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Iraq History

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An Expanded Brief History of Iraq


March 19: After ordering weapons inspectors to stop their work and leave the country, claiming the situation is too dire to allow them to continue searching for supposed hidden weapons, the United States gives Saddam an ultimatum to "voluntarily" step down from power under the threat of imminent U.S. military action and then proceeds to invade Iraq before the actual deadline is reached.


The United States begins talks on the possibility of invading Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from office and implement a democratic form of government. November: Iraq allows weapons inspectors to return to the country.


October-November: Iraq was suspected of being involved in bio-terrorist attacks which killed five Americans who had come in contact with Anthrax in the postal mail. November: United States President George W. Bush urges Saddam Hussein to allow UN weapons inspectors to return to Iraq.


August: The Saddam International Airport in Baghdad reopens for the first time in 10 years. September: The UN Security Council agrees to reduce the amount of reparations that Iraq has to pay in half. October: Iraqi officials attend an Arab League summit for the first time in ten years.


Air-raids continue on Iraq throughout the year. December 17: The UN Security Council votes to relieve the sanctions on Iraq.


December: The United Kingdom and the United States launch a series of air-raids on Iraq, because Iraq does not allow the UN to inspect suspected weapons sites.


The Project for a New American Century (or PNAC) is formed by Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, amongst others, to promote the use of U.S. power throughout the world, including writing open letters to President Clinton and the U.S. Congress calling for the forceable overthrow of Saddam Hussein.


August: The Iraqi government sends troops into the safety zone in support of one of the Kurdish groups. September: The United states begins bombing southern Iraq in response to the Iraqi government sending troops into the safety zone.


November: Iraq formally recognizes the independence of Kuwait. Fighting breaks out in the safety zone between rival groups of Kurds.


The Iraqi government begins draining its southern swamplands, where the Shiites live. This makes it so they could not grow rice, which is an important source of food.


August: The allies impose a ban on Iraqi military and civilian aircraft over southern Iraq to protect the Shiites.


January 17: Iraq does not leave Kuwait. A coalition of 34 countries (U.S. troops represent 74% of 660,000 total troops) begins intensively bombing Iraq, thereby starting the Gulf War (or Persian Gulf War, Second Gulf War, or Desert Storm). The U.S. military uses depleted uranium on the battlefield for the first time — its radioactive residue pollutes the environment and causes birth defects, cancers, and other ill health effects to this day, despite disingenuous denials from The Pentagon. Some consider the use of such weapons to be a war crime and some suspect they are connected to the Gulf War Syndrome experienced by up to 250,000 U.S. soldiers. During the coalition aerial bombardment, Iraq attacks Israel and Saudi Arabia with Scud missiles, attempts to take the Saudi Arabian city of Khafji and is repelled, and deliberately creates the largest oil spill on record in the Persian Gulf in what the U.S. calls "environmental terrorism." February 24: Coalition land forces enter the theater of war. Three days later the Iraqi army is defeated and withdraws from Kuwait down the "highways of death." On their way out of Kuwait, Iraqi forces set fire to 700 oil wells. After having received earlier encouragement from President Bush, Shi'ite and Kurdish uprisings break out in the south and north of Iraq. Iraqi troops kill tens of thousands to put down the rebellions. April 6: Iraq agrees to a formal cease-fire. April 11: The UN Security Council declares the Persian Gulf War formally over. As part of the cease-fire agreement, Iraq is ordered to destroy all of its biological and chemical weapons and related production facilities.


