The remains of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon , one of the seven great wonders of the ancient world, is in present day Iraq.
Historical, thematic, and city maps are available online at the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection .
The area became part of the Persian Empire in 539 BC and then in 331 BC fell under the rule of Alexander the Great (Greece). The Greek influence was superseded by the Persian. In AD 632 the prophet Muhammad died and Islam spread through the Mideast. The following year the Arabs rose up in the Persian-controlled areas and in 635 they won a watershed battle referred to as the "Battle of the Bridge".
By 637 the entire area was under the control of Omar, the second kalif of Islam. In 762, the second kalif of the Abyssinians chose Baghdad as the capital of the Arabian empire.
Baghdad was a centre for trade and the city prospered, bringing together in the process the Syrian, Roman and Persian political and cultural traditions. Scholarship and the arts flourished. This was the time of Harun al-Rashid of the 1001 Nights .
As early as 813, the kalif Mamun was faced with conflicts between the Sunni and Shi'a Muslims , who disagreed over who was the rightful successor to Muhammad as leader of the Muslums.
Mamun attempted to bring the two groups together by appointing a Sha'i as the next kalif, but the man he chose was murdered.
In 1258 the Monguls conquered Baghdad. They plundered the city, burned school, libraries and palaces. They destroyed the mosques and killed as many as one million Muslims (while sparing the lives of Jews and Christians). Different areas of the region were controlled by different groups of people, but by 1508 the entire region was once again under Persian rule. However, from 1534 until the First World War (excluding another brief period of Persian rule from 1623-38), the Ottoman Empire controlled the area.
During this time, Iraq split into three regions: Basra, Baghdad and Mosul. This led to deep divisions among the groups of people: religion- Muslim, Christian, Jew; within religions- Sunni and Shi'a; race- Arab, Kurds; and lifestyles- nomads, Bedouins, and permanent settlers.
When the First World War began, the British occupied the Shatt al-Arab region and built a harbour in Basra. A cease-fire with Turkey was declared in 1918, and the British then occupied Baghdad and Mosul as well. And in 1920, for the first time, the three regions (Basra, the southern Shi'a majority; Baghdad, the central Sunni majority; and Mosul, the northern Kurdish majority) were united as a single state-albeit under a British mandate.
In 1921 the British installed a Saudi Arabian as King of Iraq and installed a constitution and two chamber system. In 1932 Iraq became an independent state, although the British maintained military bases and they had secured mineral rights through the Iraqi Petroleum Company, an English, Dutch, French and American conglomerate.
By the 1930s the relationship between Iraq and England worsened, in part due to each country's attitude to events in Israel/Palestine.
At the beginning of World War II, the Prime Minister of Iraq Nur al-said wanted to declare war on Germany, but he was opposed by the military. A military coup in 1941 was followed by a British intervention. Iraq declared war on Germany in 1943.
From the end of the World War II until 1958, Iraq was ruled by a series of Monarch and unstable governments. Various political parties surfaced and the Arab League of Nations was established in 1945. Anti-Western opinions were high as a result of disputes regarding Israel and the creation of a Zionist state. In 1948 there was a mass emigration of Jews from Iraq.
Despite the nationalistic feeling among the Iraqi people, the Iraqi monarchy was markedly influenced by the West throughout the first half of the 1950s. In 1955 the Central Treaty Organization was signed by Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, Great Britain and Iran.
In 1956, following the conflict in the Suez Crisis, Iraq sent troops into Jordan to prevent any possible Israeli expansion. In 1958, King Feisal the Second of Iraq and King Hussein of Jordan announced a union: The Arabic Federation. This was in response to The United Arabic Republic, composed of Egypt and Syria.
The union, however, was brief, and in 1958 the Iraqi Revolution began. During a military coup King Feisal the Second was killed, along with the Crown Prince and Prime Minister Nuri al-Said. General Abd al-Karim Kassem became Prime Minister. Although the population of Iraq supported the new government, the military did not have a common political view and conflicts soon became apparent.
In 1953 Iraq withdrew from the Central Treaty Organization and established a relationship with China. That same year an attempt was made on Abd al-Karim Kassem's life. In 1963 members of the Baath party and nationalist officers conspired to overthrow Kassem, who was executed.
Colonel Abdul Salam Muhammad Aref became President and immediately arrested and executed political opponents. The Baath junta killed many of the Communists.
Following the Six Day War, under the Presidency of Abdul Rahman Aref, Iraq severed diplomatic ties with the United States and Great Britain, and forbade the export of oil to these countries.
