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Diplomacy in Action

Iraq (08/05)


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

Flag of Iraq is three equal horizontal bands of red at top, white, and black, with three green five-pointed stars and Arabic script in horizontal line centered in white band.


Republic of Iraq

Area: 437,072 sq. km.; about the size of California.
Cities: Capital--Baghdad (5.7 million, 2004 estimate). Other cities--Basrah, Mosul, Kirkuk, As Sulaymaniyah, Irbil.
Terrain: Alluvial plains, mountains, and desert.
Climate: Mostly hot and dry.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Iraqi(s).
Population (2004 estimate): 26,074,906.
Population growth rate (2004 estimate): 2.7%.
Ethnic groups: Arab 75%-80%, Kurd 15%-20%, Turcoman, Chaldean, Assyrian, or others less than 5%.
Religions: Shi'a Muslim 60-65%, Sunni Muslim 32%-37%, Christian 3%, others less than 1%.
Languages: Arabic, Kurdish, Assyrian, Armenian, Farsi.
Education: Years compulsory--primary school (age 6 through grade 6). Literacy--40.4%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2004 estimate)--50.25 deaths/1,000. Life expectancy (2004 estimate)--68.7 yrs.

Type: Transitional democracy. Following elections held on January 30, 2005, the Iraqi Transitional Government (ITG) assumed authority. According to the Transitional Administrative Law for Iraq (TAL) adopted in 2004, the transitional government will remain in power until a government elected under a permanent constitution takes office (by December 31, 2005). This constitution will determine the identity of Iraq's government.
Constitution: The Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), signed March 2004, is the governing legal document until an elected government under a permanent constitution takes office.
Independence: On October 3, 1932, Iraq gained independence from the League of Nations Mandate under British Administration. Until July 2004, the Iraqi government observed the anniversary of the July 17 Ba'ath party takeover of the Iraqi government as Iraq's Independence Day.
Branches: Executive--the Presidency Council consists of one president and two deputy presidents; the Council of Ministers consists of one prime minister, three deputy prime ministers, and a council of ministers consisting of 31 ministers. Judicial--Supreme Court appointed by the Prime Minister and confirmed by the President. Legislative--Transitional National Assembly (TNA) consisting of 275 members elected by a closed-list, single-district proportional-representation system until elections to be held under a permanent constitution before the end of 2005.
Divisions: 18 governorates and one regional government. Governorates--Al Anbar, Al Basrah, Al Muthanna, Al Qadisiyah, An Najaf, Irbil, As Sulaymaniyah, Kirkuk, Babil, Baghdad, Dahuk, Dhi Qar, Diyala, Karbala', Maysan, Ninawa, Salah ad Din, Wasit. Regional government--Kurdistan Regional Government.

GDP (2005 estimate): $24.3 billion.
GDP per capita (2005 estimate): $870.
GDP real growth rate (2005 estimate): 16.7%.
Rate of inflation (12 months ending May 2005): 33%.
Unemployment rate (2004 estimate): 28%.
Budget (2005 approved budget): $19.3 billion revenues and $24.0 billion expenditures.
Public debt: Approximately $120 billion.
Natural resources: Oil, natural gas, phosphates, sulfur.
Agriculture (13.6% of GNP): Products--wheat, barley, rice, vegetables, cotton, dates, cattle, sheep.
Industry (58.6% GNP): Types--petroleum, chemicals, textiles, construction materials, food processing.
Trade: Exports (2004 estimate)--$17.5 billion. Export commodities (2004 estimate)--crude oil (83%), crude materials excluding fuels (8%), food and live animals (5%). Export partners (2004 estimate)--U.S. 53.4%, India 12.3%, Spain 8%, Japan 6.1%, Italy 4.9%, Canada 4.2% (based on oil exports for 2004). Imports (2004 estimate)--$9.9 billion. Import commodities (2004 estimate)--food, medicine, manufactured goods, refined petroleum products. Import partners (2004 estimate)--Turkey 25%, U.S. 11.1%, Jordan 10%, Vietnam 7.7%, Germany 5.6%, Australia 4.8%.

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 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 from 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 in Iraq.

Iraq's two largest ethnic groups are Arabs and Kurds. Other distinct groups are Turcoman, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Persians, 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.

