Frontline World

IRAQ - Truth and Lies in Baghdad, November, 2002

Synopsis of "Truth and Lies in Baghdad"

Undercover in Iraq

Saddam's Family Tree and Son Uday

Are They Helping or Hurting?

Reporting from a Closed State

Coverage of Saddam's Regime

Country Profile of Iraq

Human Rights, Politics, Weapons



Images of Iraqi people, political figures and culture
Facts & Stats

Country Profile
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.

Since 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.

Type: Republic

Capital city: Baghdad

Branches of government:

• Executive -- the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC); the president and the council of ministers are appointed by the RCC.

• Legislative -- 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.

• Judicial -- 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.

Administrative subdivisions: 18 provinces

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 people.

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.

Population: 24,001,816

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 percent.

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 earnings.

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 $13.8 billion.

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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 Rapporteur