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Iraq, known in classical antiquity as Mesopotamia, was home to the oldest civilizations in the world, with a cultural history of over 10,000 years, hence its common epithet, the Cradle of Civilization. Mesopotamia, as part of the larger Fertile Crescent, was a significant part of the Ancient Near East throughout the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.
Arabs have been the majority of the population in Iraq since the Sassanid Empire, which pre-dates the Muslim conquest of Mesopotamia. Iraq was successfully ruled by the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Medo-Persian, Seleucid and Parthian empires during the Iron Age and Classical Antiquity, before Iraq was conquered by the Muslim Rashidun Caliphate in the 7th century, and became a center of the Islamic Golden Age during the medieval Abbasid Caliphate. After a series of invasions and conquest by the Mongols and Turks, Iraq fell under Ottoman rule in the 16th century, intermittently falling under Mamluk and Safavid control.
Ottoman rule ended with World War I, and Iraq came to be administered by the British Empire until the establishment of the Kingdom of Iraq in 1932. The Republic of Iraq was established in 1958 following a coup d'état. The Republic was controlled by Saddam Hussein from 1979 to 2003, into which period falls the Iran-Iraq war and the Persian Gulf War. Saddam Hussein was deposed following the 2003 US-led invasion of the country. Following the invasion, the situation deteriorated to the extent that in 2006–2007, Iraq was on the brink of civil war. However, conditions improved following a surge in U.S. troops in 2007–2008, and the war was declared formally over in December 2011, with the U.S. troops leaving the country.
During 1957–1961 Shanidar Cave was excavated by Ralph Solecki and his team from Columbia University, and nine skeletons of Neanderthal man of varying ages and states of preservation and completeness (labelled Shanidar I – IX) were discovered dating from 60–80,000 years BP. A tenth individual was recently discovered by M. Zeder during examination of a faunal assemblage from the site at the Smithsonian Institution. The remains seemed to Zeder to suggest that Neandertals had funeral ceremonies, burying their dead with flowers (although the flowers are now thought to be a modern contaminant), and that they took care of injured and elderly individuals.
Mesopotamia is the site of the earliest developments of the Neolithic Revolution from around 10,000 BC. It has been identified as having "inspired some of the most important developments in human history including the invention of the wheel, the planting of the first cereal crops and the development of cursive script, Mathematics, Astronomy and Agriculture."
Sumer was a civilization and historical region in southern Iraq. It is the earliest known civilization in the world, making Iraq one of the Cradles of Civilization. The Sumerian civilization spanned over 3000 years and began with the first settlement of Eridu in the Ubaid period (mid-6th millennium BC) through the Uruk period (4th millennium BC) and the Early Dynastic periods (3rd millennium BC) until the rise of Assyria and Babylonia in the late 3rd and early 2nd millennium BC respectively.
The Ubaid period marks the Pottery Neolithic to Chalcolithic phase in Mesopotamia, which represents the earliest settlement on the alluvial plain in the south. Early urbanization begins with the Ubaid period, around 5300 BC. The Ubaid culture gives way to the Uruk period from c. 4000 BC. The invention of the wheel and the beginning of the Chalcolithic period fall into the Ubaid period. The Sumerian historical record remains obscure until the Early Dynastic period, when a now deciphered syllabary writing system was developed, which has allowed archaeologists to read contemporary records and inscriptions.
Classical Sumer ends with the rise of the Semitic Akkadian kings in the 24th century BC. Following the Gutian period, there is a brief Sumerian renaissance in the 21st century, cut short in the 20th century BC by Amorite invasions, a Semitic people from the north east Levant who founded Babylon as an independent state in 1894 BC. The Amorite dynasty of Isin persisted until c. 1600 BC, when southern Mesopotamia was united under Kassite Babylonian rule.
The north of Mesopotamia had become the Akkadian speaking state of Assyria by the late 25th century BC. Along with the rest of Mesopotamia it was ruled by the Akkadian kings from the late 24th to mid 22nd centuries BC, after which it once again became independent.
