History of Iraq

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Ancient History

Iraq contains "Mesopotamia, the region between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, named by the Greeks (meso: "between" potamia: "the rivers"). Mesopotamia is part of the "Fertile Crescent," which curves from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean's eastern shore. It was one of the earliest parts of the world to see surplus-generating agricultural production, which led to the formation of cities and the creation of economic and political systems: civilization.

Early Civilization

By 6000 BCE the Sumerian people had become established in this region, and the cities which they founded were among the eariliest to have systematic trade, law and written literature. The city period began around 3360 BCE, dominated by warring city states, and saw the rise of temporal monarchs, the creation of astrology and time keeping, and the establishment of organized religion. In 2334 BCE, Sargon I of Akkad established an empire among the city states. Sargon was a semite, and his empire would stand for two centuries, to be overthrown by the Guti, but ultimately falling under the dominion of a Sumerian empire based at the city of Ur. The Sumerian period ended around 2000, with the establishment of an empire centered on the city of Babylon, ruled over by the Amorites. It is this kingdom which was ruled over by Hammurabi who promulgated one of the most complete codifications of law of the era.

The next wave of invaders were a new group of Indo-Europeans, the Hittites, who had iron working and the chariot. Their period of dominance lasted from approximately 1600 BCE to 1350 BCE, with their final retreat coming another two centuries later. The following period saw a re-mergence of city-states, and an expansion of trade, art and law.

Assyria's Rise and Fall

In 859 BCE this period came to an abrupt end, as the Assyrians, a militaristic semitic people, established an empire that began with the conquering Phonecian cities of the Levant. Within a generation they had invaded the Fertile Crescent and conquered Babylon and Damascus. Tigalth-Pileser III (745-727 BCE) would crown himself king of Babylon, and Sennacherib (704-681 BCE) would build a new capital at Nineveh after the Babylonians revolted.

The Assyrians, who ruthlessly resettled subject populations and taxed heavily to support their military became widely hated. The "neo-Babylonians", the Chaldeans, rose up in rebellion, overthrew the Assyrian monarchy, and razed Nineveh. The new Babylonian monarchy was headed by Nebuchadnezzar II (ca. 605-562 BCE), who invaded the Levant and conquered Judah, destroying Jerusalem in 586 BCE. The Babylonian kingdom would, in turn, be conquered ca. 500 BCE by the Persian empire under Cyrus the Great, whose empire would extend his authority as far as Egypt and the Aegean Sea.

In 330 BCE Mesopotamia was conquered by Alexander the Great, who defeated the Persians to cement his control of the areas formally under their control. Until his death in 323, Alexander used Babylon as a capital. He died there, in fact, in Nebuchadnezzar II's palace.

The Arabian Empire and its Successors

Mesopotamia and the surrounding areas were conquered by the Arabs in 656 CE. The new city of Baghdad became the center of the Muslim world in 762, when the Caliphate was moved there, and it would remain so until 1258 when it was sacked by the Mongols. In 1534, Baghdad was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. Most of present-day Iraq (as the provinces of Baghdad and Basra) was under Ottoman control until 1921.

Modern History

British Invasion, Mandate and early Monarchy (1914-1932)

In 1914, as part of hostilities against the Turkish Empire during World War I, the British invaded from India, landing at Al Faq and quickly took Basra, and in 1916 began working their way up the Tigris-Euphrates river valley. After a defeat at al-Kut, Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Stanley Maude assumed command, and began an slow methodical press northward, occupying Baghdad in March 1917 and concluding with the capture of Mosul in 1918. In an ironic, historical parallel he declared in 1917: "Our armies do not come...as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators." [1]

The British General Maude then promised limited autonomy and an end to "alien" rule, in accordance with the policy of liberating arab lands from foreign control. This had been the price of securing the help of the arab nationalists, such as Jafar al Askari.

At the same time, the British had secured the help of the House Hashim - the Hashemites having been vassals of the Ottomans and holding Mecca as sharifs - with promises that they would be given a chance to form an independent Arab kingdom. These promises were the basis for Husayn ibn Ali, who allied with the British and marched north into the trans-Jordan and Palestine.

The Treaty of Paris made Iraq a Class A mandate, along with Palestine. Prince Faisal, Husayn's nephew, who had represented the arabs at the negotiations in Paris, hastened to Syria and had himself proclaimed king by the "Syrian National Congress". The French on taking mandate of Syria, expelled him in March of 1920.

In Iraq, the governor made a series of political missteps - bringing in Indian administrators, excluding nationalists from government, and using military force to engage in reprisals for the killing of British soldiers, most notably in Najaf. The Nationalists organized tribal discontent, and claimed that mandate status was colonialism in disguise. Rebellions brought Najaf, Karbala and Al-Kut into disorder. In May of 1920, the Shia and Sunni nationalist groups put aside their differences, and used the month of Ramadan to organize.

Calling those who demanded independence "a handful of ungrateful politicians" the short sighted iterim governor Colonel Arnold Wilson used military force to quell the growing rebellion, including the use of RAF planes. This costly exercise convinced Whitehall, in charge of colonial affairs, to create a provisional government run by Sunni Arabs, who had been the administrators of the Turkish rule, and move towards Iraqi self-government. Needing to put someone in charge, they made Faisal king of Iraq after the Cairo conference of 1921, and the "State of Iraq" was declared. In 1922, arab nationalist Jakar al Askari was made prime minister, having decided to support King Faisal as a pan-arabist.

