|Republic of Iraq ||
Formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, Iraq became an independent kingdom
in 1932. A "republic" was proclaimed in 1958, but in actuality a series of
military strongmen have ruled the country since then, the latest being SADDAM
Territorial disputes with Iran led to an inconclusive and costly
eight-year war (1980-88). In August 1990 Iraq seized Kuwait, but was expelled
by US-led, UN coalition forces during January-February 1991. The victors
did not occupy Iraq, however, thus allowing the regime to stay in control.
Following Kuwait's liberation, the UN Security Council (UNSC) required Iraq
to scrap all weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles and to allow
UN verification inspections. UN trade sanctions remain in effect due to incomplete
Iraqi compliance with relevant UNSC resolutions.
Area - 437,072 sq km - 168,751 sq miles (about 8% larger than California) Population - 24 Million
Iraq is an Arab republic in southwestern Asia which is slightly
larger than California. The country is bordered to the north by Turkey, to
the west by Syria and Jordan, to the south by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the
Persian Gulf, and to the east by Iran.
Ancient Mesopotamia, the "land between the waters," was located between
the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers of Iraq. It is part of the "Fertile Crescent"
and has been called by anthropologists as the "Cradle of Civilization," possibly
the site of the Garden of Eden. One of the first civilizations of the world,
Sumer, evolved here more than 5,000 years ago. The first Sumerians are believed
to have been immigrants from the highlands of Turkey and Iran. As the area
developed, migrations and invasions became more common and influenced the
cultural make-up of the region. By the mid-24th century B.C., the Sumerians
were overrun by the Akkadians and thus began the rising and falling of a
long series of empires in the area. With the spread of iron new weapons of
war were developed and the Kingdom of Ashur--or Assyrian, as it is usually
called-from the northern part of this region began dominating its neighbors.
After the Assyrians fell in the seventh century B.C. the Babylonians reestablished
their empire in the region and they were followed by the Medes, Persians,
Greeks, and Romans.
Following the seventh century A.D., Islam became entrenched in what
is now Iraq. Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate (Islamic Empire),
was the leading city of the world for five centuries and was the acknowledged
leader of the Arab and Muslim world. In 1258 Baghdad was devastated by the
Mongols and was later occupied by the Ottoman Turks. After World War I, the
Turks were driven from the area by the British. Britain then created a mandate
from three former Ottoman provinces and called this new country Al Iraq (the
origin), the name formerly applied to only the southern region of the province
of Basra. In 1932, Britain gave independence to this mandate and Iraq became
a sovereign, independent state. However, Britain still maintained troops
in Iraq and greatly influenced the government.
In 1933, Iraq's King Feisal died. His death coincided with political
unrest and dissatisfaction with the government. In 1936, Iraq experienced
its first attempted coup d'etat and between 1936 and 1941 there were six
more abortive coup attempts. All of these attempted coups were motivated
by personal goals rather than political issues. In January 1943, pro-British
Iraq declared war on the World War II Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan)
under the terms of a treaty with Britain. In 1945 Iraq became a founding
member of the League of Arab States. Postwar Iraq, however, did not regain
the stature it enjoyed in the pre-World War II Arab world. After joining
the United Nations (UN) in December 1945, Iraq bitterly opposed the UN partition
of Palestine and in 1948 entered the war against Israel.
In 1958 King Faisal II of Iraq was executed in a coup by army officers.
The leaders of the new regime declared their nation a republic committed
to a foreign policy of nonalignment. Iraq's foreign policy, however, moved
from a pro-West stance to one of friendly relations with the communist powers.
Relations with the US were severed in 1967 after the US provided aid to Israel
in the Six Day War.
The Iraqi Baath (Resurgence) Party came to power through a coup
in 1968 and Saddam Hussein became the number two man in the regime. By 1976
Hussein had in reality become the power in the regime and in 1979 he took
complete control. The Baath regime closely parallels those that have existed
since the overthrow of King Feisal II in 1958. The Government is controlled
by Sunni Arab military elements who have succeeded in avoiding commitments
to a political union with other Arab states. Hussein's Baath Party dominates
both military and civilian communities.
During the 1960s and 1970s Iraq had become increasingly more dependent
on the former Soviet Union for military assistance. However, after the Soviets
reneged on some military aid deals and provided inferior replacement equipment
for war losses, the Iraqis began to improve relations with the West and decrease
their dependence on the Soviets. During the late 1970s several border clashes
with Iran increased tensions between the two countries. In 1979 Saddam Hussein
expelled the Ayatollah Khomeini from Iraq, where he had been in exile since
1961. Removed from the seat of Shiite learning in Iraq, Khomeini vowed he
would have Hussein's head brought to him on a platter. In February 1980 the
Shah's caretaker's government fell and Khomeini returned to Iran via France
vowing to spread the Islamic Revolution to the whole world. In September
1980, before Khomeini could consolidate his power, Iraq invaded Iran and
the two countries were locked in war until September 1988, when a cease fire
was agreed to, but no peace settlement has yet been achieved.
In August 1990 Iraqi troops occupied Kuwait. The United Nations
passed 12 resolutions and urged Iraq to leave Kuwait by 15 January 1991,
but to no avail. United States and multi-national forces were rushed into
Saudi-Arabia in response to an urgent call from the rulers of Saudi Arabia
and Kuwait. On 16 January 1991 the Gulf War started with thousands of bombing
raids in an effort to evict Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
On 23 February 1991 the ground war started; it ended in a US and multi-national
forces victory after 100 hours fighting by ground forces. Kuwait was liberated
and fighting erupted between Iraqi troops and Shiite and Kurd rebels.