Babylonia was a state in central and southern Iraq with Babylon as its capital. It was founded as an independent state by an Amorite king named Sumuabum in 1894 BC. During the 3rd millennium BCE, there developed a very intimate cultural symbiosis between the Sumerians and the Akkadians, which included widespread bilingualism. The influence of Sumerian on Akkadian (and vice versa) is evident in all areas, from lexical borrowing on a massive scale, to syntactic, morphological, and phonological convergence. This has prompted scholars to refer to Sumerian and Akkadian in the 3rd millennium BC as a sprachbund.
Akkadian gradually replaced Sumerian as the spoken language of Mesopotamia somewhere around the turn of the 3rd and the 2nd millennium BCE (the exact dating being a matter of debate), but Sumerian continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial, literary and scientific language in Mesopotamia until the 1st century CE.
Babylonia emerged from the Amorite dynasties (c. 1900 BC) when Hammurabi (c. 1792–1750 BC), unified the territories of the former kingdoms of Sumer and Akkad. The Babylonian (and Assyrian) culture was a synthesis of Akkadian and Sumerian culture. Babylonians spoke the Akkadian language, and retained the Sumerian language for religious use, which by Hammurabi's time was declining as a spoken language. The rulers of Babylonia carried the title "King of Sumer and Akkad".
The earliest mention of the city of Babylon can be found in a tablet from the reign of Sargon of Akkad, dating back to the 24th century BC. Following the collapse of the Ur-III dynasty at the hands of the Elamites (2002 BC traditional, 1940 BC short), the Amorites gained control over most of Mesopotamia, where they formed a series of small kingdoms. During the 1st centuries of what is called the "Amorite period", the most powerful city states were Isin and Larsa, although Shamshi-Adad I came close to uniting the more northern regions around Assur and Mari. One of these Amorite dynasties was established in the city-state of Babylon, which would ultimately take over the others and form the first Babylonian empire, during what is also called the Old Babylonian Period.
Assyria was a Semitic Akkadian kingdom in what is now Northern Iraq, extant as a nation state from the late 25th or early–24th century BC to 608 BC. centred on the Upper Tigris river, in northern Mesopotamia (present day northern Iraq), that came to rule regional empires a number of times through history. It was named for its original capital, the ancient city of Assur (Akkadian: 𒀸𒋗𒁺 𐎹 Aššūrāyu; Aramaic: אתור Aṯur; Hebrew: אַשּׁוּר Aššûr; Arabic: آشور Āšūr).
Of the early history of the kingdom of Assyria, little is positively known. In the Assyrian King List, the earliest king recorded was Tudiya. He was a contemporary of Ibrium of Ebla who appears to have lived in the late 25th or early 24th century BC, according to the king list. The foundation of the first true urbanised Assyrian monarchy was traditionally ascribed to Ushpia a contemporary of Ishbi-Erra of Isin and Naplanum of Larsa. c. 2030 BC. Assyria had a period of empire from the 19th to 18th centuries BC. From the 14th to 11th centuries BC Assyria once more became a major power with the rise of the Middle Assyrian Empire which dominated the whole of Mesopotamia and much of the Near East and Anatolia. After an interregnum of a hundred or so years, Assyria began to expand once more with the rise of the Neo Assyrian Empire.
Beginning with the campaigns of Adad-nirari II in the 10th century BC, Assyria became a great regional power, growing to be the largest empire the world had yet seen, conquering the 25th dynasty Egypt and much of the Near East, Asia Minor, the Caucasus, Arabia, Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean. It began reaching the peak of its power with the reforms of Tiglath-Pileser III (ruled 745 – 727 BC). This period is well-referenced in several sources, including the Assyro-Babylonian Chronicles and the Hebrew Bible. Assyria finally succumbed to a combined attack by the Babylonians, Medes and Scythians, following a bitter series of weakening civil wars within Assyria itself. Nineveh was sacked in 612 BC, Harran overrun in 608 BC and a final defeat was suffered at Carchemish in 605 BC.
