For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Republic of Iraq

Area: 437,072 sq. km.; about the size of California.
Cities: Capital--Baghdad (pop. 3.8 million 1986 est.). Other cities--Basrah, Mosul, Karkuk, As Sulaymaniyah, Irbil.
Terrain: Alluvial plains, mountains, and desert.
Climate: Mostly hot and dry.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Iraqi(s).
Population (2002 est.): 24,011,816.
Annual growth rate (2002 est.): 2.82%.
Ethnic groups: Arab 75%-80%, Kurd 15%-20%, Turkman, Chaldean, Assyrian, or others less than 5%.
Religions: Shi'a Muslim 60%, Sunni Muslim 32%-37%, Christian 3%, Yezidi less than 1%.
Languages: Arabic, Kurdish, Assyrian, Armenian.
Education: Years compulsory--primary school (age 6 through grade 6). Literacy--58%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2002 est.)--57.61 deaths/1,000. Life expectancy--67.38 yrs.
Work force (2000, 4.4 million): Agriculture--44%; industry--26%; services--31% (1989 est.).

An Iraqi Interim Administration, which includes the Interim Ministers and the Iraqi Governing Council (GC), is progressively assuming executive responsibilities within the framework of the Coalition Provisional Authority's (CPA) temporary responsibilities and authorities in Iraq. Independence: 1932.
Administrative subdivisions: 18 provinces.
Political parties: The Iraqi people are forming political parties and interest groups to represent the interests of the people. Former opposition groups are transitioning into political parties. The Ba'ath Party was abolished on May 16, 2003.
Suffrage: Universal adult.
National holidays: April 9, anniversary of the 2003 fall of the Ba'ath regime.

GDP (2001 est.): $59 billion.
Annual growth rate (2001 est.): 5.7%.
GDP per capita (2000 est.): $2,500.
Inflation rate (2001 est.): 60%.
Natural resources: Oil, natural gas, phosphates, sulfur.
Agriculture (less than 6% of GNP): Products--wheat, barley, rice, cotton, dates, poultry.
Industry: (less than 13% GNP): Types--petroleum, petrochemical, textile, cement.
Trade (2001): Exports--$15.8 billion: crude oil. Major markets--Russia, France, Switzerland, China. Imports--$11 billion: agricultural commodities, medicine, machinery. Major suppliers--Egypt, Russia, France, Vietnam.

Iraq is bordered by Kuwait, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The country slopes from mountains over 3,000 meters (10,000 ft.) above sea level along the border with Iran and Turkey to the remnants of sea-level, reedy marshes in the southeast. Much of the land is desert or wasteland. The mountains in the northeast are an extension of the alpine system that runs eastward from the Balkans into southern Turkey, northern Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, terminating in the Himalayas.

Average temperatures range from higher than 48oC (120oF) in July and August to below freezing in January. Most of the rainfall occurs from December through April and averages between 10 and 18 centimeters (4-7 in.) annually. The mountainous region of northern Iraq receives appreciably more precipitation than the central or southern desert region.

Almost 75% of Iraq's population live in the flat, alluvial plain stretching southeast toward Baghdad and Basrah to the Persian Gulf. The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers carry about 70 million cubic meters of silt annually to the delta. Known in ancient times as Mesopotamia, the region is the legendary locale of the Garden of Eden. The ruins of Ur, Babylon, and other ancient cities are here.

Iraq's two largest ethnic groups are Arabs and Kurds. Other distinct groups are Turkomans, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Iranians, Lurs, and Armenians. Arabic is the most commonly spoken language. Kurdish is spoken in the north, and English is the most commonly spoken Western language.

Most Iraqi Muslims are members of the Shi'a sect, but there is a large Sunni population as well, made up of both Arabs and Kurds. Small communities of Christians, Jews, Bahais, Mandaeans, and Yezidis also exist. Most Kurds are Sunni Muslim but differ from their Arab neighbors in language, dress, and customs.

Once known as Mesopotamia, Iraq was the site of flourishing ancient civilizations, including the Sumerian, Babylonian, and Parthian cultures. Muslims conquered Iraq in the seventh century A.D. In the eighth century, the Abassid caliphate established its capital at Baghdad, which became a frontier outpost on the Ottoman Empire.

At the end of World War I, Iraq became a British-mandated territory. When it was declared independent in 1932, the Hashemite family, which also ruled Jordan, ruled as a constitutional monarchy. In 1945, Iraq joined the United Nations and became a founding member of the Arab League. In 1956, the Baghdad Pact allied Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom, and established its headquarters in Baghdad.

Gen. Abdul Karim Qasim took power in July 1958 coup, during which King Faysal II and Prime Minister Nuri as-Said were killed. Qasim ended Iraq's membership in the Baghdad Pact in 1959. Qasim was assassinated in February 1963, when the Arab Socialist Renaissance Party (Ba'ath Party) took power under the leadership of Gen. Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr as prime minister and Col. Abdul Salam Arif as president.