In 1968 another coup brought Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr to power. He had an anti-Zionist, anti-imperialistic agenda and supported the more radical Palestinians. In 1972 Iraq entered an agreement with the Soviet Union to receive weapons and several thousand advisors. Iraq sent a significant number of troops to fight on the side of Syria during the Yom Kippur War, also called the October War , in 1973.
In 1974 conflicts flared between Kurdish separatists and the Iraqi military forces. Iran supported the Kurds but withdrew that support in 1975, a move that lead to the defeat of the separatists.
In 1979 Saddam Hussein became President. A failed assassination attempt just 12 days after he took office resulted in a crack-down and the execution of 22 members of the government. Well-funded by the increasing oil profits, Saddam Hussein built up an army that was largely made of men from his hometown Takrit.
In the 1980s the Iraqis began building a nuclear reactor with the aid of France, but the relationship between the two countries deteriorated. At the same time, fighting broke out again with the Kurd separatists. Saddam Hussein also began to fear an uprising of the Shi'a Muslim majority, which had never been given political power on level with the Sunni minority.
Iraq sent troops over the Iranian border on September 22, 1980. There had long been a dispute of land along the border between the two countries and the Iraqis believed that they would quickly win control over the Gulf region. However the war dragged on, and in 1987 the United Nations Security Council called for a resolution to end the war. Iraq consented, but Iran did not. Fighting continued until 1988,by which time Iraq had regained nearly all the land that Iran had won, and Iran consented to a ceasefire.
During the war Iraq had acquired advanced weaponry and large debts. There were disputes regarding oil production rights with the Gulf nations, and territorial borders. On August 2, 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Despite a UN deadline to withdraw from Kuwait, the Iraqi forces remained, and in 1991 the allied forces bombed strategic targets in Iraq. Iraq, in turn, sent missiles into Israel and Saudi-Arabia. After five weeks of bombing, foot soldiers were sent in by the allied forces and a ceasefire was declared on February 27, 1991.
Following the ceasefire, fighting broke out within Iraq. The Shi'a Muslims in the south wanted Islamic rule to be enforced in the country, while the Kurdish separatists in the north began fighting for independence. The military response to these conflicts lead to the emigration of both groups, close to 2 million people, to Turkey and Iran.
Western countries, the United States most severely, were criticised for not taking a more active role to protect these groups. In May 1992 a Kurdish ruling body was elected. In the south, however, the government drained the wetlands in an effort to prevent the Shi'a groups from thriving, both economically and physically. Many more were forced to flee into Iran.
The UN sanctions set following Iraq's actions in Kuwait punished the population of Iraq severely. In the first years following the war infant mortality doubled and medical services were cut by 85%. A UN report from 1995 concluded that 23% of all children under the age of 5 were malnourished.
The UN offered Iraq a limited oil export agreement, through which the income would be earmarked for humanitarian services overseen by UN representatives. Iraq declined.
In May 1996 the sanctions were to be lifted upon Iraq's capitulation of existing weapon reserves, along with their program for weapons of mass destruction. However, in 1995 and 1996 evidence of substantial stores of chemical and bacterial weapons were uncovered by UN commissioner Rolf Ekeus.
During the 1990s there were several attempted coups and retaliatory dismissals and executions. In the north the two opposing separatist groups, the KDP and PUK .
In late 1996 the KDP allied itself with Saddam Hussein. Tensions remained high both internationally and within Iraq.
Following the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, the United States began a more aggressive campaign of propaganda and military response in the Middle East. Troops were sent into Afghanistan and in 2002 President Bush proclaimed Iraq, North Korea and Iran to be the "Axis of Evil". Bush called Iraq one of the "world's most dangerous regimes".
Later that same year the UN passed what they called Smart Sanctions, allowing civilian goods to be imported. The UN also demanded access for weapons inspections.
In November of 2002 the UN put new, stricter guidelines in place for weapon inspection and said there would be "serious consequences" if Iraq did not comply.
The UN inspector Hans Blix reported that he was not satisfied with Iraq's compliance, but did not recommend a military response.
Despite controversy in the UN, and protests around the world, a US-led coalition attacked Iraq on March 20, 2003.
Although President Bush declared the end of "major combat operations" in May of 2003, troops are still present and still engaged in combat.
For the month of October 2006 alone, US fatalities numbered over 100. The number of Iraqi fatalities is much harder to ascertain. Some say more than 50 people a day are killed in the civil and military turmoil.
There is a wealth of information available on the web, representing various and opposing viewpoints. Here are only a few:
A Time Line of the Crisis
Iraq Coalition Casualties Report
The Iraq War
The Nation's Viewpoint
Main source for the information presented in this article:
Achehoug og Gyldendals Store Norske Leksikon.Achehoug og Gyldendal: Oslo, 1997.