Eventually, during the 9th century BC, one of the most powerful tribes outside Babylon, the Semitic Chaldeans (Latin Chaldaeus, Greek Khaldaios, Assyrian Kaldu), gained prominence in the far south east of Mesopotamia, and along with the Elamites made a number of failed attempts to loosen the Assyrian grip on Babylon.
In 620 BC, the Chaldeans helped Nabopolassar to take power in Babylonia. At that time, Assyria riven by a series of bitter civil wars being fought for control of the kingdom after the death of its last great ruler, Ashurbanipal. Nabo-Polassar allied Babylonia with the Medes, Persians and Scythians. A weakened Assyria could not withstand this added pressure, and in 612 BC, Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, fell. The entire city, was sacked.
In the 6th century BC (586 BC), Nebuchadnezzar II conquered Judea (Judah), destroyed Jerusalem; Solomon's Temple was also destroyed; Nebuchadnezzar II carried away an estimated 15,000 captives, and sent most of its population into exile in Babylonia. Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BC) is credited for building the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Various invaders conquered Mesopotamia after the death of Nabonidus, including Cyrus the Great in 539 BC and Alexander of Macedon in 331 BC, who died there in 323 BC. In the 6th century BC, it became part of the Achaemenid Empire, then was conquered by Alexander and remained under Greek rule under the Seleucid dynasty for nearly two centuries. Babylon declined after the founding of Seleucia on the Tigris, the new Seleucid Empire capital. Assyria continued to exist as a Geo-Political entity, and was known as Athura by the Achaemenids.
The Seleucids were succeeded by the Parthian Empire in the 3rd century BC. At the beginning of the 2nd century AD, the Romans, led by emperor Trajan, invaded Parthia and conquered Mesopotamia, making it an imperial province. It was returned to the Parthians shortly after by Trajan's successor, Hadrian.
Christianity entered Mesopotamia in the 1st century AD, and Assyria in particular became the center of Eastern Rite Christianity and the Syriac literary tradition. Native Mesopotamian Religion began to die out during this period, although temples were still being dedicated to the Assyrian national god Ashur in his home city as late as the 4th century.
In the 3rd century AD, the Parthians were in turn succeeded by the Sassanid dynasty, which ruled Mesopotamia until the 7th century Islamic caliphate rule, after which point Assyria (Assuristan) was dissolved.
In the mid-6th century the Persian Empire under the Sassanid dynasty was divided by Khosrow I into four quarters, of which the western one, called Khvārvarān, included most of modern Iraq, and subdivided to provinces of Mishān, Asuristān (Assyria), Adiabene (which was for a time an independent Assyrian state) and Lower Media. The term Iraq is widely used in the medieval Arabic sources for the area in the center and south of the modern republic as a geographic rather than a political term, implying no greater precision of boundaries than the term "Mesopotamia" or, indeed, many of the names of modern states before the 20th century.
The area of modern Iraq north of Tikrit was known in Arab Muslim times as Al-Jazirah, which means "The Island" and refers to the "island" between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. To the south and west lay the Arabian deserts, inhabited largely by Arab tribesmen who occasionally acknowledged the overlordship of the Sassanian Emperors.
Until 602, the desert frontier of the Persian Empire had been guarded by the Arab Lakhmid kings of Al-Hirah, who were themselves Arabs but who ruled a settled buffer state. In that year Shahanshah Khosrow II Aparviz (Persian خسرو پرويز) rashly abolished the Lakhmid kingdom and laid the frontier open to nomad incursions. Farther north, the western quarter was bounded by the Byzantine Empire. The frontier more or less followed the modern Syria-Iraq border and continued northward into modern Turkey, leaving Nisibis (modern Nusaybin) as the Sassanian frontier fortress while the Byzantines held Dara and nearby Amida (modern Diyarbakır).