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 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 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.

The CPA disbanded on June 28, 2004, transferring sovereign authority for governing Iraq to the Iraqi Interim Government (IIG). Based on the timetable laid out in the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), the IIG governed Iraq until elections were held on January 30, 2005; thereafter the Iraqi Transitional Government assumed authority.

The Iraqi Transitional Government (ITG) consists of the Presidency of the State (comprised of a President and two Deputy Presidents); a Council of Ministers, including a Prime Minister; a Transitional National Assembly; and the Judicial Authority.

Principal Officials of the Iraqi Transitional Government
President--Jalal Talabani
Deputy President--Dr. Adil Abd al-Mahdi
Deputy President--Sheikh Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar
Prime Minister--Dr. Ibrahim al-Ja'afari
Deputy Prime Minister--Dr. Rowsch Shways
Second Deputy Prime Minister--Dr. Ahmed al-Chalabi
Third Deputy Prime Minister--Abd Mutlaq al-Jibbouri
Minister of Finance--Dr. Ali Allawi
Minister of Interior--Bayan Solagh
Minister of Defense--Dr. Sa'adoun al-Duleimi
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Hoshyar Zebari
Minister of Oil--Dr. Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum
Minister of Trade--Abd Al-Basit Mawlud
Minister of Education--Dr. Abd al-Falah Humadi
Minister of Planning and Development--Dr. Barham Salih
Minister of Electricity--Dr. Muhsin Shlash
Minister of Agriculture--Dr. Ali al-Bahadili
Minister of Communications--Dr. Juwan Fu'ad Masoum
Minister of Justice--Judge Abd al-Hussein Shandal
Minister of Health--Dr. Abd al-Muttalib al-Rubai'e
Minister of Housing and Construction--Jasim Ja'afar
Minister of Municipalities and Public Works--Nesreen Berwari
Minister of Water Resources--Dr. Abd al-Latif Rashid
Minister of Transportation--Salam al-Maliki
Minister of Industry and Minerals--Osama al-Najafi
Minister of Labor and Social Affairs--Dr. Idris Hadi
Minister of Higher Education--Dr. Sami al-Muzaffar
Minister of Science and Technology--Basima Butrus
Minister of Displacement and Migration--Suheila al-Kinani
Minister of Youth and Sports--Talib Zaini
Minister of Culture--Nouri al-Rawa
Minister of Human Rights--Narmeen Othman (Acting)
Minister of State for Provinces--Sa'ad al-Hardan
Minister of State for Women--Dr. Azhar al-Sheikhly
Minister of State for Civil Society--Ala' Kazim
Minister of State for National Assembly Affairs--Dr. Safa' al-Din al-Safi
Minister of State for National Security Affairs--Abd al-Karim al-Anzi
Minister of State for Tourism and Antiquities--Hashim al-Hashimi
Speaker/President of the Transitional National Assembly--Dr. Hajim al-Hasani
Deputy Speaker/President of the Transitional National Assembly--Dr. Hussein al-Shahristani
Deputy Speaker/President of the Transitional National Assembly--Arif Taifur

Major Political Parties and Organizations
Al-Sadr Movement [Muqtada Al-Sadr]; Constitutional Monarchy Movement or CMM [Sharif Ali Bin al-Hussein]; Da'wa Party [Ibrahim al-Ja'afari]; Independent Iraqi Alliance or IIA [Falah al-Naqib]; Iraqi Hizballah [Karim Mahud al-Muhammadawi]; Iraqi Independent Democrats or IID [Adnan Pachachi, Mahdi al-Hafiz]; Iraqi Islamic Party or IIP [Muhsin Abd al-Hamid, Hajim al-Hasani]; Iraqi National Accord or INA [Ayad Allawi]; Iraqi National Congress or INC [Ahmad Chalabi]; Iraqi National Unity Movement or INUM [Ahmad al-Kubaysi, chairman]; Jama'at al Fadilah or JAF [Ayatollah Muhammad 'Ali al-Yacoubi]; Kurdistan Democratic Party or KDP [Masud Barzani]; Muslim Ulama Council or MUC [Harith Sulayman al-Dari, secretary general]; Patriotic Union of Kurdistan or PUK [Jalal TalabaniI]
Note: The Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan, the Iraqi List, and the United Iraqi Alliance were electoral slates consisting of the representatives from the various Iraqi political parties.

