Iraq is one of the most talked about countries in the Middle East It lies at the north-western tip of the Persian Gulf . Its neighbours are Iran to the east, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to the south, Jordan and Syria to the west and Turkey to the north. Its capital is Baghdad.
Most of the country is a dry flat plain formed by the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Farmers can grow crops with the water they get from these two rivers. A sandy, hilly desert covers the south-western and western parts of the country.
Iraq has a population of about 25 million. The country is made up of many different people with separate cultures, histories and religions.
About 55 % of the country’s population belong to this group. Shiites live in southern Iraq and most them were against Saddam Hussein and his government.
Sunni Arabs were the most powerful group in the country, even though they represent only 20 % of the population. They live mostly in Central Iraq. Saddam Hussein and most of his followers came from this group.
Kurds are mainly Sunni Muslims that live in the northern part of the country and make up about 20 % of the Iraqi population. They have always tried to get freedom and independence from the rest of the country. Saddam Hussein and his government attempted to wipe out the Kurds because of this. In 1988 he launched an attack on the Kurds using chemical weapons and killing thousands of them .
Location of Iraq in the Middle East
The world’s oldest civilisation developed about 6000 years ago along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in a region which we know as Mesopotamia.
In 637 Arab Muslims took over the area. They founded Baghdad as their capital, which, by the year 800 had grown into a city of more than one million people and had also become a centre of trade and culture.
In 1258 Mongol warriors from Central Asia came to Mesopotamia and destroyed much of the Arab empire. Up to the 1800s the plain between the two rivers was ruled by the Ottoman empire which was located in today’s Turkey.
During World War I British troops took control of the area and in 1932 Iraq became a free, independent nation. In the decades that followed many different governments ruled the country until Saddam Hussein took over power in 1979.
Saddam Hussein was born in 1937 in a village near Tikrit in northern Iraq. He joined the Ba’ath Party, which was a revolutionary group that wanted to overthrow the government.
In the 1960s and 70s Saddam Hussein slowly got more and more influence in his party . In 1979 he forced Iraq’s president to retire and took over the job himself. Hussein ruled as a brutal dictator with a powerful army that supported him. Even though he himself became extremely rich, mainly through the oil that was sold, much of the population remained poor. Those who were against him were put into prison and often murdered.
In 1980 Saddam Hussein started a war with neighbouring Iran. The United States and many western European countries supported him because they thought that Iran would become too powerful in the region.
Things changed in 1990 when Saddam invaded another neighbouring country, Kuwait, because he wanted control of the small country’s oilfields . During the war that followed the United States and its allies drove the dictator’s soldiers out of Kuwait but Hussein himself stayed in power in Baghdad.
When the Iraq War started in 2003 the Americans and other countries were determined to remove Saddam Hussein from power. During the invasion he managed to escape but a few months later US soldiers found him in a small village near his home town.
In October 2004 Sadam Hussein was put on trial for murder, charged with the killing of 148 people in 1988. In 2006 he was found guilty and sentenced to death. Iraq's dictator was executed by hanging on December 30, 2006.
Saddam Hussein on his throne
The Persian Gulf War
On August 2, 1990 Iraqi forces took control of its tiny southern neighbour Kuwait, a country with a lot of oil that Iraq desperately wanted . After the United Nations had repeatedly demanded that Iraq’s army get out of Kuwait, a group of countries , led by the United States, attacked Iraq. Many Arab states, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia fought alongside the Americans because they were afraid the dictator would take control of the whole region.
A month later the war was over. Saddam Hussein and his army lost and were forced out of Kuwait. In the course of the war most of Baghdad was destroyed by bombs.
British tank during Gulf War
After the Gulf War of 1991 Iraq agreed to destroy all biological and chemical weapons that it had, as well as the buildings in which they were produced. Some experts even thought that Iraq was close to making a nuclear bomb.
During the 1990s Iraq did not fully obey this agreement . In 1998 the government refused to allow international weapons inspectors into the country to check out the situation.
After the 9/11 attacks on America , US President George Bush grew even more suspicious of Iraq because he thought that there was a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda,the group responsible for the attacks.
After the US had threatened to attack Iraq Bush set a 48-hour deadline for Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave the country.
On March 20,2003, the United States, Great Britain and other states started attacks by bombing targets in Baghdad. Ground troops entered the country from the south and marched towards Baghdad.
In early April the allied soldiers gained control of the capital’s airport and days later took over the presidential palace and other government buildings. Saddam Hussein managed to escape and the Americans declared that he was no longer in power.
Not everyone supported the Americans in this war. Many European nations, including France and Germany , as well as the superpowers Russia and China, thought that the Americans were wrong. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world protested against the war.
After the war, the Americans stayed in Iraq , tried to restore law and order and set up a temporary government. They also started looking for weapons of mass destruction , but, up to today, haven’t found any.