The first organised conflict between local Arab tribes and Persian forces seems to have been in 634, when the Arabs were defeated at the Battle of the Bridge. There was a force of some 5,000 Muslims under Abū `Ubayd ath-Thaqafī, which was routed by the Persians. This was followed by Khalid ibn al-Walid's successful campaign which saw all of Iraq come under Arab rule within a year, with the exception of the Persian Empire's capital, Ctesiphon. Around 636, a larger Arab Muslim force under Sa`d ibn Abī Waqqās defeated the main Persian army at the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah and moved on to capture the Persian capital of Ctesiphon. By the end of 638, the Muslims had conquered all of the Western Sassanid provinces (including modern Iraq), and the last Sassanid Emperor, Yazdegerd III, had fled to central and then northern Persia, where he was killed in 651.
The Islamic invasion was followed by immigration from the Arabian Peninsula. Though this was by no means the first of such emigrations, as migration from the Arabian peninsula to the Fertile Crescent has been a pattern of human behaviour since antiquity, the Islamic expansions constituted the largest of the Semitic expansions in history. These new arrivals did not disperse and settle throughout the country; instead they established two new garrison cities, at al-Kūfah, near ancient Babylon, and at Basrah in the south.
Iraq thus became a province of the Muslim caliphate. The city of Baghdad was built in the 8th century and became the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate. During this period, Baghdad served as the intellectual center of the Muslim world for several centuries, up until the sack of Baghdad in 1258. Many famous Muslim scientists, philosophers, inventors, poets and writers were active in Iraq during the 8th to 13th centuries.
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During the late 14th and early 15th centuries, the Black Sheep Turkmen ruled the area now known as Iraq. In 1466, the White Sheep Turkmen defeated the Black Sheep and took control. In the 16th century, most of the territory of present-day Iraq came under the control of Ottoman Empire as the pashalik of Baghdad. Throughout most of the period of Ottoman rule (1533-1918) the territory of present-day Iraq was a battle zone between the rival regional empires and tribal alliances. Iraq was divided into three vilayets:
The Safavid dynasty of Iran briefly asserted their hegemony over Iraq in the periods of 1508-1533 and 1622-1638. During the years 1747-1831 Iraq was ruled by the Mamluk officers of Georgian origin who succeeded in obtaining autonomy from the Ottoman Empire, suppressed tribal revolts, curbed the power of the Janissaries, restored order and introduced a program of modernization of economy and military. In 1831, the Ottomans managed to overthrow the Mamluk regime and again imposed their direct control over Iraq.
Ottoman rule over Iraq lasted until World War I, when the Ottomans sided with Germany and the Central Powers. In the Mesopotamian campaign against the Central Powers, British forces invaded the country and suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Turkish army during the Siege of Kut (1915–16). After the war the Ottoman Empire was divided up, and the British Mandate of Mesopotamia was established by League of Nations mandate. Britain imposed a Hāshimite monarchy on Iraq and defined the territorial limits of Iraq without taking into account the politics of the different ethnic and religious groups in the country, in particular those of the Kurds and the Assyrians to the north. During the British occupation, the Shi'ites and Kurds fought for independence. Iraq also became an oligarchy government at this time.
Establishment of Arab Sunni domination in Iraq was followed by Assyrian, Yazidi and Shi'a unrests, which were all brutally suppressed. In 1936, the first military coup took place in the Kingdom of Iraq, as Bakr Sidqi succeeded in replacing the acting Prime Minister with his associate. Multiple coups followed in a period of political instability, peaking in 1941.
During World War II, Iraqi regime of Regent 'Abd al-Ilah was overthrown in 1941 by the Golden Square officers, headed by Rashid Ali. The short living pro-Nazi government of Iraq was defeated in May 1941 by the allied forces in Anglo-Iraqi War. Iraq was later used as a base for allied attacks on Vichy-French held Mandate of Syria and support for the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran.
