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1910-1915: Mesopotamia, encompassing much of present-day Iraq, is an ancient center of civilization, home to the first people to develop writing and, most likely, the cultivation of grains. At the beginning of the 20th century, the area is part of the Ottoman Empire, which in 1914 enters World War I on Germany's side. Great Britain, long interested in Iraq because of its location on routes to India, invades.

1916-1920: The British capture Baghdad in 1917. At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the provinces of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra are merged, and Iraq formally is made a British mandate. But protests begin even before the mandate is signed, and in 1920 the "Great Iraqi Revolution" for the first time brings together Sunnis and Shiites to oppose British rule.

1921-1926: The British replace direct rule with a monarchy. Heading it is King Faisal, whom the British hope will be accepted based on his nationalist credentials as a leader of the 1916 Arab Revolt against Turkey and his work toward Arab emancipation. The Iraqi monarchy will stand until revolution in 1958, but the growing nationalist movement in the country views the system as a Western imposition.

1927-1931: The Turkish Petroleum Company, whose ownership includes British, Dutch, and American firms, begins exploratory drilling and discovers huge reserves of oil in Northern Iraq. Meanwhile, nationalists continue to oppose the monarchy and British influence. In 1929 the British government announces its plans to negotiate a new treaty with nationalists, recognizing Iraq's independence.

1932-1935: Iraq gains independence. But the country is split into competing factions --tribes and cities, Shiites and Sunnis, Arabs and Kurds, pan-Arabists and Iraqi nationalists -- which makes it difficult for one political group to gain enough support to lead. Arbitrary borders divide the former Ottoman Empire, resulting in disputes and severe economic problems as cities are cut off from trading partners.

1936-1939: Iraq experiences its first military coup; there will be 11 between 1936 and 1968. In 1938, despite the unstable political climate, the former Turkish Petroleum Company -- now called the Iraq Petroleum Company but still owned by foreign companies including British, Dutch, and American concerns -- begins to export significant amounts of oil.

1940-1948: World War II brings rising prices and shortages, and the gap between rich and poor widens. Anti-British feelings abound, but Iraq complies with treaties and declares war on Axis powers. Iraq joins the United Nations, but opposes the partition of Palestine and sends troops to fight Israel in 1948. The Iraqi branch of the Baath Party, whose aims are "unity, freedom, and socialism," is established.

1949-1958: Made up of intellectuals and students who are mainly Sunni Arabs, the Baath Party secretly organizes with the overarching goal of achieving Arab unity and socialism. Political unrest among nationalists, the military, and urban intellectuals comes to a head in 1958: The monarchy is overthrown, and Iraq is declared a republic. Its first president is the coup's leader, Gen. Abdul Karim Qasim.

1959-1963: The revolution shatters the traditional social structure: Landowners lose; the middle class, urban workers, and peasants gain; and factional splits, especially between Kurds and the government, heat up. Linked with communists, Qasim attempts land reform, permits trade unions, and alters relations with oil companies. Despite popularity with the poor, he is overthrown by the Baath Party in 1963.

1964-1971: The period sees succeeding coups between the Baath Party and Nasserites, who for a time propose union with Egypt. In 1964 President Abd as Salaam Arif nationalizes banks, insurance companies, and industries including steel and construction. In 1968 the army overthrows the government. Back in power, the Baath Party adopts a centralized socialist welfare system to regulate most of the economy.

1972-1978: The government nationalizes the Iraq Petroleum Company and in 1973 confiscates the last foreign oil firm. By 1975, the oil sector is controlled by the state-owned Iraq National Oil Company. Also that year, powerful Baath leader Saddam Hussein signs an agreement with the Shah of Iran that ends Iran's support of the Kurds, who, seeking autonomy, battle government troops in the North.

1979: Officially Iraq is a republic with an elected legislature and independent judiciary. But power actually lies with the Revolutionary Command Council (all members belong to Iraq's only political party, the Baath) and with Hussein, who becomes president. A weak Iran betters Iraq's position as an Arab leader, but Iran's Islamic regime threatens the balance between Iraq's Shia and ruling Sunnis.

1980-1988: Bombing raids and border skirmishes erupt, and Hussein sends troops into Iran, beginning a long and costly war that severely disrupts social and economic life. Oil production plummets, as does investment in industry. The government incurs large foreign debts as it purchases military materiel. As the war draws to an end, Hussein uses chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds.

1989: The Iran-Iraq war, ended by a UN-brokered cease-fire, leaves Iraq battered. The government attempts privatization of agriculture and manufacturing, but continues to control oil, heavy industry, power production, and the country's infrastructure. Following protests over high prices, the government introduces price controls.

1990: Claiming the region belongs to Iraq, Hussein sends troops across the Kuwaiti border in August. The move is met with nearly unanimous opposition in the international community, and the United States takes the lead in coordinating a response. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia requests military assistance, and the U.S. begins sending troops and equipment to the region.

1991: In January Iraq ignores a UN deadline for withdrawal from Kuwait, and allied missile attacks begin. Iraq responds by firing Scud missiles at Israel. Fighting intensifies on both sides, but Iraq falters under the allied air attack, which is modified after 200 Iraqi civilians are killed in a bombing run. The allied ground attack begins on February 24, and four days later a cease-fire takes effect.

1992-1996: War damage and economic sanctions take a toll economic activity. In 1991 Iraq's oil exports are less than 10 percent of what they had been before the war. The UN monitors imported industrial raw materials to determine if they can be used to make weapons of mass destruction. In 1996 the UN introduces the oil-for-food program, which allows limited oil exports in return for food and medicine.

1997-2000: The oil-for-food program expands, but life is difficult for Iraqis. Services deteriorate, living standards decline, and unemployment rises. In 2000 several countries, notably France, Russia, and Jordan, protest the continuation of UN sanctions by sending humanitarian flights containing food and medicine. But conditions for lifting the sanctions call for UN weapons inspections, which Iraq resists.

2001-2002: Weakened by decades of war and sanctions, the economy is in tatters. Unemployment and inflation are rampant, and the economy is contracting. Hussein's regime, however, maintains its hold. Kurds, under U.S. and British protection, have some autonomy in the North. Attacks on the U.S. in September 2001 turn attention to Iraq as a possible target in the war against terrorism.

2003: A U.S.-led coalition of mainly American and British forces invades Iraq, toppling Saddam Hussein's regime, seizing control of oilfields, and unleashing widespread civil disorder. U.S. occupying forces then undertake reconstruction, promising eventual democracy. While Iraqi groups and foreign powers vie to influence the new order, evidence of any Iraqi weapons of mass destruction proves elusive.

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Categories: Overview | Political | Economic | Social | Environmental
Graphs: Well-being

Related: LinksView all categories for years from to | See Full Report | Print