Iraq straddles the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers – the site of several of
the world’s earliest civilizations (Mesopotamia)
Approx. 2/3 of Iraqis are Arabs, ¼ are Kurds, with the remainder of
the population made up of several small minority groups.
Kurds come from the mountains of northern Iraq and lived for
millennia as nomadic herders
Speak Kurdish, live in an area called Kurdistan (sections of Iran,
Syria, Turkey, and Iraq). Have hoped to establish their own state
since the 1920s, but have been unsuccessful.
Most Iraqis are Muslim
Kurds = mostly Sunni Muslim
Arabs = more Shi’a than Sunni Muslims
Strong tribal connections – tribes are alliances of extended families
Heavy influence on politics and life in Iraq (some feel more
connected to their tribal identity than their identity as Iraqi citizens)
Strong reliance on oil – any disruption of the oil industry
has serious consequences for the country’s economy as a
Problems translating economic growth for the country into
improved circumstances for the daily lives of citizens.
Imports most of their food
Iraq: Political History
Iraq is firmly within the “Cradle of Civilization” – Baghdad is a
wealthy cultural center, key site of Islamic culture, politics, and
history for many years
1534-1918 - Ottoman rule centered on provinces of Baghdad,
Mosul, and Basra until the end of World War I. Violent power
struggles occurred between the Sunni Ottomans and the Shi’a
Safavids who wanted to control the area also.
Political and economic development takes place late in Ottoman
1917 - Britain seizes control, unites provinces, creates state of Iraq
(was anxious to gain control over access to Iranian oil fields,
potential Iraqi oil also).
Indirect rule – division is encouraged, Sunni elites (minority
population) are given much of the power in the government.
The poor, Shi’a, and Kurdish populations are not granted any real
Political History, cont.
1932 - Independence
Iraqis were angry they were still occupied by a foreign power and not able to
make their own choices. Sunnis and Shi'ites join together to fight British
10,000 Iraqis and hundreds of Brits die, costs Britain a lot of $
Temporary treaty is established, nobody is happy with it.
King Faisal is placed in power, Iraq is independent but must consult with
Britain before involving the UK in war.
UK occupies Iraq during WWII, leaves afterward
1963: Ba’ath Party comes to power through a coup (military backed overthrow
1958 – Iraqi military officers overthrow King’s govt, put ‘Abd al-Karim Qasim
in power. (Many young people want more say in the government)
1963 – Qasim’s regime falls to the Ba’ath Party (“Renaissance”), led by
Saddam Hussein and helped by the CIA
Thousands of political elites and communists are purged, U.S. sends weapons
1979 - Saddam Hussein becomes president.
Had been popular for his role in helping to develop the country (building
schools, hospitals, etc.) with the increased oil revenue the country was
Iraqi President: 1979-2003.
Secular Government (Non-Religious)
Allowed women to hold high-ranking positions
Angered many religious conservatives
Feared Shi’a majority coming to power.
Originally believed in Socialism but moved towards Capitalism.
Relied on Secret Police & Force to maintain his power.
Iraq invades Iran in September 1980
Hussein wants to end war quickly by concentrating on Iran’s oil
For the next 8 years, the war seesawed back and forth
Iraq has weapons, Iran has people
The U.S. supports Iraq’s efforts – lends weapons and resources
Allows Kuwaiti oil tankers to sail under U.S. flag with protection
– doesn’t want Iran to gain oil fields
Iran-Contra Affair embarrasses U.S., reveals U.S.’s meddling
Cease-fire in 1988 – war claimed over 1 million lives, destroys key
parts of Iraqi infrastructure, economy
Kurds align themselves with Iran
during war, Saddam Hussein
authorizes mass killings of Kurdish
Killed between 50,000 and 100,000
Kurds, buried them in mass graves.
In some parts of Kurdistan 90% of the
villages were destroyed.
Chemical weapons and bombs were
Invasion of Kuwait
1990 - Iraq invades Kuwait, putting it on a collision course
with the international community.
Hussein claims that Kuwait is accessing oil that rightfully
belongs to Iraq
George H.W. Bush is anxious to prevent countries from
engaging in hostilities in the wake of the Cold War’s end
Concerns about invasion – possible casualties, potential for
use of chemical weapons…but if Iraq gained control they
would control 25% of the world’s oil.
1991 - Iraq subjected to sanctions, weapons inspections and
The Gulf War - 1990
President Bush moves quickly to gain approval to invade Iraq
Worried he would lose momentum, support. Worried about
Hussein’s popularity in the region
January 1991 – U.S.-led coalition warplanes bomb Iraqi targets.
Iraq’s communication links are destroyed.
Late February 1991 – Ground troops enter Iraq, Kuwait’s capital is
After 100 hours, Bush brings the ground war to a halt
Did not want to completely destabilize the country and then have
to be responsible for rebuilding it
Extremely lopsided war
88,500 tons of bombs dropped. Military facilities, power stations,
bridges, roads, hospitals targeted.
Results of the Gulf War
Guaranteed Kuwait Sovereignty.
Agreed to surrender all Weapons of Mass Destruction: Nuclear,
Chemical, Biological, etc.
