Iraq, believed by many to be the ‘cradle of civilization’, is geographically located in Western Asia. The country borders Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia granting it a pivotal position within the region. Iran’s history is significant as it contains roots to Neanderthal culture estimated between 65,000 and 35,000 BC. Iraq’s formation began with the Sumerian civilization, history’s earliest known establishment responsible for the world’s first writing system. The Sumerian’s records reveal that they established an organized and intellectual society, with the creation of city states. They also made early advancements in education, mathematics, law, medicine and religion. The Sumerians attracted a sizable and cultured populous, vibrant with Arabic, Indo-European and Afro-asiatic languages.
The Sumerians were a dominant society till the rise of the Akkadian Empire (2335-2124 BC) which was based in the city of Akkad. The empire surged into power and captured all of the city states under the influence of Sargon of Akkad, a former adviser to the Sumerian royalty. The Akkadian rule lasted for nearly a thousand years, with Iraq’s influence and dominance expanding across the region into bordering states. In the late 22nd century, the Akkadian empire eventually collapsed due to surmounting pressure from the Elamites (Southern Iraq), Gutians (Kurds) and Amorites (Ancient Syrians). With the country’s city states divided into sub-territories and a constant power struggle amongst royalty, Iraq eventually came to be divided into three ruled regions: Assyria in the north, Kassite Babylonia in the south and Sealand Dynasty in the further south.
The most significant of the trio was the Babylonian empire in 620BC which succeeded the Assyrian empire, and came to dominate Arabia, Israel and Egypt. In the 6th century BC, Cyrus the great of Persia defeated the Babylonian empire at the Battle of Opis, and Iraq was under the Achaeminid (Persian) Empire for nearly two centuries. The Achaemenids made Babylon their capitol city, and the country thrived economic and in military dominance. During 247- BC 224 AD, Christianity began to influence Iraq, and Assyria became a center for Syriac Christianity, the Church of the East and Syriac literature.
During the Middle Ages Iraq was ruled by the Abbasid Caliphate and erected the city of Baghdad during the 8th century. Baghdad was the largest multicultural city of the middle ages and became the leading metropolis of the Arab and Muslim world for five centuries. In 1257 the Mongols led by Hulagu Khan besieged Baghdad, sacked the city, murdering over 200,000 citizens and destroyed countless historical documents. Iraq remained under Mongolian rule till the late 14th century, leading a brutal and punishing regime with little respect towards Christian or Islamic heritage. By the 17th century Iraq was ruled by the Mamluk dynasty, an army of freed slaves. The Mamluks were overthrown by the Ottoman Empire in 1821 and imposed direct control of Iraq towards the 20th century.
During the First World War, the Ottomans sided with Germany, resulting in a British invasion which initially suffered a major defeat to the Turkish army at the Battle of Kut. The British forces continued to engage, with the assistance of local Arabs and Assyrians and eventually captured Baghdad in 1917. The Ottomans were defeated and wiped out of much of the area by the United Kingdom during the Mesopotamian campaign. On November 11th, 1920 Iraq was under British control and was labeled the ‘State of Iraq’. In 1932 Britain granted Iraq independence, but contained a strong military presence in the area and negotiated transit rights for their forces. In the years that followed, the nation has been involved in a tyranny of wars and bloodshed, black gold and political instability. Six military coups over the next four decades eventually led to the ascension of Saddam Hussein as president in 1979.
1979: Saddam Hussein took control of the government after engineering the assassination of President Ahmed Hasan Al-Bakar. Saddam was subsequently declared President.
1980: Saddam accused the newly established Islamic Republic of Iran of attempting to destabilize Iraq and funding Shia insurgents. An assassination attempt on Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz was linked to a radical Iranian element.
1980-88: Saddam Hussein launched the invasion of Iran on September 22, 1980, leading to an eight-year war.
1981: Israel accused Iraq of nuclear weapons research and launched an air strike at the Tuwaitha "Yellow Cake Factory" near Baghdad.
