Iraq Department of State Background

U.S. Department of State Background Note



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 48°C (120°F) 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.

The majority (60-65%) of Iraqi Muslims are members of the Shi'a sect, but there is a large (32-37%) 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, Kurds in the north and Shi'a Muslims in the south rebelled against the government of Saddam Hussein. The government responded quickly and with crushing force, killing thousands. It also pursued damaging environmental and agricultural policy meant to drain the marshes of the south. As a result, the United States, United Kingdom, and France established protective no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq. In addition, 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'th regime in March-April 2003, bringing an end to more than 12 years of Iraqi defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. The coalition formed the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to provide for the administration of Iraq during the period of transitional administration, to restore conditions of security and stability, and to create conditions in which the Iraqi people could 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.

In May 2005, the Iraqi Transitional Government appointed a multi-ethnic committee to draft a new Iraqi Constitution. The new constitution was finalized in September 2005, and was ratified in a nationwide referendum on October 15, 2005. On December 15, 2005, Iraqis again went to the polls to participate in the first legislative elections as laid out by the new constitution. The new four-year, constitutionally based government took office in March 2006, and the new cabinet was approved and installed in May 2006.


Iraq is a constitutional democracy with a federal system of government. The 2005 Iraqi Constitution guarantees all Iraqis basic rights in many areas. The executive branch is made up of the Presidency Council (one president, two deputy presidents) and a Council of Ministers (one prime minister, two deputy prime ministers, and 34 cabinet ministers). The President is the Head of State, protecting the Constitution and representing the sovereignty and unity of the state, while the Prime Minister is the direct executive authority and commander in chief. Beginning in 2006, the military and police began transitioning from being under the operational control of the Multi-National Forces-Iraq command to Iraqi command and control. The President and Vice Presidents are elected by the Council of Representatives (CoR). The Prime Minister is nominated by the largest bloc in the Council of Representatives. Upon designation, the Prime Minister names the members of his cabinet, the Council of Ministers, which is then approved by the Council of Representatives. The Council of Representatives may withdraw confidence from the Prime Minister, in which case the Prime Minister and Cabinet are considered resigned. Under normal circumstances, the executive branch serves a four-year term concurrent with that of the Council of Representatives.

Iraq's legislative branch consists of an elected Council of Representatives and an as-yet unformed Federation Council. The Council of Representatives consists of 275 members, each of whom is elected to four-year terms of service. At least one-quarter of the members of the Council of Representatives must be female. The responsibilities of the Council of Representatives include enacting federal laws, monitoring the executive branch, and electing the President of the Republic. The Federal Council will be established, by law, as a representative for governorates and territories that are not organized in a region.

Iraq's judicial branch is independent, and is under no authority but that of the law. The federal judicial authority is comprised of the Higher Judicial Council, Federal Supreme Court, Court of Cassation, Public Prosecution Department, Judiciary Oversight Commission, and other federal courts. The Higher Judicial Council supervises the affairs of the federal judiciary. The Federal Supreme Court is the highest court in the country, and the final authority on legal decisions. The establishment of the federal courts, their types, and methods for judicial appointments will be set forth by laws enacted by the Council of Representatives.

Principal Officials of the Iraqi National Unity Government
President--Jalal Talabani
Vice-President--'Adil 'Abd al-Mahdi
Vice-President--Tariq al-Hashimi
Prime Minister--Nuri al-Maliki
Deputy Prime Minister--Salam al-Zawba'i
Deputy Prime Minister--Barham Salih
Minister of Agriculture--Yaroub al-Abodi
Minister of Communications--Muhammad Tawfiq Allawi
Minister of Culture--vacant
Minister of Defense--Abdel Qader Jassim Obeidi al-Mufraji
Minister of Displacement & Migration--Abd al-Samad Rahman Sultan
Minister of Education--Khudayyir al-Khuza'i
Minister of Electricity--Karim Wahid
Minister of Environment--Narmin 'Uthman
Minister of Finance--Bayan Jabr
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Hoshyar Zebari
Minister of Health--vacant
Minister of Higher Education--Abd Dhiyab al-Ajili
Minister of Human Rights--Wijdan Mikha'il
Minister of Housing & Construction--Bayan Daza'i
Minister of Industry & Minerals--Fawzi al-Hariri
Minister of Interior--Jawad al-Bulani
Minister of Justice--vacant
Minister of Labor & Social Affairs--Mahmud Muhammad Jawad al-Radi
Minister of Municipalities & Public Works--Riyad Ghurayyib
Minister of Oil--Husayn al-Shahristani
Minister of Planning--Ali Baban
Minister of Science & Technology--Ra'id Fahmi Jahid
Minister of Trade--Abd al-Falah al-Sudani
Minister of Transportation--Karim Mahdi Salih
Minister of Water Resources--'Abd al-Latif Rashid
Minister of Youth & Sports--Jasim Muhammad Ja'far
Minister of State for Civil Society--vacant
Minister of State for CoR Affairs--Safa al-Safi
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs--Rafi Hiyad al-Isawi
Minister of State for Governorates Affairs--vacant
Minister of State for National Dialogue Affairs--Akram al-Hakim
Minister of State for National Security Affairs--Shirwan al-Waili
Minister of State for Tourism and Antiquities--vacant
Minister of State for Women's Affairs--Fatin Abd al-Rahman Mahmud

