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What Should I Know About Iraq?

The US was involved in the Iraq War, which began in 2003, and involved the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Iraq is a Middle Eastern country with an area of 168,000 square miles.
A network of trade caravans connected the cities of ancient Iraq.
Iraq and Iran have a long and complex intertwining history.
King Hammurabi and the Babylonians lived in Iraq in the 18th century BCE.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2014
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Iraq is a large country in the Middle East. It covers 169,000 square miles (438,300 sq. km), making it roughly twice the size of the state of Idaho. It shares borders with Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey, and has coastline along the Persian Gulf.

This country is sometimes referred to as the cradle of civilization, as it was the region historically referred to as Mesopotamia, where the first recorded civilization, the Sumerians, flourished millennia ago. The Sumerians would be followed by the Akkadians Empire under Sargon in the 24th century BCE, the Babylonians under Hammurabi in the 18th century BCE, the Assyrians under Nebuchadnezzar in the 10th century BCE, and the Chaldeans under Nabo-Polassar in the 7th century BCE. Nabo-Polassar’s son Nebuchadnezzar II would go on to expand the glory of Babylonia greatly, and is most well-known for constructing the Hanging Garden of Babylon.

After Nebuchadnezzar II died, the Persians began to descend upon Babylon. By the 6th century BCE they had conquered it, and held it until Alexander the Great seized control in the 4th century. The Greeks retained control of the area for two centuries, before losing it to the Parthians, who in turn lost it to the Sassanid Persians.

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The Sassanids held Iraq as a part of the Iranian Empire for many centuries, until the Arab Islamic expansion occurred in the 7th century. By the middle of the 7th century the Arabs had conquered much of the Iranian Empire, including modern-day Iraq.

By the 16th century the Ottoman Empire had taken control of the area, and although they lost that control for brief periods to local tribes, Iran, and the Mamluks, they would mostly retain the territory until the end of World War I. In 1920, Iraq was taken over as a British mandate, who created the modern boundaries of the new territory, failing to take into consideration ethnic groupings such as those of the Kurds in the north.

The British mandate ended in 1932, and the country was declared independent, under the rule of a Hashimite monarchy. This lasted until 1958, when the monarchy was overthrown by members of the military, who declared the new nation a Republic. In 1963 the Ba’ath Party took power of the country, although they were soon overthrown in turn in a coup. A few years later the Ba’ath Party again took power in 1968. For the next decade Iraq would grow economically, the industrial sector would grow drastically, and diplomatic relations would be normalized with many important nations.

In 1979 the president stepped down and appointed Saddam Hussein, who had already been managing the country from the sidelines, as his successor. The next year Hussein declared war on Iran, and for the next eight years both countries were devastated by the fighting. In 1990 Iraq again asserted ownership over its small neighbor, Kuwait. Iraq invaded, and in response the United States launched an offensive, and in the aftermath Iraq was left with severe economic sanctions and virtually no infrastructure. The United States also created a no-fly zone in the north of the country, in theory to defend the Kurdish population there, who had repeatedly been the victims of atrocities under Hussein.

In 2003, citing an alleged program to create weapons of mass destruction, the United States invaded Iraq, occupying the country and removing Saddam Hussein from power. In early 2005 free elections took place, and a parliamentary government was elected. The United States and a coalition of supporting nations remained to support the government against regular attacks which most now refer to as a civil war.

The Kurdish north area remains very tense, with ethnic Kurds continuing to discuss full independence. Although the Kurds have achieved a great deal of autonomy, many see this autonomy as simply a step towards independence. It remains to be seen how such moves would be treated by neighboring countries with their own Kurdish populations.

Visiting this country is can be difficult, as visas are issued generally only to those with official business, such as journalists or aid workers. Commercial flights themselves are rare, and all borders into the country are closed. Although there are an amazing number of beautiful sites to visit, including the ruins of cities as old as civilization itself, until the political situation settles, the nation is effectively sealed closed.

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