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Iraq

The country of Iraq, known officially as the Republic of Iraq, is a country that has received an abundant amount of attention from the international community over the past several decades. The country, which claims Arabic as its official language along with Kurdish, is located in what is popularly known as the Near East, between the countries Iran and Kuwait. In terms of landmass, Iraq is the 58th largest country in the world, or roughly two times the size of the state of Idaho. The country also claims a small amount of coastline along the Persian Gulf. Beginning in ancient times, the land area of Iraq was dubbed Mesopotamia, or the land between two rivers. In fact, throughout human history, the geography of Iraq has played an important role, not only in the history of the country itself, but also in the history of the development of civilizations.

Iraq is home to many different types of terrains. In the northern section of the country, the Zagros mountain range creates higher elevations. Interestingly, the highest point in the country is currently unnamed. In the central and southern portions of the country there are lower elevations, due to the presence of marshlands, plains, and desert. The desert land of Iraq is comprised of two distinct deserts- the Syrian and the Arabian Deserts. The climate of the country is influenced by both of Iraq’s extreme elevations. The country has hot and dry summers, as well as generally mild winters, due to the presence of the deserts. However, in the spring the accumulation of snow that builds up over the winter in the higher elevations melts and can cause catastrophic flooding the central and southern portions of the country.

Perhaps the two most important aspects of Iraq’s geography, in terms of the development of human history, are the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Also known for the potential flooding dangers, these two rivers are the reason that the ancients dubbed the region Mesopotamia. The rich land that lies between the two is home to the earliest developments in civilization in the world, including writing and the invention of the wheel. Evidence of the importance of Iraq’s geography in relation to early civilizations can be found in what is believed to be one of the earliest known maps in the world. This clay tablet map, known as the Ga-sur Tablet, was created around 2,300- 2,500 BCE and was discovered in Iraq in the year 1930.

The presence of pottery in modern-day Iraq far outdates the early map, created on a clay tablet. The earliest known pottery creating peoples were present around 4700BCE, known as the Hassunahs. In fact, people had been present in the area of Mesopotamia since as early as 10,000 BCE. The earliest known settlement in the area was in 6,000 BCE, when migrants from the Turkish highlands settled between the two rivers. There is also evidence of other so-called Proto-Sumerian peoples in the area. One example of these is an early group of hunter-fishermen that existed in the marshlands of modern-day Iraq, and who lived on floating islands. These early settled peoples would later develop into what is understood as the earliest example of civilization in the world, Sumer.

Sumer developed in the middle of the 6th Millennium BCE, and lasted until the early 2nd Millennium BCE. For over three thousand years, the Sumerians were present in Mesopotamia, and their reign is divided into several important periods. The first of these is known as the Ubaid Period, which lasted from 5,300 BCE to 4,100 BCE. This period is characterized by evidence of what is considered early urbanization, the invention of the wheel, and the development of irrigation agriculture.

The Ubaid period is followed by the Uruk Period, named after a major Sumerian city that rose to prominence during the time. This phase spans from 4100 BCE to 2900 BCE. Additional developments and inventions mark this era, such as the invention of the pottery wheel and the development of inter-city trading within Sumer. Interestingly, the decline of this period coincides with a major climatic shift known to have happened during the time. Around 2900 BCE, a dry climate period, known as the Piora Oscillation comes to an end and the warmer and wetter Holocene Climatic Optimum begins. Perhaps due to this change, the Uruk Period also draws to a close around 2900 BCE. An increase of violence followed the decline of the Uruk Period, which has been named the Dynastic Period. Due to the increase of violence between peoples during this time, the first walled cities were developed. The Dynastic Period is understood to be the end of what is known as Classical Sumer culture.

The Dynastic Period was replaced by the Akkad Empire, which rises to power in 2334 BCE and lasted until 2218 BCE. Scholars believe that the Akkadians created the world’s first known empire, however this fact is debatable. The Akkadians were overthrown in 2218 BCE by the Gutians, who initiated the next phase, the Gutian Dynasty. The Gutian dynasty only lasted roughly one-hundred years. They were eventually expelled by the rulers of the cities of Uruk and Ur. The expulsion marks the beginning of the short-lived Sumerian Renaissance, which was also brought to an abrupt close by the threat of foreign invaders. The rulers of the city of Ur, who helped to force out the Gutian rulers, established the next major period in Sumerian history that is known by several names, including the Neo-Sumerian Dynasty and the Ur III Dynasty.