Major Political Parties and Organizations [Leaders]
Assyrian Democratic Movement [Yonadam Kanna]; Al-Da'wa [Ibrahim al-Ja'afari]; Badr Organization [Hadi al-Amiri]; Constitutional Monarchy Movement [Sharif Ali Bin al-Hussein]; General Conference of Iraqi People [Adnan al-Dulaymi]; Hewar National Iraqi Front [Saleh al-Mutlaq]; Independent Iraqi Alliance [Falah al-Naqib]; Iraqi Hizballah [Karim Mahud al-Muhammadawi]; Iraqi Independent Democrats [Adnan Pachachi]; Iraqi Islamic Party [Muhsin Abd al-Hamid]; Iraqi National Accord (INA) [Ayad Allawi]; Iraqi National Congress (INC) [Ahmad Chalabi]; Iraqi National Unity Movement [Ahmad al-Kubaysi]; Iraqi Turkmen Front [Faruk Abdullah Abdurrahman]; Jama'at al-Fadilah [Ayatollah Muhammad 'Ali al-Yacoubi]; Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) [Massoud Barzani]; Kurdistan Islamic Union [Salaheddine Muhammad Bahaaeddin]; Mithal al-Alusi List [Mithal al-Alusi]; Muslim Ulama Council [Harith Sulayman al-Dari]; National Democratic Movement; Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) [Jalal Talabani]; Al-Risalyun [Muqtada al-Sadr]; Al-Sadr Movement [Muqtada al-Sadr]; Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI, formerly the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI) [Abdul Aziz al-Hakim]; Yazidi Movement for Reform and Progress

Note: The Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan, the Iraqi List, and the United Iraqi Alliance were electoral blocs consisting of the representatives from the various Iraqi political parties. Alliances and Electoral blocs are subject to change.


Since March 2006, the Government of Iraq has been a broad coalition led by a Shi’ite legislative bloc known as the United Iraqi Coalition (UIC) or the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). The UIC currently holds 128 of 275 seats in the Council of Representatives. The UIC is currently composed of ISCI, the al-Sadr movement, al-Da’wa al-Islamiyya, Da’wa Tanzim al-Iraq, Jama’at al-Fadilah, and various independents. Politicians with Sunni religious affiliations, including the Tawaffuq and Hewar groups, presently hold 59 seats in the Council of Representatives. The Kurdish bloc known as the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan (which includes the KDP & PUK) holds 53 legislative seats. Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyya or Iraqi National List (INL) holds 25 seats. The remaining seats are composed of various independents.

With regard to the executive branch, much care has been given to ensure that there is proportionate distribution of ministerial positions among the major political groups. For example, in the Presidency Council, President Jalal Talabani is Kurdish, Deputy President ‘Adil ‘Abd al-Mahdi is a Shi’a Muslim, and Deputy President Tariq al-Hashimi is a Sunni Muslim. Additionally, the Council of Ministers consists of 18 Shi’a Muslims, 8 Sunni Muslims, 8 Kurds, and 5 members of Ayad Allawi’s secular INA.

The Government of Iraq is currently working toward reviewing the Constitution. The process is likely to be a long and careful one, as consideration needs to be given to the interests of each of the major political groups. Issues to be addressed include federalism, the sharing of oil revenues, de-Ba’thification reform, and provincial elections.


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 infrastructure, utilities infrastructure, and other production capacities has proceeded steadily since 2004 despite attacks on key economic facilities and continuing internal security incidents. Despite uncertainty, Iraq is making progress toward establishing the laws and institutions needed to make and implement economic policy.

