Iraq, country in southwest Asia, bordered by Turkey in the north, Iran in the east, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in the south, and Jordan and Syria in the west.The capital is Baghdad. Other large cities are Basra and Mosul.
Iraq is mountainous in the northeast, but much of the country is composed of low-lying grasslands between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. The lower plain includes the fertile delta where the 2 rivers meet, forming the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which flows into the Persian Gulf. The southwestern part of the country is desert.
Arabs comprise about 75 percent of the Iraqi population. Most of them are Shiite Muslims. The major non-Arab minority is the Kurds, about 20 percent of the population, who are mostly Sunni Muslims. The Kurds live mainly in the northern part of the country. They speak their own language, Kurdish. The official language of Iraq is Arabic.
Oil production, begun in 1928, dominates the Iraqi economy. The oil industry was nationalized in the early 1970s, and the income earned from oil was used to finance extensive efforts at industrialization. Agricultural products include dates, cotton, and grain.
Mesopotamia, the territory between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, was the site of one of the world's first civilizations, dating back to c.3500 B.C. Sumeria, Assyria, and Babylonia were 3 of the ancient states of this region. In 539 B.C. it became part of the Persian empire, in turn conquered by the Greeks (under Alexander the Great) in 331 B.C. Subsequently the region was incorporated into the Roman, and later the Byzantine, empire. In 637 the Arabs swept into Mesopotamia, bringing the Arabic language and the religion of Islam with them. About a century and a half later, Baghdad became the capital of the Abbasid caliphate. As such, it was the center of the Arab world during its golden age (9th century). In 1258, Mongols from central Asia invaded Mesopotamia and sacked Baghdad. The country remained weak and impoverished for a long period. In 1534 Iraq was taken over by the Ottoman Empire, remaining under Turkish rule until the defeat of the Ottomans in World War I.
In 1920 Iraq was made a British mandate by the League of Nations. A kingdom was established in 1921, under British control. In 1932 the League of Nations mandate was officially terminated, winning formal independence, though the British retained great influence. In 1958 the monarchy was overthrown in a military coup led by General Abdul Karim Qassim, a nationalist officer. In 1963 Qassim was overthrown by officers of the Baath Party. The Baathist regime established a repressive government ideologically based on pan-Arab nationalism and supported by an enormous military and police apparatus. The Baath Party took control of virtually all aspects of Iraqi society. The architect of that program was Saddam Hussein, who was the power behind the scenes from 1968 onward and officially became president in 1979. The Saddam Hussein regime was marked by wars against the Kurdish minority in the north, the 8-year war against Iran, and the Persian Gulf War of 1991. After the Gulf War Iraq severely suffered under the UN embargo, a result of the country's refusal to allow the UN weapon inspections to be carried out properly.
See also: Persian Gulf War.