The Ur III dynasty was a time of relative peace throughout the region. There were even programs that allowed underprivileged members of the kingdom to receive aide. However, this era of civic stability was ended by Amorite invaders in what scholars argue was either the twenty-first or the twentieth century BCE. Upon the end of the Ur III period, the Amorite cities of Larsa and Isin became the predominant cities in northern Mesopotamia and the region in general. Thus, this era in history was known as the Isin-Larsa period.

The kingdoms that developed out of the Sumerian and Akkadian city-states were eventually absorbed into what is known as the Assyrian Empire. The first known inscriptions concerning Assyrian kings may be traced back to the twentieth century BCE. The foremost city of the period was Ashur. It was important to the empire for its merchant-economy, which was based largely on metals and textiles. Through these trading activities, Ashur allowed the Assyrian Empire connection with other regions, such as the Anatolian Peninsula.

Meanwhile, the southern portion of Mesopotamia was occupied by another people- the Babylonians. By the twentieth century, the city of Babylon was developing into a major center of power. Babylon, no longer a major city in present-day Iraq, is located fifty-five miles from Baghdad. The first Babylonian dynasty arose in the eighteenth century, and is now known as the Old Babylonian Dynasty. Perhaps one of the most famous rulers in Babylon was Hammurabi, who is credited as being the first person to ever write a code of laws. It is from his code that the expression “an eye for an eye” was born. Under his rule nearly all of Mesopotamia was captured and unified under Babylonian rule, including the northern Assyrian territory. Due to struggles throughout the region, this unification did not last long. However, the city remained a center of power for Mesopotamia until the Babylonians’ defeat at the hands of Hittite invaders in 1531 BCE. Nearly 100 years after this, the city would again rise in importance as the capital of the Kassites in the Bronze Age.

The Kassites had the longest dynasty in ancient Iraq, lasting about four-hundred years in the Late Bronze Age. What is known about this era comes from thousands of discarded tablets that have been found in Nippur. Also at Nippur, kudurru steles have been found. These highly decorative tablets were usually used as boundary markers and were shaped very similar to tablets. The Kassites eventually fell to their long-time enemies the Elamites. Elamites were a people from the city of Elam. They are believed to be closely related to some of the ethnicities in present-day India, especially in language.

While the Kassite Dynasty controlled the Southern portions of Mesopotamia, the Middle Assyrian Period was taking place from the sixteenth century to the twelfth century BCE. The middle Assyrian Period is marked by the accession of Hurrian kings to the throne. The chronology during this time is highly debated. The period is primarily known for the rise of the city of Nimeveh, which rivaled Babylon as the world’s most populous city at the time.

The post-Babylonian culture of the Kassites as well as the Assyrians both declined from the twelfth to eleventh century BCE. This transition is known as the Ancient Dark Age, and it is marked by the transition from kingdom-type governments, to cultures that were created from smaller communities, such as villages.

The Iron Age once again marked a distinct change in the cultures of Mesopotamia. In Babylon, the Neo-Hittites took control while the Neo-Assyrians controlled the Northern portion. The Neo-Assyrians are considered to have the largest empire to ever exist up to that point in history. The diversity of the Neo-Assyrian Empire is apparent in the languages of the culture. Its people are considered bilingual because most spoke both Aramaic and Akkadian. The territory that would later become Iraq fell to Iranian invaders and became part of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.

The Neo-Babylonians were a sort of golden age in the history of Iraq. This second Babylonian Empire arose upon the arrival of the Chaldeans, a biblical people, from extreme southern Iraq, near Kuwait. During this time, roughly the seventh to the sixth century BCE, the arts and sciences flourished. There were also revivals of Sumerian and Akkadian traditional heritage. The Neo-Babylonians never officially ended, but rather were immersed into the Achaemenid Empire in the sixth century BCE.

The Achaemenids, also known as the Persians, controlled much of the Middle East throughout Classical Antiquity. With the exception of the Seleucid Empire’s control of the area from 330 to 250 BCE and the Roman conquest, lasting from 116-118 CE, the Achaemenid Empire held power in the region up until the rise of Islam in the seventh century CE. Achaemenid Assyria was absorbed into the Empire under the Persian ruler, Cyrus. Assyria was allowed by the Persians to control them selves and create their own government. This allowed them to become one of the wealthiest territories in the Empire.