On June 28, 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) transferred administrative authority to the Iraqi Interim Government (IIG). Based on the provisions adopted in the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) and outlined in United Nations Security Resolution (UNSCR) 1546, direct democratic elections for a Transitional National Assembly (TNA) were held on January 30, 2005. The TNA, which inter alia, had responsibility for forming a transitional government, is also charged with drafting a permanent constitution for Iraq, leading to a constitutionally elected government by December 31, 2005. Further to the TAL, the TNA will complete a draft constitution no later than August 15, 2005 and that constitution will then be presented in a nationwide referendum by October 15, 2005, resulting in elections for a constitutionally elected government no later than December 15, 2005. The elected government shall assume office no later than December 31, 2005.

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 (OFF) program in December 1996 improved conditions for the average Iraqi citizen. In December 1999, Iraq was authorized to export unlimited quantities of oil through OFF to finance essential civilian needs including, among other things, food, medicine, and infrastructure repair parts. The drop in GDP in 2001-02 was largely the result of the global economic slowdown and lower oil prices. Per capita food imports increased significantly, while medical supplies and health care services steadily improved. The occupation of the U.S.-led coalition in March-April 2003 resulted in the shutdown of much of the central economic administrative structure. The rebuilding of oil, electricity, and other production proceeded steadily in 2004 with foreign support and despite the continuing internal security incidents. A joint UN and World Bank report released in the fall of 2003 estimated that Iraq's key reconstruction needs through 2007 would cost $55 billion. According to the General Accounting Office as of April 2004, total funds available towards this rebuilding effort include: $21 billion in U.S. appropriations, $18 billion from the Development Fund for Iraq, $2.65 billion in vested and seized assets of the former regime, and $13.6 billion in international pledges. The U.S. and other nations continue assisting Iraqi ministries, to the extent requested by the ITG, and offer extensive economic support.

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. 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 lifting of UN sanctions after the Ba'ath regime was removed in 2003, Iraq is gradually resuming trade relations with the international community, including with the U.S. The U.S. designated Iraq as a beneficiary developing country under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program in September 2004. Iraq was granted observer status at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in February 2004, and began its WTO accession process in December 2004.

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 Coalition Provisional Authority (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. Support for the manning, training and equipping of Iraq's security forces is being led by the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq.

With the fall of Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath regime, Iraq has taken steps toward re-engagement on the international stage. Iraq has established diplomatic relations with over 60 countries and organizations. The Republic of Iraq belongs to the following international organizations: United Nations (UN); Arab League (AL); World Bank (WB); International Monetary Fund (IMF); International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); Nonaligned Movement (NAM); Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC); Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC); Interpol; World Health Organization (WHO); G-19; G-77; Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (ABEDA); Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD); Arab Monetary Fund (AMF); Council of Arab Economic Unity (CAEU); Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD); International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO); International Community for Radionuclide Metrology (ICRM); International Development Association (IDA); International Development Bank (IDB); International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); International Finance Corporation (IFC); International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRCS); International Labor Organization (ILO); International Maritime Organization (IMO); Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC); International Organization for Standardization (ISO); International Telecommunication Union (ITU); Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC); United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); Universal Postal Union (UPU); World Customs Organization (WCO); World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU); World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO); World Meteorological Organization (WMO); World Trade Organization (WTO) observer.

On June 22, 2005, more than 80 countries and organizations gathered in Brussels in a renewed international partnership with Iraq, to support Iraq's political transition process, to encourage its economic recovery, and to help establish the rule of law and public order.

The United States, having led the international coalition to remove the Ba'ath regime, is committed to the establishment of a stable, united, prosperous, democratic, and pluralistic Iraq. U.S. forces remain in Iraq as part of the Multi-National Force-Iraq to assist the ITG to train its security forces, as well as to work in partnership with the ITG to combat forces that seek to derail Iraq's progression to full democracy. The U.S. Government is carrying out a multibillion-dollar program to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq.

Principal U.S. Embassy Official
Ambassador--Zalmay Khalilzad

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