May: At an Arab League meeting, Saddam Hussein accuses Kuwait and other Gulf states of waging "economic war" on Iraq — Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have been flooding the world oil market by exceeding production limits set by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which drives down prices and thereby negatively effects Iraq's primary income; Iraq is already in serious debt of at least $80 billion after its war with Iran, and Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, at behest of the U.S., demand repayment despite Iraq's claims that it had incured the debt defending the interests of the entire Gulf region; and Kuwait is slant drilling into disputed Iraqi oilfields. July: Saddam accuses Kuwait of conspiring with the C.I.A. to destroy the Iraqi economy and win border concessions. Iraqi troops mass on Kuwaiti border. August: After Iraq threatens the use of military force and receives mixed messages and/or tacit approval from the U.S. (possibly related to a U.S. National Security Council white paper naming Saddam and Iraq as a "the optimum contenders to replace the Warsaw Pact" thereby justifying for major military expenditures), Iraq invades and annexes Kuwait. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 660 calls for Iraq to withdraw. The UN Security Council approves the use of force (Resolution 661) to remove Iraqi troops from Kuwait if they do not leave by January 15th, 1991. After the invasion begins, the Iraqi army seizes hostages from the U.S., other Western nations, and Kuwait and places them in strategic military sites across Iraq. Resolution 664 demands release of these hostages.


The Iraqi government starts attacking the Kurds for their support of Iran during the war and to settle general long-time power struggles over the northern region of Iraq, including the desire to fully control the oil fields in Kurdish controlled areas especially around Kirkuk. The massive and coordinated military operations are referred to as the "Anfal" campaign. In the next two to three years, the Iraqi government, under the direction of Ali Hassan al-Majid (a.k.a. "Ali Anfal," "Chemical Ali," or the "Butcher of Kurdistan"), systematically destroys thousands of Kurdish villages and kills many more thousands of Kurds with chemical weapons, utilizing U.S. helicopters previously sold to Iraq in 1983 under the guise of civilian aid although they could "be weaponized in a matter of hours." Many Kurds flee Iraq.
August 1988: A cease-fire is declared with Iran. During the eight year war it is estimated that at least 100,000 Iraqi soldiers died. The war also severely damages the Iraqi economy.
In 1989, Saddam orders the "Plan of Action for the Marshes" calling for the destruction of the marshes in southern Iraq.


September: Iraq invades Iran (Iran-Iraq War or the First Gulf War) at U.S. urging, in part to regain control of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, thinking it would easily win considering Iran's recent upheavals. Initially, Iraq advances far into Iranian territory, but is driven back within months.

By mid-1982, Iraq is on the defensive against Iranian human-wave attacks. The U.S. decides that an Iranian victory would not serve its interests, largely due to fears arising from the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. While the U.S. was officially neutral regarding the Iran-Iraq war, claiming that it armed neither side, the U.S. provides financial, military, and intelligence assistance to Iraq as a hedge against the possibility of Iran winning the war.

In 1982, Iraq is removed from the U.S. terrorist nation list.

Despite Iraq's "almost daily" use of chemical weapons in the battlefield against Iran, Rumsfeld meets with Saddam in 1983 (and again in 1984, the same day UPI reports Iraqi use of mustard gas) and does not mention those weapons in their talks. Indeed, over time a "veritable witch's brew of biological materials" — including anthrax, botulism toxin, and e. coli — is provided to Iraq from private U.S. suppliers licensed by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The U.S restores full diplomatic relations and President Reagan authorizes intelligence sharing with Iraq. At same time the U.S. begins sharing intelligence and selling weapons to Iran (Iran-Contra Affair).
After the U.S. finally condemns the use of Iraqi chemical weapons, adversely effecting U.S./Iraqi relations, the U.S. continues to find ways to further aid Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran, including helping Iraq to avoid a draft U.N. resolution Iran had submitted asking for condemnation of Iraq's chemical weapons use and, in 1985, Secretary of State George Shultz convincing the U.S. Congress to drop its attempt to return Iraq to list of nations supporting terrorism.


Saddam Hussein assumes the presidency, after Al-Bakr resigns, and proceeds to tighten his Ba'athist control over the country, including killing rivals within the Ba'ath party itself. Separately, neighboring Iran overthrows their Shah, installs an theocratic regime in their Islamic Revolution, and subsequently takes U.S. hostages in the Tehran embassy hostage crisis.


