Iraq, bordered by Kuwait, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia,
is among the most ancient of lands, a cradle of civilizations.
This small republic, about the size of California, is the place
where in antiquity the Land of the Two Rivers (the Tigris and
the Euphrates), Babylon, Mesopotamia, and the Garden of Eden
all met. Prior to World War I, Iraq was part of the Ottoman
Empire; in 1932, Iraq declared its independence.
1979, Iraq's government has been under the absolute authority
of President Saddam Hussein, who is also prime minister, secretary-general
of the ruling Ba'ath Party Regional Command, and commander in
chief of the armed forces. Traditionally, Iraq had been ruled
by a monarchy until a 1958 coup established it as a republic.
For the next decade, a series of military strongmen wrestled
for control of Baghdad in an era marked by military coups, countercoups
and conspiracies. A Ba'ath Party takeover in 1968, which Saddam
Hussein helped orchestrate, marked the beginning of more than
three decades of Ba'athist rule.
Capital city: Baghdad
Branches of government:
Executive -- the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC);
the president and the council of ministers are appointed by
subdivisions: 18 provinces
-- the National Assembly, or Majlis al-Watani; consists
of 250 seats, of which 30 are appointed directly by the president
to represent three northern provinces. The remaining seats
are elected by universal suffrage (voters must be over 18
years of age and members of the ruling party). The last elections
were held in March 2000. Only Arab Ba'ath Social Party members
were allowed to run for a seat.
-- Iraq operates a dual system of Islamic law (shari'a) and
civil law, through separate courts with differing jurisdictions.
The government does not recognize the jurisdiction of the
International Court of Justice.
Ruling party: Hizb al-Ba'ath al-Arabiyah al-Ishtiraki (Ba'ath)
(Socialist Arab Rebirth Party)
Main opposition party: Opposition parties are illegal in Iraq.
Human rights: Iraq has the world's worst record for known persons
who have disappeared or remain unaccounted for, more than 16,000
An Iraqi proverb says, "Two Iraqis, three sects," and in Iraq,
Islam divides its people, with Sunni Arabs living in the triangle
between Baghdad, Mosul and the Syrian border, Shia Muslims living
in southern Iraq between Baghdad and Basra, and the Kurds living
in the mountains along the Iranian and Turkish borders and the
plains below. Historically, Iraq was divided into tribal federations,
and near autonomous cities, even within cities, religious and
tribal divisions go deep.
Ethnic groups: Arab, 75%; Kurd, 15% to 20%; Turkman, Assyrian
and others, less than 5%
Religions: Shia Muslim, 60%; Sunni Muslim, 35%; Christian, 5%;
Jewish and Yezidi, less than 1%
Languages: Arabic, Kurdish, Assyrian, Armenian
Education: Literacy rate, 58%; school enrollment, 49%. In 1989,
school enrollment in Iraq was higher than the average rate for
all developing countries, but over the last decade, the number
of elementary school dropouts has increased by more than 30
Work force: 4.4 million (1989 estimate)
Health: Iraq's infant mortality rate is about 58 deaths per
1,000. In the heavily populated southern and central regions
of Iraq, children under age 5 are dying at more than twice the
rateof 10 years ago.
Life expectancy: 67 years
Iraq's economy is still suffering after an eight-year-long war
with Iran in the 1980s, during which Iraq accrued more than
$100 billion in economic losses, and from the Gulf War, which
resulted in a United Nations ban on Iraqi oil exports. With
the second-largest oil reserves in the world, Iraq's oil sector
traditionally provided about 95 percent of its foreign exchange
In the late 1990s, Iraq restored its oil export level to about
75 percent of its pre-Gulf War level after the United Nations
implemented its Oil-for-Food program, allowing Iraq to export
oil and use the proceeds to buy food and medical supplies. However,
under the program, nearly one-third of Iraq's export revenues
are deducted to pay the United Nations Compensation Fund and
other expenses. And some estimate that Iraq's illegal trade
in oil with neighboring states and through the Persian Gulf
earned almost $2 billion in income for Saddam's regime in 2000.
Currency: Iraqi dinar
Gross domestic product: $59 billion
GDP per capita: $2,500
Trade: Estimates of annual crude oil exports range from $15.8
billion to $21.8 billion. Estimates of annual imports of agricultural
commodities, medicine and machinery range from $11 billion to
Sources: Middle East Review World
of Information; CIA World FactBook, Jan. 2002; U.S. State Department,
Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Dec. 2001; U.N. Human Development
Report; UNICEF; UNESCO; Amnesty International; U.N. Special