1982: Intelligence reports indicated there was a strong likelihood that Iraq might lose the war. President Reagan "decided that the United States could not afford to allow Iraq to lose the war to Iran" and "decided that the United States would do whatever was necessary and legal to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran." Pursuant to the National Security Decision Directive, beginning from June 1982, the CIA spearheaded efforts "to ensure that Iraq had sufficient military weapons, ammunition and vehicles to avoid losing the Iran-Iraq war."
1985-1989: The Center for Disease Control, facilitated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, delivered 14 separate weapons-grade biological agents in 70 separate shipments to the Iraqis.
1988: Saddam ordered a chemical gas attack on the town of Halabjah, resulting in 5,000 deaths, and 10,000 injuries.
1990: Iraq accused Kuwait of illegally slant drilling oil wells in Iraqi territory. The Kuwaiti denied the accusation.
1990: Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990 with four Iraqi Republican Guard divisions and a single Army Special Forces division.
1990: The United States slapped an economic sanction on Iraq and demanded their immediate withdrawal. Iraq refused.
1990: The United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 678 on November 29, 1990 authorizing the use of force by member states to uphold Resolution 660 if Iraq did not withdraw from Kuwait by January 15, 1991.
1991: A United States-led coalition force launched an attack on Iraqi forces in Kuwait and Iraq on January 16, 1991. Kuwait was officially liberated from Iraq on February 25, 1991.
1991: Iraq was subjected to a United Nations-led weapons inspection program.
1993: The Clinton administration discovered an Iraqi assassination attempt on former president George H.W. Bush during a visit to Kuwait on April 14-16, 1993. President Bill Clinton authorized an attack on the Iraqi Intelligence Service's (IIS) headquarters complex in Baghdad after obtaining conclusive evidence of the foiled car-bomb plot. On June 23, 1993, the USS Peterson in the Red Sea and USS Chancellorsville in the Persian Gulf fired a total of 23 Tomahawk cruise missiles, which completely destroyed the intelligence complex.
1998: Saddam ends the Iraqis cooperation with the United Nations Special Commission to Oversee the Destruction of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction.
1998: The United States and British forces initiated "Operation Desert Fox," a bombing campaign to destroy facilities linked with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs Iraq continues to reject UN inspections.
2002: President George W. Bush declared Iraq as a member of the "Axis of Evil," alongside North Korea and Iran during his State of the Union address on January 29, 2002.
2002: President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair authorized the release of information detailing Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program.
2002: Iraq allowed the return of the UN inspection team in December 2002. Findings were inconclusive.
2003: On March 17, 2003, President George W. Bush gave Saddam Hussein, his sons and top lieutenants a 48-hour deadline to flee Iraq or face a US-led invasion.
2003: A US, British, Australian and Polish coalition forces invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003. Major combat operations ended after 21 days. The coalition failed to receive support from the UN Security Council and General Assembly, and its legality continues to be challenged.
2003: Saddam Hussein was captured on December 14, 2003, hiding in an underground ditch.
2004: Evidence emerges of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Iraq by US troops and contractors.
2004: The United States formally hands sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government headed by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi on June 28, 2004.
2006: Saddam Hussein was executed on December 30, 2006, for crimes against humanity.
2007: Britain hands over the administration of Basra to the Iraqi government on December 17, 2007, marking the end of direct British military control in the country.
2008: The United States and the Iraqi government sign the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, which stipulates that U.S. combat forces would withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, and the remaining forces will leave the country by December 31, 2011.
2010: The United States ends all combat operations in Iraq on August 31, 2010.
2011: The United States forces formally withdrew from Iraq on December 15, 2011. However, the United States maintains two military bases in Iraq manned by approximately 4,000 soldiers.
2012: Arab Spring protests influence Syria resulting in Sunni and Shia Muslims from Iraq crossing into Syrian territory to assist in uprising.
2013: Sunni militant groups targeted Iraq’s Shia population with insurgents belonging to ISIL seizing control of several major Iraqi cities like Tikrit, Fallujah and Mosul, ultimately displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
2014: Haider al-Abadi forms a new government and becomes acting prime minister. Conflict continues between Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions and leads to increasing debate about splitting Iraq into three separate regions to dissolve conflict.
2015: The U.S. launches a coalition against the Islamic State and has launched over 900 airstrikes against militant targets in Iraq.