Nine months later, Arif led a coup ousting the Ba'ath government. In April 1966, Arif was killed in a plane crash and was succeeded by his brother, Gen. Abdul Rahman Mohammad Arif. On July 17, 1968, a group of Ba'athists and military elements overthrew the Arif regime. Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr reemerged as the President of Iraq and Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC).

In July 1979, Bakr resigned, and his chosen successor, Saddam Hussein, assumed both offices.

The Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) devastated the economy of Iraq. Iraq declared victory in 1988 but actually achieved a weary return to the status quo antebellum. The war left Iraq with the largest military establishment in the Gulf region but with huge debts and an ongoing rebellion by Kurdish elements in the northern mountains. The government suppressed the rebellion by using weapons of mass destruction on civilian targets, including a mass chemical weapons attack on the city of Halabja that killed several thousand civilians.

Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, but a U.S.-led coalition acting under United Nations (UN) resolutions expelled Iraq from Kuwait in February 1991. After the war, the UN Security Council required the regime to surrender its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and submit to UN inspections. When the Ba'ath regime refused to fully cooperate with the UN inspections, the Security Council employed sanctions to prevent further WMD development and compel Iraqi adherence to international obligations. Coalition forces enforced no-fly zones in southern and northern Iraq to protect Iraqi citizens from attack by the regime and a no-drive zone in southern Iraq to prevent the regime from massing forces to threaten or again invade Kuwait.

A U.S.-led coalition removed the Ba'ath regime in March and April 2003, bringing an end to more than 12 years of Iraqi defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. The coalition, international agencies, and nongovernmental organizations quickly established aid systems, preventing any general humanitarian crisis. The coalition formed the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to provide for the effective administration of Iraq during the period of transitional administration, restore conditions of security and stability, and create conditions in which the Iraqi people can freely determine their own political future. The UN Security Council acknowledged the authorities of the coalition and provided for a role for the UN and other parties to assist in fulfilling these objectives.


Principal Officials of the Iraqi Interim Administration

Governing Council Members
Samir Shakir Mahmoud
Sondul Chapouk
Ahmed Chalabi
Naseer al-Chaderchi
Adnan Pachachi
Mohammed Bahr al-Ulloum
Massoud Barzani
Jalal Talabani
Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim
Ahmed al-Barak
Ibrahim al-Jaafari
Raja Habib al-Khuzaai
Younadem Kana
Salaheddine Bahaaeddin
Mahmoud Othman
Hamid Majid Mousa
Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer
Ezzedine Salim
Mohsen Abdel Hamid
Iyad Allawi
Wael Abdul Latif
Mouwafak al-Rabii
Dara Noor Alzin
Abdel-Karim Mahoud al-Mohammedawi

Interim Ministers
Minister of Agriculture--Abdul Amir al-Abood
Minister of Communication--Dr. Haydar al-Abadi
Minister of Construction and Housing--Bayan Baqir Solagh
Minister of Culture--Mufid Muhammad Juwad al-Jaza'iri
Minister of Education--Dr. Ala'din Abdul Sahib Alwan
Minister of Electricity--Dr. Aiham Alsammarae
Minister of Environment--Abdel Rahman Sadiq Karim
Minister of Expatriates and Immigrants--Muhammad Jasim Khdeir
Minister of Finance--Kamel al-Keilani
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Hoshiyar Mahmud Muhammad al-Zibari
Minister of Health--Dr. Khidr Abbas
Minister of Higher Education--Ziad Abdel Razzaq Muhammad Aswad
Minister of Human Rights--Abdel Basit Turki
Minister of Industry and Minerals--Muhammad Tawfiq Rahim
Minister of Interior--Nouri Badran
Minister of Irrigation--Dr. Latif Rashid
Minister of Justice--Hashim Abdel Rahman al-Shibli
Minister of Labor and Social Affairs--Sami Azara al-Ma'jun
Minister of Oil--Dr. Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum
Minister of Planning--Dr. Mehdi al-Hafidh
Minister of Public Works--Nasreen Mustafa Sadiq Barwari
Minister of Science and Technology--Rashad Omar Mindan
Minister of Trade--Dr. Ali Allawi
Minister of Transport--Bahnam Ziya Boulous
Minister of Youth and Sports--Ali Fa'iq al-Ghabban

The end of Ba'ath era censorship and political repression has resulted in surging public debate and a proliferation of diverse newspapers and magazines throughout Iraq. While the political system is in transition, the coalition and the Iraqi people have developed advisory and governing councils on the local, regional and national level to ensure that international efforts serve Iraqis of all religions, ethnicities, and gender effectively. Efforts are underway to begin the drafting of a new constitution and hold elections to establish an internationally recognized representative government for Iraq.

Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, CPA Administrator, has described a seven-step process to return full governing authority to the Iraqi people. As of October 2003, the first three of these steps had been completed, and progress was underway toward the fourth.

