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Suez Crisis, Persian Gulf War, Arab-Israeli wars, oil embargo, Sumer

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Iraq, country in the Middle East that has been central to three wars since 1980. Some of the world’s greatest ancient civilizations—Assyria, Babylonia, and Sumer—developed in the area that now makes up Iraq. The modern state of Iraq was created in 1920 by the British government, whose forces had occupied it during World War I (1914-1918). The country is officially named the Republic of Iraq (Al Jumhuriyah al-‘Iraqia in Arabic). Baghdad is the capital and largest city.

Iraq is situated at the northern tip of the Persian Gulf. Its coastline along the gulf is only 30 km (19 mi) long. Thus, the country is nearly landlocked. Its only port on the gulf, Umm Qasr, is small and located on shallow water, and only small craft can dock there.

Iraq is potentially one of the richest countries in the world. It contains enormous deposits of petroleum and natural gas. It is endowed with large quantities of water, supplied by its two main rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, and their tributaries. Iraq’s location between those two great rivers gave rise to its ancient Greek name, Mesopotamia (“the land between the rivers”).

Most of Iraq’s people are Arabs. Iraq has been politically active in the Arab world, with most of its regimes trying to advance pan-Arab or partial Arab political unification under Iraqi leadership. The country has had tense relations with its eastern neighbor, Iran, resulting in a costly war in the 1980s. At times it has claimed neighboring Kuwait, most recently in 1990, leading to the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Iraq was involved in all the Arab-Israeli wars except the Suez Crisis of 1956.

Set up as a monarchy, Iraq became a republic in 1958. It became a dictatorship dominated by a single party in 1968. That dictatorship came under the control of Saddam Hussein in 1979. Under his leadership, Iraq’s regional and foreign policies were ambitious, often involving great risk. In the late 20th century Iraq attained a high international profile, unprecedented in the modern history of the Middle East, but at an exorbitant political price. The dictatorship failed in various attempts to topple Arab regimes and to achieve leadership status in the Arab world or even in the Persian Gulf region. It failed in eight years of war in the 1980s to bring down the regime of neighboring Iran. It conquered Kuwait in 1990 but was forced to relinquish it by a coalition of Western and Arab countries in the Persian Gulf War. Afterward, it found itself shackled by an oil embargo and other sanctions imposed by the United Nations (UN). A United States-led invasion overthrew Hussein’s regime in April 2003. Hussein was captured and executed, and a new Iraqi government was formed. However, an insurgency developed in resistance to the U.S. occupation, and sectarian conflict resulted in what many observers called a civil war.


For younger readers

Downing, David. Iraq: 1968-2003. Raintree, 2003. Through the fall of Saddam Hussein, for readers in grades 6 to 8.

Kort, Michael G. The Handbook of the Middle East. Twenty-First Century, 2002. For readers in grades 7 and up.

Nardo, Don. Empires of Mesopotamia. Lucent, 2000. In the Lost Civilizations series, for readers in grades 6 to 10.

Richie, Jason. Iraq and the Fall of Saddam Hussein. Oliver, 2003. For readers in grade 7 and up.

Spencer, William. Iraq: Old Land, New Nation in Conflict. Twenty-First Century, 2000. An overview for readers in grades 7 to 12.


Hiro, Dilip. Iraq: In the Eye of the Storm. Nation Books, 2002. An Indian journalist looks at the domestic situation inside Iraq.

Mackey, Sandra. The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein. Norton, 2002. An accessible history of Iraq written by a journalist.

Pollack, Kenneth M. The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. Random House, 2002. A former CIA analyst makes a strong case for the war against Iraq.

Roux, George. Ancient Iraq. 3rd ed. Penguin, 1993. Comprehensive, well-written account.

Tripp, Charles. A History of Iraq. 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2002. Traces the history of Iraq from the 19th century until the present.


Elali, Wajeeh, B.Comm., M.B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Professor of Management, McGill University. Author of The Financial Implications of Economic Sanctions Against Iraq and other books.

Cole, Juan, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Professor of history, University of Michigan; author of Colonialism and Revolution in the Middle East (1993), Modemity and the Millennium (1998), and Sacred Space and Holy War (2002).

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

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