U.S. Involvement and the Iraq War
In March 2003 the UN Security Council passed a resolution that required Iraq to fully comply with UN weapon inspectors following claims that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Iraq complied and allowed the UN’s Monitoring Verifications and Inspection Commissions team to investigate. There was revealed to be no hidden WMD, however they were unable to verify the accuracy of a declaration by Iraq as far as what specific weapons it currently possessed. The inspection team declared that Iraq has suspended its chemical and biological programs at least ten years earlier, but it was ultimately the intention of the Iraq government and its desire to resume production that raised suspicion.
The U.S. accused Iraq president Saddam Hussein of harboring and giving support to terrorist cell al-Qaeda, the same group responsible for the catastrophic 9/11 attacks. Additional accusations were made that stated Iraq was financially supporting the families of Palestinian bombers. On March 16th the U.S. instructed the weapons inspectors to suspend all investigations and immediately exit Iraq.
On March 20th, 2003 the United States entered into Iraq without first declaring war, the initial invasion consisted of 250,000 U.S. military troops. In preparation for the attack, the U.S. formed the ‘coalition of the willing’, a list of over thirty countries, including England, Australia, Germany and France with the primary agenda of removing Saddam Hussein’s corrupt government.
On May 1st 2003, President Bush declared that the invasion was a success, with the majority of Iraq’s army defeated. Despite this encouraging news, the coalition persisted to fight against various pockets of resistance and Saddam Hussein remained at large. Hussein was eventually captured during Operation Red Dawn on 13th December 2003 and was detained in Baghdad by U.S. forces. Hussain was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death by hanging on 30th December 2006. In 2005 the U.S. assisted with a sequence of elections allowing Iraqis to vote for a new government. The victor was Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, who was Iraq’s most powerful Shiite cleric. This caused discontent amongst the Sunni Arab insurgency and the Bush administration was disappointed with a line of voting that continued to widen social differences between the Middle East and the West. In 2007 violence occurred in Iraq’s central and western regions, including Baghdad. The increasing instability in the region resulted in President Bush deploying more troops into the region. In June of the following summer, the US Department of Defense considered the security and economic status of Iraq had finally begun to show signs of improvement. Members of the coalition began to withdraw troops which sparked a strong public opinion that the U.S. should leave the area. By late 2008 the US and Iraqi governments agreed to the Status of Forces Agreement and Strategic Framework Agreement which ensured that both nations would work in cooperation to ensure constitutional rights, education, energy development and many other areas.
In late February 2009, President Obama announced plans to fully withdraw all combat forces in Iraq over an 18 month period with an estimated 50,000 troops remaining in Iraq to assist with advising and training of security forces and provide further intelligence and surveillance. On December 15 2011, the Iraq War was officially declared over.
Iraq is currently the 36th most populated country on earth with over 37 million inhabitants. The capital city Baghdad is located in the center of the country and is its largest city. Iraq is the 59th largest country in the world covering 437,070km2 making it comparable in size to the U.S. state of California. Iraq is mostly covered in desert, but has the Euphrates and Tigris rivers following through the land, causing areas of fertility. The north of the country is mostly covered by mountains and there is a small coastline along the Persian Gulf. Iraq is home to a majority of ethnic Arabs and Kurds with around 95% of citizens being Shia or Sunni Muslims.
Iraq’s government operates under constitution that defines itself as a democratic, federal parliamentary Islamic republic. Iraq is split up into 18 provinces, which are further divided into districts. The head of state is President Fuad Masum who is responsible for safeguarding the commitment to the constitution and preserving Iraq’s independence, sovereignty and security of territories. The president is elected by a Council of Representatives and requires a two thirds majority which results in a four year term. Iraq also has a serving Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi who serves as the head of government and is the nominal leader of the Iraqi parliament. The prime minister leads a cabinet responsible for overseeing respective ministries, proposing laws, organizing the budget and signing international agreements and treaties. The Iraq government was heavily influenced by the United States, with ministries covering a wide spectrum of societal issues such as resources, human rights, justice and education. The government is regularly accused of political corruption with accounts of bribery enabling wealthy citizens and organizations to bend the law in their favor. Bribery is considered morally wrong in Iraq and it is against the law, social and religious practice and perpetrators often consider bribery a token of gratitude for political assistance.