The seven-step process set out for reaching fully democratic self-government in Iraq is:

  • Creation of a Governing Council as the principal body of the Iraqi Interim Administration;
  • Creation of a Constitutional Preparatory Committee;
  • Initiation of Iraqi governing activities through the Interim Ministers;
  • The drafting of a new constitution;
  • Iraqi ratification of the constitution;
  • Election by Iraqis of a government based on the constitution; and,
  • The handing over of authority by the CPA to the elected government.

Historically, Iraq's economy was characterized by a heavy dependence on oil exports and an emphasis on development through central planning. Prior to the outbreak of the war with Iran in September 1980, Iraq's economic prospects were bright. Oil production had reached a level of 3.5 million barrels per day, and oil revenues were $21 billion in 1979 and $27 billion in 1980. At the outbreak of the war, Iraq had amassed an estimated $35 billion in foreign exchange reserves.

The Iran-Iraq war depleted Iraq's foreign exchange reserves, devastated its economy, and left the country saddled with a foreign debt of more than $40 billion. After hostilities ceased, oil exports gradually increased with the construction of new pipelines and the restoration of damaged facilities. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, subsequent international sanctions, damage from military action by an international coalition beginning in January 1991, and neglect of infrastructure drastically reduced economic activity. Government policies of diverting income to key supporters of the regime while sustaining a large military and internal security force further impaired finances, leaving the average Iraqi citizen facing desperate hardships. Implementation of a UN oil-for-food program in December 1996 has improved conditions for the average Iraqi citizen. In 1999, Iraq was authorized to export unlimited quantities of oil to finance essential civilian needs including, among other things, food, medicine, and infrastructure repair parts.

The process of introducing a modern free market system to Iraq has begun. In September 2003, the Interim Finance Minister and the Governing Council announced significant economic and financial reforms issued by the CPA, particularly dealing with foreign direct investment, the banking sector, and the tax and tariff regimes.

Despite its abundant land and water resources, Iraq is a net food importer. Under the UN oil-for-food program, Iraq imported large quantities of grains, meat, poultry, and dairy products. Obstacles to agricultural development during the previous regime included labor shortages, inadequate management and maintenance, salinization, urban migration, and dislocations resulting from previous land reform and collectivization programs. A Ba'ath regime policy to destroy the "Marsh Arab" culture by draining the southern marshes and introducing irrigated farming to this region destroyed a natural food-producing area, while concentration of salts and minerals in the soil due to the draining left the land unsuitable for agriculture.

Efforts have begun to overcome the damage done by the Ba'ath regime in ways that will rehabilitate the agricultural sector and confront environmental degradation.

The United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990. Noncompliance by Iraq with its UN obligations, particularly Iraq's refusal to allow weapons inspectors full freedom of action in dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program, caused those sanctions to remain in place until the Ba'ath regime was removed in 2003. Under the oil-for-food program Iraq was allowed to export oil and use the proceeds to purchase goods to address essential civilian needs, including food, medicine, and infrastructure spare parts. With the removal of UN sanctions, Iraq is returning to normal trade relations with the international community.

The war with Iran ended with Iraq sustaining the largest military structure in the Middle East, with more than 70 divisions in its army and an air force of over 700 modern aircraft. Losses during the invasion of Kuwait and subsequent ejection of Iraqi forces from Kuwait by a UN coalition resulted in the reduction of Iraq's ground forces to 23 divisions and air force to less than 300 aircraft.

When major combat operations ended in April 2003, the Iraqi Army disintegrated, and its installations were destroyed by pilfering and looting. The CPA officially dissolved the Iraqi military and Ministry of Defense on May 23, 2003. On August 7, 2003, the CPA established the New Iraqi Army as the first step toward the creation of the national self-defense force of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. Under current plans, by late 2004, 27 battalions will have been trained and equipped as the foundation for the armed forces of the new Iraq.

The end of the Ba'ath regime made possible Iraq's re-engagement on the international stage. The Iraqi Interim Administration has designated new international representatives and resumed Iraqi representation in the UN, Arab League, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Nations around the world, including previous victims of Ba'ath regime aggression, provided monetary, material, and personnel assistance to the Iraqi people. The Iraqi authorities have begun establishing official presence in several countries. Iraq belongs to the following international organizations: UN and some of its specialized agencies, including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, International Atomic Energy Agency; Nonaligned Movement; OIC; Arab League; OPEC; Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries; INTELSAT; Interpol; World Health Organization; G-19; and G-77.

As the lead nation in the international coalition which removed the Ba'ath regime, the United States has assumed extensive responsibility for the well-being and development of Iraq. The U.S. Government is carrying out a multi-billion dollar program to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq. Only extremely limited services to U.S. citizens are available in Iraq. U.S. citizens in Iraq who find themselves in an emergency should contact the Office of Overseas Citizens Services in Washington, DC at (202) 647-5225. For after-hour emergencies, Sundays, and holidays, call 202-647-4000. Official Iraqi representation and consular service in the United States have not been established.

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.

[This is a mobile copy of Iraq (10/03)]

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