Iraq's economy is dominated by the oil sector, which has traditionally provided about 95% of foreign exchange earnings. Current estimates show that oil production averages 2.0 million bbl/day,

One key issue that currently confronts economic policymakers in Iraq is inflation. The year-on-year inflation rate for 2006 was 64.8%, a significant increase over the 2005 rate of 31.6% and well above the IMF target rate of 30% annual inflation. In an effort to infuse some stability in prices in Iraq, the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) began to appreciate the Iraqi Dinar (ID) relative to the U.S. Dollar (USD) in November 2006. As of June 7, the CBI had appreciated the ID by 17%. It has also accelerated interest rate increases; the deposit rate is currently 20%. Inflation in Iraq, however, is only partly a monetary problem, and is more strongly related to real sector effects, particularly bottlenecks resulting from the security situation.

The Iraqi Government is seeking to pass and implement laws to strengthen the economy, including a hydrocarbon law to encourage development of this sector, a revenue sharing law to equitably divide oil revenues within the nation in line with the Iraqi constitution, and writing regulations to implement a new foreign investment law. Controlling inflation, reducing corruption, and implementing structural reforms such as bank restructuring and private sector development will be key to Iraq's economic growth.

Foreign assistance has been an integral component of Iraq's reconstruction efforts over the past three years. At a Donors Conference in Madrid in October 2003, more than $33 billion was pledged to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq. Out of that conference, the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank launched the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq (IRFFI) to administer and disburse about $1.4 billion of those funds. The rest of the assistance is being disbursed bilaterally. To date $13.5 billion has been pledged in foreign aid for 2004-2007 from outside of the U.S.

The Government of Iraq has also made an agreement with the Paris Club to reduce some of its debt service obligations. This three-stage agreement will allow for the reduction of over $34 billion in Iraqi debt. Also, in December 2005, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to extend a stand-by agreement (SBA) to the Government of Iraq in the amount of SDR 475.4 million (about U.S. $685 million).

In July 2006, the Government of Iraq and the UN began work to formulate the International Compact with Iraq (ICI), a five-year framework for Iraq to achieve economic self-sufficiency within its region and the world. On May 3, 2007 in Sharm el-Sheikh the ICI was formally launched by more than 70 countries and international organizations, many represented at the ministerial level.

The Compact aims to create a mutually reinforcing dynamic of national consensus and international support. Domestically the aim is to build a national Compact around the government's political and economic program and to restore the Iraqi people's trust in the state and its ability to protect them and meet their basic needs. Internationally, the Compact establishes a framework of mutual commitments to provide financial and technical assistance and debt relief needed to support Iraq and strengthen its resolve to address critical reforms and policies.

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. Through assistance from USAID and USDA, targeted 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. These efforts include infrastructure development, private sector development, veterinary clinic restoration, increased wheat production, and training and technical assistance in developing policies on sustainable water resources management and building Iraqi natural resources management.

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. On May 25, 2007, Iraq participated in its first Working Party meeting in Geneva. The meeting, in which Trade Minister al-Sudani participated, was characterized as a successful start to the WTO accession process, one that is crucial to Iraq's integration into the international economy. Dependent upon Iraqi progress on relevant issues, the next Working Party meeting could take place as early as spring 2008.


The Iran-Iraq War 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 1990 invasion of Kuwait and subsequent expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991 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 led by the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq (MNSTC-I). In addition to defense forces, the Ministry of Interior, with the help of the MNSTC-I, is training and equipping civilian police forces to establish security and stability, primarily through combating the nation-wide insurgency. Initially under the command and control of the Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I) command, in 2006 police and Iraqi Army units began to transition to Iraqi civilian control.


With the fall of Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath regime, Iraq has taken steps toward re-engagement on the international stage. Iraq currently has diplomatic representation in 54 countries around the world, including 3 permanent Missions to the United Nations in New York, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva and the Arab League in Cairo. 48 countries have diplomatic representation in Iraq,

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.


The focus of United States policy in Iraq remains on helping the Iraqi people build a constitutional, representative government that respects the rights of all Iraqis and has security forces capable of maintaining order and preventing the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists and foreign fighters. The ultimate goal is an Iraq that is peaceful, united, stable, democratic, and secure, with institutions capable of providing just governance and security for all Iraqis and is an ally in the war against terrorism. U.S. forces remain in Iraq as part of the Multi-National Force-Iraq to assist the Government of Iraq in training its security forces, as well as to work in partnership with the Government of Iraq to combat forces that seek to derail Iraq's progression toward full democracy. The U.S. Government is carrying out a multibillion-dollar program to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq.

U.S. Embassy--Baghdad
Ambassador-- Ryan Clark Crocker
Embassy website:

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Revised: Jun. 2007

See also:
  • Infoplease country profile: Iraq
  • Encyclopedia: Iraq
  • Atlas: Iraq