Iraq became independent in 1932 but the
British influence remained until the monarchy was
abolished in a military coup in 1958. Ten years later,
the Baath Party took power. Under Saddam Hussein's
dictatorial rule, the country was modernized, using the
large oil resources, but Shia Muslims and Kurds were
marginalized. From 1980, Iraq was involved in bloody
conflicts that shattered the economy. In 2003, Iraq was
invaded by the United States, bringing Shia Muslims to
power and triggering civil war. Although some stability
had been achieved prior to the US departure in 2011, the
fighting flared up again a few years later.
Iraq became independent from Britain in 1932, but
British influence remained strong. In 1955, the Baghdad
Pact was established between the United Kingdom, Iraq,
Iran, Pakistan and Turkey in order to guarantee Western
influence in the Middle East. The pact was met by strong
opposition from Iraqi nationalists. In a military coup
in 1958, Iraq's then King Faisal II was assassinated and
General Abd al-Karim Qasim became leader of a leftist
nationalist regime. Iraq left the Baghdad Pact and made
closer contacts with the Eastern bloc.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Iraq. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
In 1963, Qasim was killed and succeeded by Colonel
Abd al-Salam Arif, who had close contacts with the Baath
Party. It had been formed in Syria in 1947 as an
Arab-nationalist, secular and socialist party that would
work for Arab unity. In 1968, the Baath Party seized
power in Iraq through a new coup. Iraq was called a
democratic people's republic with socialism as its goal,
but in practice the country remained a dictatorship.
Many of the new leaders came from Sunni Arab clans
around the city of Tikrit, including President Ahmad
Hasan al-Bakr and his relative Saddam Hussein, who were
given a prominent role as the regime's second man.
After a troubled start, the new regime strengthened
its position as the Baath Party - now more clearly
governed by Saddam Hussein - succeeded in raising the
Iraqi prosperity with income from growing oil exports.
The oil industry had been nationalized in 1972 and in
the following years great investments were made in
education and health care.
In 1979, President Bakr resigned and was succeeded by
Saddam Hussein, who already in practice ruled the
country. One of his first actions was to have several
leading Baathists executed, who were allegedly planning
a coup with the help of Syria. The power was
concentrated on Saddam Hussein's relatives and Sunni
Arab clans. The government's relations with the Shiite
majority and its religious leaders became worse, despite
the fact that the Baath party contained some Shi'ites.
Saddam Hussein's dictatorship soon emerged as one of the
toughest in the Middle East.
The Kurds in the north had struggled for autonomy
ever since Iraq's independence, and during the 1960s,
Kurdish insurgency had been defeated by the regime. In
1970, an agreement was signed between the regime and the
Kurds, which would give the Kurds representation in the
Baghdad government and autonomy in three provinces in
the north. But new battles erupted. The Kurdish movement
was supported by Iran, which was embroiled in border
disputes with Iraq. When Iraq signed an agreement with
the Shah of Iran in 1975 to resolve the border disputes,
Saddam Hussein could crush the Kurds' revolt. The
Baghdad government regained control in the north and
many Kurds were expelled.
In the agreement with Iran in 1975, Iraq had been
forced to give up its demand to control the entire Shatt
al-Arab watercourse and accept that the border was drawn
in the middle of the river. Dissatisfaction in Baghdad
with this, as well as concerns that the 1979 Iran
revolution (which brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power)
would spread to the Shi'a Muslims in Iraq, led to border
crossings between the two countries. In September 1980,
Iraq invaded the neighboring country and initially had
great success. But the war ended, and in 1982 Iranian
forces entered Iraq. The result was a prolonged and very
bloody war of attitudes, in which both countries
attacked oil transport and civilian targets. Many
countries were hostile to the fundamentalist Shiite
government in Tehran and Saddam Hussein was able to
strengthen his armed forces through arms imports from
both the West and the East, even though it was known
that the Iraqi army used combat gas in the war.
According to a UN report, about 10,000 Iranians were
killed by Iraq's chemical warfare. Saddam Hussein was
also granted large credits by the Gulf States, which saw
Iran as a threat. In 1984, the military balance turned
to Iraq's favor and in 1988 Iran agreed to a ceasefire.
An Iran-backed Kurdish uprising during the war had
been answered by gas attacks and extensive massacres on
civilian Kurds (see Kurdistan). In total, hundreds of
thousands of people were killed in Iran and Iraq,
including Kurdistan, but the death toll is contentious
Iraq's economy was now in ruins and the country had
large debts. Iraq suggested in 1990 that the country
might take military action against countries that
produced too much oil, thus pushing up prices, demanding
that Kuwait write off loans from the war years. In
August 1990, Kuwait was invaded, declared to be Iraq's
19th province. The UN Security Council imposed
widespread sanctions on Iraq and gave its Member States
the right to liberate Kuwait "by all necessary means".
An international force under US leadership was built up.
Sweden contributed financially and by sending a field
hospital. In January 1991 "Operation Desert Storm" was
launched with air strikes, which were later followed by
ground troops. Kuwait was quickly liberated and the
Iraqi army was destroyed.
