trade with Iraq by stopping and searching ships bound for Iraq and Jordan. In the months that followed, more than half a million troops from 27 countries flooded into Saudi Arabia as the diplomatic stand-off over Kuwait deepened. At the end of November, the USA and the UK secured a UN resolution authorising the use of force to drive Iraq out of Kuwait if Baghdad did not voluntarily pull out before 15 January 1991.

Despite frantic last-minute attempts by international leaders to broker a deal, the deadline passed, the Iraqis did not budge, and within hours a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles was launched against strategic targets in Baghdad and elsewhere which signalled the start of the Gulf War. Allied (mostly US) aircraft began a five week bombing campaign over Iraq and Kuwait. In contrast, the subsequent ground offensive lasted only 100 hours. While there were relatively few casualties on the Allied side, controversy has persisted over the number of civilian and military deaths in Iraq and Kuwait: estimates range from 10,000 to more than 100,000.

A ceasefire was announced by the USA on 28 February 1991 and Iraq agreed to comply fully with all UN Security Council resolutions. The Security Council demanded full disclosure, inspection and destruction of the country’s biological, chemical, ballistic and nuclear weapons stockpiles and development programmes before UN sanctions would be lifted.

The elite remnants of the Iraqi army turned their guns on Kurdish and Shiite uprisings in the north and south, causing a further mass exodus into neighbouring countries, particularly Iran and Turkey. This led the Allied forces to impose two 'no-fly' zones, in the north and south, to protect the civilian population from Iraqi air raids.

As malnutrition increased and medical care became inadequate throughout Iraq, the food for oil plan was introduced in 1996. Under this programme, Iraq was permitted to export US$2 billion of oil over a six-month period in order to buy food and medicine, although limited hard currency reserves and extensively damaged infrastructure prevented full implementation of the plan.

Iraq might have faded from the news headlines as its people suffered under the twin tyrannies of Saddam Hussein and UN sanctions, but all that changed dramatically following the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001.

The US-led war on terror initially focused on Afghanistan, but it wasn't long before Iraq was once more enemy number one on the US hit-list. Under pressure from the US who accused Iraq of harbouring weapons of mass destruction and biological/chemical weapons manufacturing facilities, the UN sent in teams of weapons inspectors to locate the stockpiles. Unable to locate either and needing more time to complete the search, the inspectors were forced to leave empty-handed; Washington deemed that Iraq had run out of time. In the face of strong international criticism and opposition and without UN backing, the 'coalition of the willing' invaded Iraq on 20 March 2003 with the aim of removing Iraq's threat as a 'real and imminent threat'.

Predictions of a protracted war proved wrong as Saddam went underground and coalition troops faced a demoralised foe who quickly surrendered. On April 9 2003, US forces took central Baghdad, Saddam's statue was toppled and with it went his regime.

The ease with which Iraq was taken proved a smokescreen to the realities of a strife-torn country finding itself in a sudden power-vacuum. The transition to a new Iraq has been perilous, with numerous Shia militia insurgencies, car bombings and attacks on coalition troops taking a high toll on the lives of soldiers and foreign civilians alike.

Although sovereignty was handed over to an interim government in June 2004, Iraq is a long way from stabilising. The challenge to rebuild Iraq, restore civil order, confidence and peace is monumental and the country's future remains in the balance.