In 1945, Iraq joined the United Nations and became a founding member of the Arab League. At the same time, the Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani led a rebellion against the central government in Baghdad. After the failure of the uprising Barzani and his followers fled to the Soviet Union.
In 1948, massive violent protests, known as the Al-Wathbah uprising broke out across Baghdad as a popular demand against the government treat with the British, and with communist part support. More protests continued in spring, but were interrupted in May, with the marshal law, when Iraq entered the 1948 Arab-Israeli War along with other members of the Arab League.
In February 1958, King Hussein of Jordan and `Abd al-Ilāh proposed a union of Hāshimite monarchies to counter the recently formed Egyptian-Syrian union. The prime minister Nuri as-Said wanted Kuwait to be part of the proposed Arab-Hāshimite Union. Shaykh `Abd-Allāh as-Salīm, the ruler of Kuwait, was invited to Baghdad to discuss Kuwait's future. This policy brought the government of Iraq into direct conflict with Britain, which did not want to grant independence to Kuwait. At that point, the monarchy found itself completely isolated. Nuri as-Said was able to contain the rising discontent only by resorting to ever greater political oppression.
Inspired by Nasser, officers from the Nineteenth Brigade, 3rd Division known as "The Four Colonials", under the leadership of Brigadier Abd al-Karīm Qāsim (known as "az-Za`īm", 'the leader') and Colonel Abdul Salam Arif overthrew the Hashimite monarchy on July 14, 1958. The new government proclaimed Iraq to be a republic and rejected the idea of a union with Jordan. Iraq's activity in the Baghdad Pact ceased.
In 1961, Kuwait gained independence from Britain and Iraq claimed sovereignty over Kuwait. A period of considerable instability followed. The same year, Mustafa Barzani, who had been invited to return to Iraq by Qasim three years earlier, began engaging Iraqi government forces and establishing Kurdish control in the north in what was the beginning of the First Kurdish Iraqi War.
Qāsim was assassinated in February 1963, when the Ba'ath Party took power under the leadership of General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr (prime minister) and Colonel Abdul Salam Arif (president). In June 1963, Syria, which meanwhile had also fell under Ba'athist rule, took part in the Iraqi military campaign against the Kurds by providing aircraft, armoured vehicles and a force of 6,000 soldiers. Several months later, `Abd as-Salam Muhammad `Arif led a successful coup against the Ba'ath government. Arif declared a ceasefire in February 1964 which provoked a split among Kurdish urban radicals on one hand and Peshmerga (Freedom fighters) forces led by Barzani on the other.
On April 13, 1966, President Abdul Salam Arif died in a helicopter crash and was succeeded by his brother, General Abdul Rahman Arif. Following the unexpected death of Arif, whereupon he was replaced by his brother, Abdul Rahman Arif, the Iraqi government launched a last-ditch effort to defeat the Kurds. This campaign failed in May 1966, when Barzani forces thoroughly defeated the Iraqi Army at the Battle of Mount Handrin, near Rawanduz. Following the Six Day War of 1967, the Ba'ath Party felt strong enough to retake power in 1968. Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr became president and chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). The Ba'ath government started a campaign to end the Kurdish insurrection, which stalled in 1969. This can be partly attributed to the internal power struggle in Baghdad and also tensions with Iran. Moreover, the Soviet Union pressured the Iraqis to come to terms with Barzani. The war ended with more than 100,000 mortal casualties, with little achievements to both Kurdish rebels and the Iraqi government.
In the aftermath of the First Kurdish Iraqi War, a peace plan was announced in March 1970 and provided for broader Kurdish autonomy. The plan also gave Kurds representation in government bodies, to be implemented in four years. Despite this, the Iraqi government embarked on an Arabization program in the oil rich regions of Kirkuk and Khanaqin in the same period. In the following years, Baghdad government overcame its internal divisions and concluded a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union in April 1972 and ended its isolation within the Arab world. On the other hand, Kurds remained dependent on the Iranian military support and could do little to strengthen their forces. By 1974 the situation in the north escalated again into the Second Kurdish Iraqi War, to last until 1975.