After the death of Muhammad, the Muslim Conquest is considered to have begun. Just one year after its initiation, nearly all of the territory of modern-day Iraq fell into the hands of the Caliph Abu Bakr. One reason as to why the Persians may have been defeated so quickly may have been due to the fact that there were problems within the Achaemenid government. However, although they lost the territory, the Persians continued raiding the Tigris and Euphrates River Valleys in order to gain their land back. The Persian threat in Mesopotamia was eventually ended in 641 CE, under the Caliph Umar, who said that the rest of Persia could be left to the Persians. However, with Mesopotamia secured, Umar would eventually go on to conquer the whole of the Persian Empire, after military threats of continued resistance by the Persians.

By the eighth century, the city of Baghdad was built by the Muslim conquerors. It became the capital for the Abbasid Caliphate, or the third Islamic system of government after the overthrowing of the Ummayad. Along with this important role, the city also became a capital for the arts and sciences. The city flourished until it was sacked in 1258 CE by Ilkhanate Mongol invaders. During this raid Baghdad’s famous library was destroyed, thus marking the end of the Islamic Golden Age.

After the sack of Baghdad, the area of modern-day Iraq was ruled by a tribal federation known as the Qara Qoyunlu, or in English, the Black Sheep Turkomans. From the late fourteenth century to the middle of the fifteenth century CE, they controlled much of the territory of Iraq, through the culture’s characteristic expansion. The Black Sheep are even more known for the infighting among its leaders, sometimes even between fathers and sons, and bothers against brothers. The instability of the federation eventually led to its defeat at the hands of the Aq Qoyunlus, or the White Sheep Turkomans. This occurred when the Black Sheep attempted to capture the city of Diyar Bakr in Modern-day Turkey from the White Sheep. The ensuing fighting led to the death of the Black Sheep king and the loss of control in all of his territory. Under the rule of the White Sheep Turkomans, Iranians held positions of power within the government. Their rule lasted until 1508, and consisted of much infighting within the territory of what would become Iraq. In 1508, the Safavid Dynasty of Iran took over. The dynasty is characterized by its warlord leaders and the widespread following of Shi’a Islam. It is from this large following that the Twelver School of Islam developed under their rule.

The next major power in Iraq’s long history was the Ottoman Empire, which is considered to have begun in 1747. The Ottomans appointed Mamluk leaders to the region of Iraq. Mamluks were a class of society that consisted of slaves that were trained as warriors and who also had converted to Islam. The Mamluks in the Iraq region eventually gained individual control over the area, without the influence of the Ottomans. During this time, the region was known for its peace and economic prosperity. However, in 1831, the Ottomans regained control over the area and would remain in power there until WWI.

Upon the onset of WWI, the Ottoman Empire aligned itself with the Central Powers. During the Siege of Kut from 1915-16, British forces entered the territory as part of the Mesopotamia Campaign and were defeated by Turkish forces. During the last years of WWI, the Ottoman Empire is considered to have committed war crimes, specifically in the form of genocide against Armenians, Greeks and Christians within its boarders. These consisted mainly in the form of deportations and genocide. In 1920, a peace treaty was signed between the Ottoman Empire and the Allied Forces, which broke up the Empire into several territories. The portion allocated to the British was referred to as the British Mandate of Mesopotamia.

Under the British, a monarchy was set up as the system of government. They also divided the region into a system of territories. This caused problems within the country due to the fact that the British boarders did not take into account the pre-existing relations between the different tribes and cultures within the country. This caused internal strife and fueled a strong opposition to British control. The Kurdish and Shi’ites especially sought independence from the influence of the British. This opposition continued until the British mandate ended in 1932. However, Kurdish opposition to the central government continued well after the British left.

By 1935, just three years after Iraq’s complete independence, the country had begun drilling in its vast oil fields and had bought all of the railways in the region from the British. Additionally, construction and foreign trade saw increases as well. Even though it appeared that the country was flourishing, problems within the government persisted, especially under the reign of King Ghazi. His youth allowed competing politicians to maneuver their way to power. This was usually done through a variety of methods, usually violent.