The regions of Iraq had never had a monarchy per se, they had been ruled by Caliphates, by foreign empires in name, but had managed much of their own affairs locally as Turkey's gradually liberalization had left more and more autonomy in the hands of regional elites. The relationship with this monarchy to Britain, along with the ownership of the oil concessions in Iraq, became the central bone of contention in negotiations that ran from 1922 through 1929. In 1932 Iraq was admitted to the league of nations, and recongized as an independent state.

However, the process by which it was formed created significant problems. The administrative divisions created by the Turks were designed to divide ethnic loyalties. Further, as with many groups in the Middle East, most entho-religious groups had urban and rural components, with the urban dwellers having more money, tradeable wealth, applicable skills and capital - while the rural dwellers had better mobility, warrior ethos and trading contacts. This was particularly acute in Iraqi's Shia population, who were scattered from Baghdad south to Basra in the cities, but were the predominant rural population only south of the central Baghdad district. Under-represented in the new administration, they immediately began agitating for greater authority within the new State of Iraq.

Another source of tension was the place of the Assyrian Christians. As with the Sikhs of India, the British had equipped this small group with arms and trained them as crack assault troops. They retained their weapons separately from the newly created Iraqi army, and having had their hopes of a state dashed, demanded greater voice in the new Republic of Iraq.

The Independent Monarchy (1932-1958)

From the Iraq Republic To U.S. Involvement (1958-1991)

Iraq's Republic (1958-2003) was ruled by a series of strongmen, the last of which, Saddam Hussein, came to power in 1979 as the leader of the Ba'athist, or Rebirth, Party. He established a cult of personality, a large military machine, and an extensive police state. In 1980 he launched a war against Iran in an attempt to secure the Southwestern oil fields and greater access to the sea. Despite being the agressor, he was backed as a counter-weight to the Islamic Republic of Iran by the United States under the Reagan administration, which helped him modernize his 1970's era Soviet military equipment and sold him chemical weapons.

Both Iran and Iraq took massive casualties during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, which saw the use of human wave assaults, chemical weapons and rocket attacks against civilian targets. The war finally ground to a halt, and an armistice reasserting the original boundaries was put in place.

Gulf War I and its Aftermath (1991-2003)

Not content with this dramatic failure, Saddam invaded and annexed neighboring Kuwait in August 1990. This action led led to Persian Gulf War in 1991, which successfully ousted Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The name of the operation Desert Storm entered the lexicon, as General Norman Schwartzkopf's battle plan killed tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers, for very small loses on the American side. It joined Agincourt as a near synonym for complete anhilation of a numerically larger, but militarily inferior, force by a superior army.

A harsh armistice was imposed, which did not end all military operations. The peace treaty was intended to weaken Saddam enough that he would fall from internal pressure, with the north and south of the country listed as "no fly zones", and a weapons inspection program intended to hobble Saddam's attempts to arm his ballistic missiles with chemical and nuclear weapons. However, the individual terms of the armisitice were negotiated by Gen Schwartzkopf, without strict instructions from Washington. Thus, one key concession made by Schwartzkopf was that the Iraqis were to be allowed to use helicopters in the no-fly zones. As a result, Hussein's government succeeded in brutally putting down the Shi'ite rebellion in the South, which had been encouraged by statements of President George H.W. Bush. Many trace the current level of distrust between Shi'ites and US troops currently in Iraq to this failed rebellion. In 1995 the CIA backed a bungled coup by the Iraqi National Congress which was easily put down. Saddam began violating the terms of the armistice as well, blocking or hindering weapons inspections, and signing an "Oil for Food" deal which became a source of illicit funds to support his regime. Beginning in 2001 the Executive Branch of George W. Bush began openly plotting his overthrow, and in 2002 declared that they were attempting to assassinate Saddam.

The Current Iraq War (2003-Present)

In late 2002, the Bush Executive claimed that there were illegal Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, and, under the pretense of re-establishing the interupted weapons' inspections, pushed a resolution, 1441, through the United Nations Security Council. In March of 2003, George W. Bush started the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Claiming that Iraq still had such weapons and was in "imminent" danger of using them, the United States and the United Kingdom led a force to overthrow Saddam and establish an occupation of Iraq. The invasion in March and April of 2003 bogged down, and the United States bought the loyalty of a number of Iraqi generals. By late April the Baathist Party no longer had control of Baghdad, and many of its senior people were killed or captured. However US-UK control over Iraq remained tenuous.

In early 2004, an organized intifadah broke out, led from Fallujah by the "Ansar army of Mohamed", run by Ba'athists, and the Mahdi army of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The United States launched an offensive against both Fallujah and al-Najaf simultaneously. Unable to retake control of either city, they were forced to establish truces in both cases.

At the same time, systematic war crimes came to light surrounding the American use of the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, located near Baghdad, which had been one of Saddam's death and torture centers. In pictures leaked to journalists, and disseminated across the Internet, American soldiers were seen torturing and sexually humiliating Abu Ghraib prisoners. In some instances, the soldiers and independent security contractors engaged in rape and murder. While the military claimed the torture was the act of a few bad seeds, many of the accused military personnel stated that they were simply following orders from further up the chain of command.

The United States imposed an Iraqi Governing Council and a constitution, which collapsed in the wake of the defeats in Fallujah and al-Najaf, as well as from the Abu Ghraib prison revelations. The intent of the Bush Executive was to set convicted bank felon Ahmed Chalabi up as prime minister of Iraq. However, seeing that this was untenable, it backed one of his associates for the post instead, in an attempt to meet a promised June 30th "hand over" date for Iraqi "sovereignty."

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