Territorial disputes with Iran led to an inconclusive and costly eight-year war, the Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988, termed Qādisiyyat-Saddām – 'Saddam's Qādisiyyah'), which devastated the economy. Iraq declared victory in 1988 but actually achieved a weary return to the status quo ante bellum, meaning both sides retained their original borders.
The war began when Iraq invaded Iran, launching a simultaneous invasion by air and land into Iranian territory on 22 September 1980, following a long history of border disputes, and fears of Shia insurgency among Iraq's long-suppressed Shia majority influenced by the Iranian Revolution. Iraq was also aiming to replace Iran as the dominant Persian Gulf state. Although Iraq hoped to take advantage of the revolutionary chaos in Iran and attacked without formal warning, they made only limited progress into Iran and within several months were repelled by the Iranians who regained virtually all lost territory by June 1982. For the next six years, Iran was on the offensive. Despite calls for a ceasefire by the United Nations Security Council, hostilities continued until 20 August 1988. The war finally ended with a United Nations brokered ceasefire in the form of United Nations Security Council Resolution 598, which was accepted by both sides. It took several weeks for the Iranian armed forces to evacuate Iraqi territory to honor pre-war international borders between the two nations (see 1975 Algiers Agreement). The last prisoners of war were exchanged in 2003.
The war came at a great cost in lives and economic damage—half a million Iraqi and Iranian soldiers as well as civilians are believed to have died in the war with many more injured—but it brought neither reparations nor change in borders. The conflict is often compared to World War I, in that the tactics used closely mirrored those of that conflict, including large scale trench warfare, manned machine-gun posts, bayonet charges, use of barbed wire across trenches, human wave attacks across no-man's land, and extensive use of chemical weapons such as mustard gas by the Iraqi government against Iranian troops and civilians as well as Iraqi Kurds. At the time, the UN Security Council issued statements that "chemical weapons had been used in the war." However, in these UN statements it was never made clear that it was only Iraq that was using chemical weapons, so it has been said that "the international community remained silent as Iraq used weapons of mass destruction against Iranian as well as Iraqi Kurds" and it is believed that the "United States prevented the UN from condemning Iraq".
A long-standing territorial dispute was the ostensible reason for Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. In November 1990, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 678, permitting member states to use all necessary means, authorizing military action against the Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait and demanded a complete withdrawal by January 15, 1991. When Saddam Hussein failed to comply with this demand, the Persian Gulf War (Operation "Desert Storm") ensued on January 17, 1991. Probably as many as 100,000 Iraqi soldiers and tens of thousands of civilians were killed.
In March 1991 revolts in the Shia-dominated southern Iraq started involving demoralized Iraqi Army troops and the anti-government Shia parties. Another wave of insurgency broke out shortly afterwards in the Kurdish populated northern Iraq (see 1991 uprisings in Iraq). Although they presented a serious threat to the Iraqi Ba'ath Party regime, Saddam Hussein managed to suppress the rebellions with massive and indiscriminate force and maintained power. They were ruthlessly crushed by the loyalist forces spearheaded by the Iraqi Republican Guard and the population was successfully terrorized. During the few weeks of unrest tens of thousands of people were killed. Many more died during the following months, while nearly two million Iraqis fled for their lives. In the aftermath, the government intensified the forced relocating of Marsh Arabs and the draining of the Iraqi marshlands, while the Coalition established the Iraqi no-fly zones.
On 6 August 1990, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 661 which imposed economic sanctions on Iraq, providing for a full trade embargo, excluding medical supplies, food and other items of humanitarian necessity, these to be determined by the Security Council sanctions committee. After the end of the Gulf War and after the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, the sanctions were linked to removal of weapons of mass destruction by Resolution 687 . From 1991 until 2003 the effects of government policy and sanctions regime led to hyperinflation, widespread poverty and malnutrition.