The Kurds in the north and the Shia Muslims in the
south now revolted against Saddam Hussein. The United
States had urged the people to rise and many were
convinced that the US military would come to the rescue,
but that did not happen. Saddam Hussein brutally turned
down the raids after signing a ceasefire agreement after
the Kuwait War. The UN could not agree on a response to
this, but the United States and the United Kingdom (and
1991-1998 also included France) imposed a ban on Iraqi
planes in the north and south. During the rest of the
nineties, there was an occasional air war against
so-called strategic targets in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was
forced to withdraw his military from the Kurdish zone in
the north, where the Kurds proclaimed autonomy in
October 1992 (see Kurdistan).
In the spring of 1991, the UN Security Council had
decided that Iraq could no longer own or develop
chemical, biological or nuclear weapons of mass
destruction. The International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA
(until 1997 under the leadership of the Swedish Hans
Blix) was assigned the task of controlling a possible
nuclear weapons program. Other weapons would be
controlled by the UN special commission UNSCOM (until
1997 led by the Swede Rolf Ekéus). The sanctions against
Iraq would be maintained until all weapons of mass
destruction were destroyed. In 1996, the United Nations
launched an oil-for-food program that allowed Iraq to
export a certain amount of oil to pay for imports of
food and medicines to the population. It later emerged
that the regime made big profits through bribes and
illegal fees that companies paid for contracts under the
The United States is invading
Following a series of conflicts, weapons inspections
were suspended in 1998. The United States and the United
Kingdom increased the number of air strikes. The
intention was to eventually remove Saddam Hussein. The
UN Security Council was divided and France, Russia and
China criticized the US line. In 1999, the Security
Council decided that new inspections should be done, now
with the Unmovic organization, which was led by Hans
Blix. After a while, however, Iraq refused to cooperate
on the inspections.
After the terrorist attacks in the United States on
September 11, 2001, the press on Saddam Hussein
increased. The United States claimed that Iraq may have
had to do with the attacks and stated that Iraqi agents
had contacts with the terrorist network al-Qaeda, which
was behind the terrorist attacks. It was not until
November 2002 that Iraq released UN weapons inspectors.
These were thought to need more time for their work, but
US President George W Bush had by that time decided to
remove the Iraqi leader. The US and Britain abandoned
diplomacy and gave Saddam Hussein an ultimatum: if he
and his closest did not leave Iraq, war would break out.
On March 20, air strikes against Baghdad began.
In early April 2003, US Army forces entered Baghdad
without facing particularly stiff resistance. On April
9, it was clear that the regime no longer had control.
Several of Saddam Hussein's closest men were arrested or
surrendered the weeks after the war. However, some of
the regime's elite allies had begun to prepare for
underground resistance. Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay
were killed in a firefight in July 2003 while Saddam
Hussein could be arrested in December. In November 2006,
he was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity,
specifically a massacre of 148 Shiites in the city of
Dujayl in 1982. He was hanged on December 30 of that
Looting and crime
Iraq was now occupied by the US-led force. The
US-British forces had not been trained to maintain order
and security, and they hardly interfered with looting
and crime. Guarding Iraq's borders has almost completely
ceased. In retrospect, one of the most serious mistakes
in the United States is considered to have been in May
2003 when the Baath regime's army and security forces
disbanded instead of replacing certain officers. The
Baath Party was also banned (see Political system). The
remnants of the regime came to form the core of a
Sunni-dominated resistance that slowly became more and
more extensive, with suicide attacks, car bombs,
massacres and kidnappings. However, the resistance
quickly gained a religious Sunni-Islamist feel and
extreme so-called jihadists soon began to arrive from
Saudi Arabia, Syria and other countries. One of the most
radical resistance groups joined the international
terror network al-Qaeda in 2004.
The US initially ruled Iraq directly, but in July
2003 appointed an advisory body with 25 Iraqi
politicians. A Provisional Constitution (Transitional
Administrative Law) came into force in June 2004, after
which the regime switched to an Iraqi interim government
even though the United States retained a decisive
influence. Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi'ite Muslim and
former Baath party who lived in exile for a long time,
was named Prime Minister. General elections for a
transitional parliament and provincial assemblies were
held in January 2005, but they were boycotted by many
Sunni Arabs. Parliament appointed a transitional
government led by Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shi'a Muslim
from the Iran-linked Islamist Dafa Party (see Political
system). A new constitution was approved in a referendum
in October of the same year.
In December 2005, new elections were held and an
ordinary parliament was appointed. After long
negotiations, a new unity government with
representatives of all peoples groups could take office
in 2006, led by new Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki from
The invasion had induced violence, terrorism and
ethnic divisions. No weapons of mass destruction were
found. The previously oppressed Kurds and Shia Muslims
had helped to establish a strong position in the state
at the expense of the Sunni Arabs. The fighting worsened
from 2006, especially after an explosive attack on a
Shiite shrine in the city of Samarra. The government was
weak and Shiite militia, often backed by Iran, took the
lead in the war against the Sunni rebels. The violence
began to increasingly target civilians from both sides.
In October 2006, al-Qaeda's Iraqi branch and several
smaller Sunni organizations joined in an alliance called
the Islamic State in Iraq, which became one of the
largest rebel groups.