The Kurds and the Iraqis form an agreement. The Kurds would be allowed to have self-rule and they are given several positions in the government but not control of the Kirkuk oil fields. New fighting breaks out with the Kurds after they reject revisions to their previous agreement. In March 1975, the Kurds are defeated after Iran withdraws its military support due to the signing of the Algiers Accord between Iran and Iraq in which Iraq made territorial concessions, including granting Iran the Shatt al-Arab waterway, in exchange for normalized relations between the two countries.


Iraq nationalizes and all the foreign oil company resources are taken over by the government. President Nixon then plots with Shah of Iran to arm Iraqi Kurds and Iraq is placed on the U.S. list of nations supporting terrorism.


A new constitution is adopted in Iraq. Al-Bakr signs an agreement with the Kurds ending the fighting. Iraq announces their intentions to nationalize Iraqi oil.


Al-Bakr overthrows Arif in a bloodless coup and takes control of the government. The socialist Ba'ath party is reestablished, gains control of Iraq, and establishes a strict rule. Saddam Hussein becomes Vice President after having risen within the government through a career in security operations involving torture and execution of all opposition groups — including Kurds, Communists and labor unions.


Abdul Salam Arif dies in a helicopter crash. Abdul Rahman Arif, his brother, becomes the new president.


A cease-fire with the Kurds is declared, but Kurdish rebellions continue for years.


Qassim is assassinated by army officers and members of the Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party with assistance from the U.S. CIA. Abdul Salam Arif becomes president and Ahmed Hasan al-Bakr prime minister. Arif uses the military to take complete control of the government and expels the Ba'ath party.


The Kurds revolt against the government after Qassim refused to give them complete autonomy in Iraq and a share of the oil revenues. Iraqi jets flatten numerous Kurdish villages.


Army officers, backed by the U.S. and British intelligence, overthrow the government and make Iraq a republic. During the coup, King Faisal II, Prince Abdul Ilah, and General al-Said are killed in the tradition of British intelligence supporting the murder of almost every Iraqi leader after they had called for the return of Kuwait. Many with ties to the fallen leaders flee or had already fled Iraq amidst the strife, such as the family of Ahmed Chalabi. The army officers set up a three-man Sovereignty Council. The Council consists of a Shiite Arab, a Kurd, and a Sunni Arab. General Abdul Karim Qassim, who led the popular uprising, becomes the premier of Iraq. Qassim declares Kuwait is part of Iraq and opens a relationship with the U.S.S.R. In 1959, Saddam Hussein, under CIA tutelage, is one of several that wounds Qassim in an assassination attempt. (In 1960, the CIA fails again using a poisoned handkerchief.)


Iraq signs the Baghdad Pact with Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey, providing for British-supported mutual defense. Many Iraqis oppose this and other ties with the West and, as a result, the Pan-Arabism movement begins to develop.


Faisal II turns 18 and takes control of the government. Many Iraqis begin to oppose the monarchy, which largely serves British and U.S. interests. In neighboring Iran, British intelligence orchestrates a coup, with CIA assistance, that overthrows socialist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and installs Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlav as dictator of Iran. In 1954, the U.S. begins offering military aid to Iraq.


Iraq signs agreements with foreign oil companies and, by 1952, Iraq is to start receiving 50% of the profits from oil that would be drilled there.


May 15: Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq declare war on Israel in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War (or Israeli War of Independence) after Israel is declared the Jewish State and the British leave Palestine. The Israelis repel the attacks and gain territory from neighboring nations. U.S. influence begins to grow in Iraq after the U.S. insists on an "open door" economic policy with an eye toward controlling global resources.


March 22: Arab League forms, with the founding members of Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, and Libya, to regionally coordinate economic, cultural, and nationality affairs, and forbids member states from resorting to force against each other.


Iraqi government seeks to form an alliance with Germany, Italy and Japan to get rid of British influence in their country. The United Kingdom defeats Iraq in just 4 weeks in 1941, reasserts control, and expells pro-Axis leaders from the country. Iraq later declares war on the Axis powers.