During the late 1990s, the U.N. considered relaxing the sanctions imposed because of the hardships suffered by ordinary Iraqis. Studies dispute the number of people who died in south and central Iraq during the years of the sanctions. However, an oil for food program was established in 1996 to ease the effects of sanctions.
Iraqi cooperation with UN weapons inspection teams was questioned on several occasions during the 1990s. UNSCOM chief weapons inspector Richard Butler withdrew his team from Iraq in November 1998 because of Iraq's lack of cooperation. The team returned in December. Butler prepared a report for the UN Security Council afterwards in which he expressed dissatisfaction with the level of compliance . The same month, US President Bill Clinton authorized air strikes on government targets and military facilities. Air strikes against military facilities and alleged WMD sites continued into 2002.
After the terrorist attacks by the group formed by the multi-millionaire Saudi Osama bin Laden on New York and Washington in the United States in 2001, American foreign policy began to call for the removal of the Ba'ath government in Iraq. Conservative think-tanks in Washington had for years been urging regime change in Baghdad, but until the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, official US policy was to simply keep Iraq complying with UN sanctions. The Iraq Liberation Act, codified regime change in Iraq as the official policy of the United States government. It was passed 99-0 by the United States Senate in 1998.
The US urged the United Nations to take military action against Iraq. American president George W. Bush stated that Saddām had repeatedly violated 16 UN Security Council resolutions. The Iraqi government rejected Bush's assertions. A team of U.N. inspectors, led by Swedish diplomat Hans Blix was admitted, into the country; their final report stated that Iraqis capability in producing "weapons of mass destruction" was not significantly different from 1992 when the country dismantled the bulk of their remaining arsenals under terms of the ceasefire agreement with U.N. forces, but did not completely rule out the possibility that Saddam still had Weapons of Mass Destruction. The United States and the United Kingdom charged that Iraq was hiding Weapons and opposed the team's requests for more time to further investigate the matter. Resolution 1441 was passed unanimously by the UN Security Council on November 8, 2002, offering Iraq "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations" that had been set out in several previous UN resolutions, threatening "serious consequences" if the obligations were not fulfilled. The UN Security Council did not issue a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
In 2003, after the American and British invasion, Iraq was occupied by Coalition forces. On May 23, 2003, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution lifting all economic sanctions against Iraq.
As the country struggled to rebuild after three wars and a decade of sanctions, it was plagued by violence between a growing Iraqi insurgency and occupation forces. Saddam Hussein, who vanished in April, was captured on December 13, 2003.
Jay Garner was appointed Interim Civil Administrator with three deputies, including Tim Cross. Garner was replaced in May 2003 by L. Paul Bremer, who was himself replaced by John Negroponte on April 19, 2004 who left Iraq in 2005. Negroponte was the last US interim administrator.
Terrorism emerged as a threat to Iraq's people not long after the invasion of 2003. Al Qaeda now has a presence in the country, in the form of several terrorist groups formerly led by Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. Al-Zarqawi was a Jordanian militant Islamist who ran a militant training camp in Afghanistan. He became known after going to Iraq and being responsible for a series of bombings, beheadings and attacks during the Iraq war. Al-zarqawi was killed on June 7, 2006. Many foreign fighters and former Ba'ath Party officials have also joined the insurgency, which is mainly aimed at attacking American forces and Iraqis who work with them. The most dangerous insurgent area is the Sunni Triangle, a mostly Sunni-Muslim area just north of Baghdad.
By the end of 2006 violence continued as the new Iraqi Government struggled to extend complete security within Iraq.