Collaboration with militia
Eventually, the United States must change its
strategy. Meetings between the U.S. Army and Sunni Arab
clan leaders in Iraq took place in the fall of 2006.
These clan leaders were hostile to the Maliki government
and the United States occupation, but they also disliked
the brutality of the Islamic State and feared the
growing power of the Shiite militia. Some clan leaders
accepted the US offer of money and support to fight the
Islamic State. These groups were named al-Sahwa
, the "awakening," and eventually came to
include tens of thousands of armed members, who in many
cases had previously belonged to the resistance movement
or the Baath Party. At the same time, the United States
deployed military reinforcements, especially in Baghdad.
The violent purges between Sunni and Shi'a Arabs
culminated in the summer of 2007 and the violence was
then suppressed slowly but surely. In 2008, the United
States was able to hand over the Anbar province in
western Iraq, which was a strong hold on the uprising,
to the Iraqi government. In 2008, the US and Iraq
negotiated an agreement under which foreign forces would
leave the country before 2012. Half a year later, US new
President Barack Obama had begun withdrawing troops, and
in August 2010, the last fighting brigades left Iraq,
though less guarded. and training forces remained. Iraq
was increasingly stabilized and in 2010 several of the
Islamic State's top leaders were killed. However, the
group continued to carry out attacks and targeted
several attacks against Iraq's Christian minority. Many
Christians had left the country before this.
In March 2010, parliamentary elections were held,
where fundamentalist Shi'a parties again prevailed. Nuri
al-Maliki retained the prime minister's post, although
it took nine months of negotiations before a compromise
was reached around a new government. The so-called Arab
Spring (a wave of political protests) swept through the
Middle East in the spring of 2011, triggering a Sunni
uprising in neighboring Syria, but did not seem to
affect Iraq very much. In December 2011, the last
American soldiers left Iraq.
The violence is increasing again
During his years in power, Maliki had slowly but
surely gathered influence in his own hands and placed
relatives and Shiite Islamists on important posts in the
army and police. He relied more and more on Iran instead
of on the United States and thwarted the Americans'
attempts to invite the Sunni insurgents into politics.
The US withdrawal was followed directly by an arrest
warrant against Iraqi Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.
Maliki also refused to fulfill US promises to the Sahwa
militia that these former adversaries would receive pay
and work within the security forces. As a result, some
people again took up arms and control over Iraq's Sunni
areas was weakened.
Now the violence began to increase again, also due to
the conflict in Syria. The uprising against President
Bashar al-Assad's Iran-backed government was dominated
by Arab Sunni Muslims, just like the uprising in Iraq.
Soon, Sunnis rebels began to cooperate across the
border. The Islamic State sent money and members to
Syria, where they founded the so-called Nusra Front
(Jabhat al-Nusra), which would secretly act as a
representative of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
In 2012, protests broke out in the Sunni Anbar
province in western Iraq, partly inspired by the
uprising in Syria. They spread to other Sunni areas.
Supporters of the banned Baath Party and former Sahwa
members played a role in the protests, but it was the
Islamic State that dominated the armed resistance.
Islamic State was also strengthened by the Nusrafront's
success in Syria, but in 2013 a conflict between the
groups emerged, after Islamic State decided that the two
organizations would merge into a single under the name
Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (an Arabic word that
could mean Damascus, Syria or the Levant; the group's
past names are often abbreviated Isis or Isil). The
leaders of the Nusrafront refused to comment on this,
saying they only wanted to be part of al-Qaeda's
In 2014, the Islamic State (IS), which the
organization soon also called itself, laid down
increasingly large areas, often with the help of weapons
captured from Iraq's government army. Cities like
al-Fallujah and finally Mosul were taken. In Mosul,
Iraq's second largest city, the leader of the movement
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a "caliphate", a state
with pretensions to rule over all Muslims. The exercise
of power became very brutal, not least for minority
groups such as the Yazidis.
IS's advance led to the US re-entering a military
role in Iraq. An international alliance was convened to
drive away the jihadist movement. Yet another war was
going on, which would last for years and leave great
Election to real parliament
Elections are held for the first time to an ordinary parliament.
Broad yes to new foundations
Despite the Sunni opposition, a referendum is being held on the
constitutional proposal. The result is that the Constitution, which creates a
federal state, is approved. Around 78 percent of voters say yes.
Terror and death panic in Baghdad
Nearly 1,000 people die during a day in Baghdad, after grenades were fired at
Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims and panic ensued as a result of rumors of suicide
bombers. Many died when they were trampled to death or fell down the Tigris
River. The incident sharpens the bitter contradictions between Sunni and Shia
Disagreement on new basis
A new constitution is being tabled and approved by Shiite and Kurdish
negotiators, but not by the Sunni Arab representatives.
The violence is increasing sharply
Violence is escalating more and more. According to Iraqi authorities, 672
civilians were killed during the month, a substantial increase from 364 in
Kurdish leaders become president
Parliament elects Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as president. Ibrahim
al-Jaafari becomes prime minister.
Elections are held for a transitional parliament.