Saddam Hussein, President of Iraq
for the past two decades, has the dubious distinction of being the world's
best known and most hated Arab leader. And in a region where despotic
rule is the norm, he is more feared by his own people than any other head
A former Iraqi diplomat living
in exile summed up Saddam's rule in one sentence: "Saddam is a dictator who
is ready to sacrifice his country, just so long as he can remain on his throne
in Baghdad." Few Iraqis would disagree with this. Although none living in
Iraq would dare to say so publicly. The Iraqi people are forced to consume a daily diet of triumphalist
slogans, fattened by fawning praise of the president.
He is portrayed as a valiant knight leading the Arabs into battle against
the infidel, or as an eighth-century caliph who founded the city of Baghdad.
Evoking the glory of Arab history, Saddam claims to be leading his people
to new glory.
The reality looks very different.
Iraq is bankrupt, its economy and infrastructure shattered by years of economic
sanctions imposed by the United Nations following the invasion of Kuwait.
Saddam Hussein remains largely
isolated from his people, keeping the company of a diminishing circle of
trusted advisers - largely drawn from his close family or from the extended
clan based around the town of Takrit, north of Baghdad.
The path to power
The Iraqi president was born
in a village just outside Takrit in April 1937. In his teenage years, he
immersed himself in the anti-British and anti-Western atmosphere of the day.
At college in Baghdad he joined the Baath party.
After the overthrow of the
monarchy in 1958, Saddam connived in a plot to kill the prime minister, Abdel-Karim
Qassem. But the conspiracy was discovered, and Saddam fled the country. In 1963, with the Baath party
in control in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein returned home and began jostling for
a position of influence. During this period he married his cousin Sajida.
They later had two sons and three daughters.
But within months, the Baath party had been overthrown and he was jailed,
remaining there until the party returned to power in a coup in July 1968.
Showing ruthless determination that was to become a hallmark of his leadership,
Saddam Hussein gained a position on the ruling Revolutionary Command Council.
For years he was the power
behind the ailing figure of the president, Ahmed Hassan Bakr. In 1979, he
achieved his ambition of becoming head of state. The new president started
as he intended to go on - putting to death dozens of his rivals.
Holding together a disparate nation
President Saddam Hussein might
defend his autocratic style of leadership by arguing that nothing else could
have kept such a vast and diverse nation united.
And, for all that Saddam Hussein is criticised and reviled, his opponents
have not been able to nominate anyone else who might hold Iraq together -
with its Kurds in the north, Sunni Muslims in the centre and Shi'ia in the
south. What the outside world calls terror, Saddam calls expediency.
years ago a European interviewer nervously quoted reports that the Baghdad
authorities might, on occasions, have tortured and perhaps even killed
opponents of the regime.
Was this true? Saddam Hussein was not offended. Rather, he
seemed surprised by the naivete of the question. "Of course," he replied.
"What do you expect if they oppose the regime?"
But his tactic of imposing his authority by terror has gone far beyond
the occasional arrest and execution of opponents. In attempts to suppress
the Kurds, for example, he has systematically used chemical weapons. And
in putting down a rebellion of Shi'ia in the south he has razed towns to
the ground and drained marshland.
Not that you would recognise the figure of a tyrant in the portraits that
adorn every building and street corner in Iraq.
Here you see Saddam,
usually smiling benevolently, in a variety of guises and poses - in
military uniform, say, or in traditional ethnic dress, or tweed cap and
sports jacket; he might be surrounded by his family or be seen jiggling a
young child on his knee - the would-be father-figure of the Iraqi nation.
A question of judgement
The fiction of Saddam Hussein
as a benevolent ruler was exposed by two major and catastrophic miscalculations
of foreign policy for which his country and his people have paid dearly.
In 1980, Saddam thought he saw an opportunity
for glory - to put Iraq at the forefront of the Arab world. He ordered a
surprise cross-border attack on Iran. This was meant to be a swift
operation to capture the Shatt al-Arab waterway leading to the Gulf.
But Iranian resistance was
far stronger than he had imagined. Eight years later, with hundreds of thousands
of young people killed and the country deep in debt, he agreed on a ceasefire.
Still, with enormous oil reserves, Iraq seemed to have the
potential to make a swift recovery. An increase in oil prices, Saddam Hussein
surmised, would speed up the country's revival still more.
his failure to achieve agreement on a price rise by conventional means, the
Iraqi president allowed his long-harboured resentment against Kuwait to get
the better of him.
On 2 August 1990, he made another costly blunder by
ordering his army into the neighbouring Gulf state.
In the months that led up to
the war of 1991, Saddam Hussein displayed qualities that still make him both
adored and hated in the Arab world.
On the streets of Arab cities
he is admired as a leader who has dared to defy and challenge Israel and
the West, a symbol of Arab steadfastness in the face of Western aggression.
At the same time, Saddam is feared as a vicious dictator who threatens the security of the Gulf region as a whole.
With his older and favorite
son Uday crippled in an assassination attempt, his younger son Qusay now
controls the elite Revolutionary Guards and the Special Forces which guarantee
the president's grip on power.
Gulf states and Western countries alike have come to realise that his
grip is stronger than it seems - and stronger by far than his grasp of reality
often appears to be. He insists that the 1991 Gulf War, which he famously
described as the Mother-of-All-Battles, ended in victory for Iraq.
By the same token, Saddam boasts that Iraq can shrug off any Western military
attack. The Iraqi people have no choice but to nod in agreement.
So it will go on until the
moment comes for bombastic slogans to be replaced by a succinct epitaph to
one of the most infamous dictators of the century. For the overwhelming majority
of Iraqis, that moment can not come too soon.