During WWII, Iraqis once again came into close contact with the British. Iraq broke political ties with Germany, however, not with Italy. Many within the country favored allegiance with the Axis Powers, and eventually the country did so. Now against the British, public opinion changed fairly rapidly. There was the popular conception that Iraq should support Germany, because it would allow for Arab independence throughout the Middle East. In response to these growing hostilities, the British sent forces into Iraq. Thirty days later, the Iraqis conceded to British demands. These included Iraq’s declaring war on the Axis Powers and allowing Britain use of Iraq’s wartime facilities.

Following the war, a new political system was established in 1945, which called for the formation of political parties. However, the new form of government fell just one year later, in 1946. This led to the development of a more authoritarian form of government under Salih Jabr, the first Shi’ite prime minister. His intentions were to retain more centralized power and to quell certain notions of personal liberty, such as freedom of speech, which had been strictly regulated during the war. Under his leadership, Iraq saw many public uprisings. These protests eventually brought about the downfall of the monarchy in 1958 at the hands of a younger generation, who began to demand more progressive legislation than the old form of government allowed. The monarchy was overthrown by military leaders and a republic was set up in its place.

Just a few years after this event, the small country of Kuwait, along Iraq’s southern boarder, was freed from its British mandate. Iraq claimed that Kuwait was actually Iraqi territory, and therefore should be under Iraqi sovereignty. This event was just the beginning of violent foreign interceding within the country for over nearly the next half century.

In the meantime, a political party known as the Ba’th Party was rapidly gaining power, culminating in a coup that overthrew Iraq’s first Republican government in 1963. This involved the assassination of then-president Qāsim in the same year. In a struggle for power that followed, the Ba’th party was overthrown. After the Six Day War of 1967, the Ba’th party once again gained power. Ten years later, General Saddam Hussein was placed as President of Iraq. He immediately became involved in the Iran-Iraq War. Tensions were largely based on territorial disputes between the two countries, but also on Iran’s religious dispute with Iraq’s more secular government. The actions that took place during this time, eventually led to what is known as the Gulf War, where more foreign powers became involved in the region. The Iran-Iraq War devastated the two countries’ economies and they were forced into a treaty proposed by the U.N. Security Council, known as Resolution 598. Initially Iran refused a cease-fire, but later signed the proposal in 1988.

Over the course of the war, the United States initially supported Iraq, launching several attacks on Iran. However, Iraq’s following invasion of Kuwait in 1990 caused even more elevated tensions in the region in 1990. Desert Storm was the operation the eventually drove the Iraqis out of the country and led to devastating results for Iraq, especially in the number of troop and civilian deaths. In addition, the U.N. also called for the complete disarmament of the military.

Eight years after the invasion, Iraq was once again on the brink of war, due to Saddam Hussein’s refusal to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors, as required by U.N. regulations. This led to the bombing of several suspected WMD sites in December of 1998. However, a full-fledged invasion of the country did not occur until 2003, when American and British forces entered the country. The United States claimed that Iraq had violated several of the U.N.’s resolutions. Yet, the U.N. did not provide support for the military operation, which aimed to facilitate a regime change within the country by driving out Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath party. However, the U.N. did lift the restrictions that were placed on Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait.

Since the invasion, the country has undergone many changes. Saddam Hussein was tried and hanged in 2003 and the government was handed over to the people once again. Although the country has been handed back to its citizens, it is far from stable. Fighting between the Shia and Sunni sects has increased dramatically in the years following the invasion. Additionally, terrorism is also on the rise. This is especially true concerning attacks against the new Iraqi government, but there are also cases among sects.

The new and current government of Iraq is considered Islamic, democratic, and parliamentary. After decades of control under the Ba’ath party, this new democracy was created as a multi-party system. The first president elected under the new constitution was Nouri al Maliki. The government is considered a multi-party system with judicial, executive and legislative branches.

Even previous to the Iraq war, the country was home to a rich cultural community. One of these institutions is the world-famous Music and Ballet School of Baghdad. Another major establishment is the National Museum of Iraq. The museum housed many of the country’s prized historical artifacts, some nearly as old as civilization in the region itself. Unfortunately, as a result of the instability that arose during bombings of the country, the museum was heavily looted and many of its priceless artifacts stolen. It was a devastating blow to scholarship of ancient Mesopotamia. However, many artifacts in recent years have slowly begun to reemerge and be returned to the museum. Many of these were found in the neighboring countries of Syria and Jordan.

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