Anti-British groups in the army seize control of the government in the first coup d'?tat in Iraq and the Arab world. Bakr Sidqi, one of the main plotters of the coup, is himself assassinated in 1937 by a Kurd. Ghazi is officially the king, but he acts as a figurehead with the British and the pro-Western General Nuri al-Said holding the real reigns of power. In 1939, King Ghazi seeks to annex Kuwait but is killed in a mysterious car accident and his four-year-old son, Faisal II becomes king. Prince Abdul Ilah, his uncle, though, rules for him.


Iraq becomes an independent nation after the United Kingdom and Iraq sign a treaty which states that the British government would provide military protection and eventual independence. Iraq would continued to allow the United Kingdom to use the British air bases in Iraq. Iraq joins the League of Nations. Shortly thereafter, in 1933, Faisal I dies and Ghazi, his playboy son, becomes the new ruler. Because of Ghazi's weak leadership, tribal and ethnic rebellions break out including the Christian Assyrian revolt which prompts a violent government crackdown.


The League of Nations gives the United Kingdom a Mandate to rule over Mesopotamia, now called the State of Iraq. Contrary to British expectations, Shi'ites, then Sunnis, and even Kurds stage a massive armed uprising together. While the revolt is relatively short-lived, it's toll on British finances and lives is high (10,000 total casualties with 2,000 of those being British) and it forces the British to transfer power to a nominally independent government, and in 1921, the British appoint as leader King Faisal I, a Hashemite Arab foreign to Iraqis and the brother of the new ruler of neighboring Jordan. The British draw a line across southern Iraq creating Kuwait, in effect curtailing Iraqi access to Persian Gulf and making it difficult for Iraq to become a naval power. King Faisal I does not agree to the Kuwaiti plan, but, since his country is under British rule, he has little say in the matter. The British-imposed Iraqi political system suffers from a severe legitimacy crisis as Britain has imposed a monarchy, has defined the territorial limits of Iraq with little correspondence to natural frontiers or traditional tribal and ethnic settlements, and has influenced the writing of a constitution.


British troops occupy Iraq after the United Kingdom had become interested in Mesopotamia and its oil resources with its Navy having switched from coal to oil in 1904. After having defeated the Ottoman Empire in WWI, an armistice ceding the territory to Britain is signed with Turkey in 1918. At the end of the war, ownership of and access to Iraq's petroleum is split five ways between the United Kingdom, France, The Netherlands and the U.S., with the remaining 5% going to a private oil corporation, while the Iraqi government gets none. Several groups are formed to resist the British occupation over the years, including the Haras al-Istiqlal (the Independence Guard) led by the Shi'a cleric Muhammad al-Sadr.


The earliest records point to the larger area now known as modern Iraq as the "cradle of civilization". The fertile area of Mesopotamia (Greek for "between the rivers"), between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers, is the birth place of several of the world's oldest civilizations, such as those of the Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians, and is a key setting in several Bible stories. One of the first such cultures develops in Sumer (now southeastern Iraq) about 4000 B.C.E.. Several millenia later, around 539 B.C.E., Mesopotamia is conquered by the Persians, and, in turn, two hundred years later, in 331 B.C.E., Alexander the Great takes the area from the Persians, and then the Greek Seleucid Empire controls the area in lieu of Alexander after his death. Greek rule ends in 126 B.C.E. when the Parthians establish control of Iraq. About 226 AD, the Persian Sassanid dynasty takes control, but by 656 AD Arab Muslims conquer the Sassanids and bring the Arabic language and the Islamic religion to Mesopotamia. The Abbasid dynasty comes to power in 750 and they found the new city Baghdad as their capital (near ancient Babylon) in 762. By 800, Baghdad has grown to a city with nearly a million people and it is the center of trade and culture. The Arab Empire is destroyed when the Mongols invade in 1258, but Baghdad remains the center of the Arab world and becomes a frontier outpost when it is incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in 1534. The United Kingdom becomes involved with the Persian Gulf region in the 1800s in order to protect its trade routes with India.

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