U.S. and Coalition forces remained in Iraq. An increasingly disturbing trend had arisen - sectarian fighting. As the country attempted to move from occupation by western forces to a new entity within the Middle East, a new phase of conflict seemed to have erupted within Iraq. This new phase of conflict was waged predominately along the religious sectarian lines that the Americans had used to divide the population. Fighting was primarily between the majority Shia and the minority Sunni. But there were reports of infighting as well. To outside observers, as well as people in Iraq who supported the American military presence, the cause of violence was obscure - as developments came faster than could be easily analyzed.
Reported acts of violence conducted by an uneasy tapestry of independence activists and opponents of foreign domination steadily increased by the end of 2006. These attacks become predominately aimed at Iraqi collaborators rather than foreign occupation forces. Violence was conducted by Sunni groups, nationalists and others who sought an Iraq freed from foreign rule that include the Iraq Insurgency, which has been fighting since the initial U.S. invasion of 2003. Also, criminal elements within Iraq's society seemed to perpetuate violence for their own means and ambitions. Iraqi nationalist and Ba'athist elements (part of the insurgency) remained committed to expelling U.S. forces and also seemed to attack Shia populations, presumably, due to the Shia parties' collaboration with Iran and the United States in making war against their own nation. Further, Islamic Jihadist - of which Al Qaeda in Iraq is a member - continued to use terror and extreme acts of violence against collaborationist populations to advance their religious and political agenda(s). The aims of these attacks were not completely clear, but it was argued in 2006/7 that these attacks were aimed at fomenting civil conflict within Iraq to destroy the legitimacy of the newly created collaborationist Iraqi government (which many of its nationalist critics saw as illegitimate and a product of the U.S. government) and create an unsustainable position for the U.S. forces within Iraq. The most widely reported evidence of this argument stemmed from the 23 February 2006 attack on the Al Askari Mosque in Samarra, one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest sites. Analysis of the attack suggested that the Mujahideen Shura Council and Al-Qaeda in Iraq were responsible, and that the motivation was to provoke further violence by outraging the Shia population.  The Mujahideen Shura Council was said to have been headed by Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi. In mid-October 2006, a statement was released, stating that the Mujahideen Shura Council had been disbanded and was replaced by the "Islamic State of Iraq". It was formed to resist efforts by the U.S. and Iraqi authorities to win over Sunni supporters of the insurgency. In response to attacks like the one against the Askari Mosque, violent reprisals escalated. Shia terror organizations associated with the American occupation forces within Iraq gained increasing power and influence in the collaborationist Iraqi government. Additionally, the militias, it appeared in late 2006, had the capability to act outside the scope of government. As a result these powerful militias, it seemed as of late 2006, were leading reprisal acts of violence against the Sunni minority. A cycle of violence thus ensued whereby Sunni insurgent or nationalist attacks followed with government and American backed reprisals - often in the form of Shi'ite death squads that sought out and killed Sunnis. Many commentators on the Iraq War began, by the end of 2006, to refer to this violent escalation as a civil war.
In addition to these sectarian and religious divides, an incredible amount of collateral damage has been the result. For example, evidence suggests that women's human rights and freedoms have dramatically been cut since the US-led invasion. Under the US occupation, Islamist militias have waged a systematic campaign of violence against women in their bid to remake Iraq as an Islamist state. There has been a sharp rise in gender-based violence within families. Newly adopted Shari’a laws, such as Article 41 of Iraq’s Constitution, have degraded women’s rights, making them more vulnerable to abuses. According to the Hague and Geneva Conventions, the US, as an occupying power, was responsible for the human rights and security of Iraqi civilians. But US forces failed to meet this responsibility.
There have been concerns that the country has become condemned "to repeat the undemocratic cycle which began in the 1920s and eventually produced the Saddam Hussein regime." In order to combat these issues, several organizations have stepped in to set up shelters for physically and sexually abused women, notably the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) and MADRE, among others.
Following a surge in U.S. troops in 2007 and 2008, violence in Iraq began to decrease. The war was declared formally over in December 2011.