Retreating Iraqi troops were ordered to set hundreds of Kuwaiti
oil wells on fire, spill thousands of barrels of oil into Persian Gulf
Saddam Hussein Remained in power.
Used force to hold down protests from Shi’ite & Kurdish
Many feel betrayed – like the U.S. left without finishing their
1998 & 2002: Refused to allow United Nations Weapons
Inspectors into Iraq.
U.S. develops a greater presence in the region.
Bases in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, careful monitoring of Israel
Containment and President
U.S. follows a policy of containment, trying to stop Iraq from
gaining meaningful power or weapons.
Tools relied on to accomplish this goal:
Sanctions – Restrictions on international trade. Designed to harm
Iraq’s economy. Severely limited the amount of food supplies
imported into the country – leads to the development of a strong
black market (profitable for Saddam Hussein)
Limited Oil-for-Food Program established. Conditions worsen –
500,000 children die from malnutrition, disease
Military Force – Establishment of No-Fly Zones over some parts
of Iraq. Designed to limit the violence that could be done to
Kurdish and Shi’a populations
Weapons Inspections – UN Weapons Inspectors were supposed
to regularly inspect Iraq for evidence of weapons of mass
These stop altogether in late 1998. President Clinton authorizes a
series of airstrikes (Operation Desert Fox) in retaliation.
September 11, 2001
A series of terrorist attacks on 9/11 presents President
George W. Bush (George H.W. Bush’s son) with an
immediate challenge of how to handle the Middle East
Bush states that the U.S. will be engaging in a “global war
Declared in his State of the Union address in January 2002
that the United States was fighting an “axis of evil” – North
Korea, Iran, and Iraq.
U.S. military actions reframed from a response to terrorism
to a preventative action.
Critics argue that the reasons for invading Iraq were too
vague and open-ended. https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/pol
The Course of the War in
VP Dick Cheney gives a speech in August 2002 stating that the
U.S. had definitive intelligence that Iraq had WMDs
Winter 2003 – Secretary of State Colin Powell delivers a
presentation before the UN, arguing that the U.S. had intelligence
pointing to the production of weapons of mass destruction and
terrorist ties by the government of Iraq
Despite debate about the credibility and strength of the evidence,
Congress authorizes the U.S. to invade Iraq on October 11, 2002
(Operation Iraqi Freedom)
Military begins buildup – cautions that according to their
intelligence, an invasion would be extremely complicated and
require more people than the government was estimating.
The UN authorizes a final weapons check, which Iraq agrees
to. UN inspectors find no evidence of WMDs.
Support of U.S. public is high, but comes with conditions.
Some worry about potential losses and damage to allies in the
region (Israel especially)
Desire to spread democracy
Concern over going to war without UN approval
Doubts about evidence of WMDs
Strong opposition in the international community.
March 20, 2003 – Allied forces begin campaign with strikes on
military targets. Multiple attempts to kill Saddam Hussein.
April 9, 2003 – Most of Baghdad is taken, Hussein’s
government is toppled and Iraqis pull down statues of him
and celebrate in the streets.
May 1, 2003 – On the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham
Lincoln under a banner reading “Mission Accomplished,”
Bush declares the battle to topple Hussein’s govt. a success
December 13, 2003 – Saddam Hussein is found and arrested
without a fight. American forces find him hiding in a hole
near a farm in Tikrit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1P
Iraq War, cont.
January 25, 2004 – Former CIA Weapons Inspector says that
the WMD program in Iraq had been nonfunctional for years
prior to invasion
March 31, 2004 – Four Blackwater private security
employees are killed in Falluja. Several of their mutilated
bodies are hung from a bridge in the city.
April 2004 – Abu Ghraib prison scandal
June 28, 2004 – American authorities transfer formal
sovereignty of the country to its new leaders
September 2004 – American leaders admit that insurgents
control key parts of the country and they are not sure when
American forces will be able to take those parts of Iraq
A Continuing Battle
November 2004 – Between 10,000 and 15,000 American soldiers are
sent to move on Falluja
January 2005 – First free elections in 50 years are held
December 2005 – Parliament is elected for a 4-year term
December 30, 2006 – Saddam Hussein is hanged.
August 2007 – Forces clash in Karbala, an important religious site in
Fall 2008 – Plans begin for U.S. forces to leave and power to be
completely transitioned to Iraqi forces.
September 2011 – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta presents plan for
3,000-4,000 troops to remain in the country to help train Iraqi forces
December 15, 2011 – American forces declare an official end to their
operations in Iraq.
Controversies in Iraq
Private Security Forces – Forces like Blackwater are accused
of abusing their power, immunity from punishment by
engaging in deadly actions against civilians
Overly aggressive (and secretive) interrogations by
Partially leads to resignation of Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld (under Bush)
Civilian death toll
Slow U.S. withdrawal from the country
Results of the War
Over 4,000 U.S. troops killed,
$1 trillion spent
ISIS currently has a strong
presence in some parts of Iraq
– has taken over some
American forces are still
present in the country, mostly
in advisory and training roles
as Iraqi forces try to regain
control of places like Mosul