Many Iraqis celebrated the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government. At last they were free in their own country, but they also thought the Americans should get out and leave them alone.
The situation in Iraq today is very unclear. Thousands of foreign troops are still in the country, most of them Americans. Even though the war officially ended in May 2003 fighting is still going on, especially between Sunni Arabs, who ruled the country for a long time and Shia Arabs, who are in control now and also supported by the USA.
Over the past years a few thousand American and British soldiers have died in daily attacks. Buildings and other targets have been bombed by Sunni and terrorist groups, that want the Americans to leave. High ranking government officials have been killed and hundreds of Iraqi and foreign civilians have been kidnapped.
In 2005 the Iraqi people were allowed to choose their own leaders in the first free election in decades. Americans have been training Iraqis and showing them how to build up their own police force and army. They have also tried to keep the country safe.
For a long time the United States was undecided on what to do next in Iraq. Many politicians in the USA said that it should pull its soldiers out of Iraq. In June 2009, only months after Barack Obama became president , American soldiers withdrew from Iraq’s towns and cities. President Obama has promised to bring home all US soldiers by 2011.
Iraqi interpreter helping American soldiers in Iraq
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- 9/11 = the short phrase that is used for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America
- agree = to say yes to something
- agreement =when two people or countries decide or promise to do something
- ally = a country that helps another country fight in a war
- alongside = together with
- attack = strike
- attempt = try
- biological weapon =viruses or other bacteria that can kill soldiers in a war
- capital = an important city of a country, where the government is
- celebrate = to be happy about something
- charge =accuse , to say that someone may have committed a crime
- chemical weapon = something poisonous , mostly a gas, that is used in war
- choose =elect
- civilian = anyone who does not belong to the army , navy , air force etc..
- close = near
- cover = spread over
- crops = a plant like wheat, rice that is grown by farmers and used as food
- deadline = a time by which you have to do something
- decade = ten years
- declare = to say officially
- demand = to ask for something because you have the right to do it
- desert = land that is very hot and dry
- desperately = very much
- destroy = to damage something so that it no longer exists
- determined =to really want to do something, you do not let anyone stop you
- develop = to grow slowly
- drive out = to force someone to leave
- election =when people vote to choose someone for a high position
- empire = a group of countries that are controlled by one ruler
- especially =above all, more than ever
- even though =while
- execute = to officially kill someone
- follower = someone who believes in a system and helps the leader who teaches it
- force =to make someone do something
- foreign = from another country
- found – founded = create, make
- freedom = liberty ; the feeling of being free
- gain = get, reach
- government =the people who rule a country
- ground troops = soldiers that fight on the ground and not at sea or in the air
- guilty = if you have done something that is a crime
- high-ranking = to have a high position in a government or another organisation
- in control = to have the power
- in the course of = as time went on
- including =as well as, together with
- independence =self-government, freedom, liberty
- independent = not owned or controlled by something or someone
- influence = power, control
- invade = to enter a country or town and take control of it by fighting
- join = to become a member of
- kidnap = to take someone somewhere and demand money in order to release him/her
- launch = start
- law and order =a situation in which everything in a country is under control and there is no crime
- locate = where something can be found
- mainly =mostly
- make up =consist of
- manage to = to do something that is difficult to do
- Muslim = someone whose religion is Islam
- obey = to do what someone tells you to do or to follow a law
- official =someone who has a high position in a state or organization
- overthrow = to remove a leader
- palace = the official home of a very famous person, or of a president, king or queen
- plain = a large area of flat, dry land
- police force = the police organisation of a country or area
- politician =someone who works in politics or who is a member of parliament or the government
- population = the people who live in a country
- power =control, strength
- pull out = get out, leave a place
- refuse = to say no
- remain = stay
- remove = to get him out
- repeatedly =over and over again
- represent = stand for
- responsible =to blame for
- restore =bring back
- retire = to stop working because you are too old
- revolutionary = radical, with new ideas
- rule = govern
- sentence = when the judge gives you a punishment
- separate = different
- Shiite = a person who belongs to the Shia group of Muslims
- soldier = a member of a country’s army who is trained to fight
- support = help
- suspicious = to think that someone might do something that is wrong or illegal
- take control of =take over government
- target = an object ,person or place that you chose for an attack
- temporary = only for a short time
- threaten =warn, make threats
- tip = end
- trade = the buying and selling of things
- trial = when you appear before a court and a judge and jury decides if you have done something wrong or illegal
- troops = soldiers
- undecided = not to know what to do, to be unsure
- warrior = a word that was used in the past for a soldier or fighter who was very brave
- weapons inspector = a scientist who is sent into a country to check if it has special weapons that are forbidden
- weapons of mass destruction = chemical , biological and nuclear weapons, which are very powerful and can kill many people and destroy large areas
- wipe out = to destroy or remove completely
- withdraw = to move back