Iraq’s economy is powered by the oil sector which provides 95% of foreign exchange profits. The government considers this sector to be its primary focus and as a result the lack of development in other sectors has resulted in an unemployment rate of 30%. Iraq currently has the second highest amount of proved oil reserves in the world with 143.1 billion barrels. Despite billions in oil revenue, Iraq only generates about half the electricity that consumers demand, often leading to protests during hot summer months. Prior to U.S. occupation Iraq prohibited foreign ownership of Iraqi businesses and most were operated as large state own industries which imposed large tariffs to exclude foreign goods. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) rapidly began issuing orders which privatized Iraq’s economy and opened up foreign investment. The official currency in Iraq is the Iraqi Dinar which was reissued by the CPA and designed to prevent counterfeit.
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIL/ISIS)
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) is a jihadist extremist militant group comprised of Sunni Arabs from Iraq and Syria. They claim religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide and currently occupy territory controlling over 10 million people across Asia and northern Africa. Human rights groups have accused ISIL of ethnic cleansing and committing brutal war crimes including the recruitment of child soldiers and public executions. The group often uses social media regularly to boast its tyranny, with persistent threats to western enemies and videotaped executions of American captives.
The CIA estimates that ISIL is composed of over 30,000 militants, with half being foreign and at least 2,000 holding Western passports. ISIL’s leader is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who is a veteran of the Sunni insurgency against U.S. troops in Iraq. The group’s ascent is partly a product of the group’s ability to fund itself through captured oil fields which generate up to $2 million in barrels per day whilst weapons, supplies and recruits cross Turkey’s borders with ease. ISIL are also known for using salvaged coalition technology left behind through the Iraq war such as Humvees, pickup trucks, tanks, ammunition and artillery shells.
ISIL’s goal is to create a caliphate, a state governed with accordance to Islamic law ruled by a caliph. A caliph is viewed as a successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. They demand that all Muslims across the world swear allegiance to its leader and migrate to territory under its control. The group has welcomed the prospect of direct confrontation with the coalition viewing it as a harbinger of an end-of-times showdown between Muslims and their enemies described in Islamic apocalyptic prophecies.
Iraq is still facing hostility from ISIL with the majority of northern and eastern towns and regions currently under control by militants; it is estimated that a third of Iraq is under ISIL control. Life under the Islamic state is strict with many residents in these controlled cities living in constant fear of punishment in accordance to ISIL’s extreme interpretation of Islamic law. In cities such as Mosul, women are forced to cover up completely in public and are not allowed to leave the house without a man. They are forced to wear a full khimar, a long cape-like veil that covers the neck, shoulders and hair completely and a niqab that covers the face.
ISIL controlled areas that were once home to ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq have been confiscated by the Islamic State. The majority of these residents have fled the area after intimidation and vandalism of property. The minimum punishment in Islamic State law is flogging, which is applied for incidents as minor as smoking a cigarette. Theft is punishable by amputating a hand, adultery results in being thrown off a tall building or stoned to death. Punishments are often carried out in public to intimidate people who are often forced to watch. Mosques have had their leaders replaced by pro-Islamic State leaders, with many Muslims avoiding service because those that attend are forced to give an oath of allegiance. ISIL is aware that the Iraq army is likely retake many of its captured towns so they have planted mines, bombs and filled their locations with barricades. In response to ISIL’s claimant of Iraq’s territory, the U.S. has led a military intervention involving airstrikes and supplied the Iraqi government with armaments.
U.S. President Obama and Iraq Prime Minister Al-Abadi have worked closely together during the ISIL attacks. Iraq expresses appreciation for all the significant contributions of the efforts of the 60 countries involved in the global coalition to counter ISIL. U.S. and coalition strikes in Iraq have played a favorable role in halting ISIL’s advance further south towards Baghdad. Iraq has stated that it has no tolerance for human rights abuses and has requested that the U.S. continues to assist to enable immediate and long term stabilization in areas liberated from ISIL.
Candidates' Positions on Iraq