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"Allahu Akbar" (transliteration)
"God is the Greatest"
and largest city
169,234 sq mi
Iraq (, , or ; Arabic: العراق al-‘Irāq), officially the Republic of Iraq (Arabic: جمهورية العراق (·info) Jumhūriyyat al-‘Irāq), is a country in Western Asia encompassing the Mesopotamian alluvial plain, the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, and the eastern part of the Syrian Desert.
Iraq borders Syria to the northwest, Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, Jordan to the west, Saudi Arabia to the south and southwest, and Kuwait to the south. Iraq has a narrow section of coastline measuring 58 km (36 mi) on the northern Persian Gulf. The capital city, Baghdad is in the center-east of the country. Two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, run through the center of Iraq, flowing from northwest to southeast. These provide Iraq with agriculturally capable land and contrast with the steppe and desert landscape that covers most of Western Asia.
Iraq has been known to the west by the Greek toponym 'Mesopotamia' (Land between the rivers) and has been home to continuous successive civilizations since the 6th millennium BC. The region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is often referred to as the cradle of civilization and the birthplace of writing, law and the wheel. At different periods in its history, Iraq was the center of the indigenous Akkadian, Sumerian, Assyrian, Babylonian-Chaldean empires. It was also part of the Achaemenid, Hellenistic, Parthian, Sassanid, Roman, Rashidun, Umayyad, Abbasid, Mongol, Safavid, Afsharid, and Ottoman empires, and under British control as a League of Nations mandate.
Iraq's modern borders were mostly demarcated in 1920 by the League of Nations when the Ottoman Empire was divided by the Treaty of Sèvres. Iraq was placed under the authority of the United Kingdom as the British Mandate of Mesopotamia. A monarchy was established in 1921 and the Kingdom of Iraq gained independence from Britain in 1932. In 1958, the monarchy was overthrown and the Republic of Iraq was created. Iraq was controlled by the Ba'ath Party (Iraqi-led faction) from 1968 until 2003. After an invasion led by American and British forces, the Ba'ath Party was removed from power and multi-party parliamentary elections were held. The American occupation of Iraq ended in 2011. Iraq is home to two of the worlds holiest places among Shias; Najaf and Karbala.
The Arabic name العراق al-ʿIrāq has been in use since before the 6th century. There are several suggested origins for the name. One dates to the Sumerian city of Uruk (Biblical Hebrew Erech) and is thus ultimately of Sumerian origin, as Uruk was the Akkadian name for the Sumerian city of Urug, containing the Sumerian word for "city", UR.
Lower Mesopotamia has always been called "the land of Iraq" in Arabic, meaning "the fertile" or "deep-rooted land". During the medieval period, there was a region called ʿIrāq ʿArabī ("Arabian Iraq") for lower Mesopotamia and ʿIrāq ʿajamī ("Persian Iraq" or "Foreign Iraq"), for the region now situated in Central and Western Iran. The term historically included the plain south of the Hamrin Mountains and did not include the northernmost and westernmost parts of the modern territory of Iraq. The term Sawad was also used in early Islamic times for the region of the alluvial plain of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, contrasting it with the arid Arabian desert.
As an Arabic word, عراق means "hem", "shore", "bank", or "edge", so that the name by folk etymology came to be interpreted as "the escarpment", viz. at the south and east of the Jazira Plateau, which forms the northern and western edge of the "al-Iraq arabi" area.
The Arabic pronunciation is . In English, it is either (the only pronunciation listed in the Oxford English Dictionary and the first one in Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary) or (listed first by MQD), the American Heritage Dictionary, and the Random House Dictionary. is frequently heard in US media.
Ancient Iraq 
Iraq has the common epithet, the "Cradle of Civilization", as it was home to the earliest known civilization, the Sumerian civilization, which arose in the fertile Tigris-Euphrates river valley of southern Iraq in the Chalcolithic (Ubaid period). It was here in the late 4th millennium BC, that the world's first writing system and recorded history itself were born. The Sumerian civilization flourished for over 3,000 years and was succeeded by the rise of the Akkadian Empire in the 24th century BC. Over two centuries of Akkadian dominance was followed by a Sumerian Renaissance in the 21st century BC. An Elamite invasion in 2004 BC brought the Third Dynasty of Ur to an end. By the 21st century BC, a new Akkadian civilization, Assyria, had risen to dominance in northern Iraq, and by the 19th century BC a contemporaneous Amorite state, Babylonia, had formed in southern Iraq.
Iraq was to be dominated by the Assyrians and Babylonians for the next 14 centuries, and under the Babylonian empire of Hammurabi, the Assyrian Empires of 1365–1076 BC and the Neo Assyrian Empire of 911–609 BC, and the final Babylonian empire of 620–539 BC Iraq became a centre of world power. The Neo Assyrian Empire in particular put Iraq at the heart of a massive empire stretching from the Caucasus to Egypt and Arabia, and from Cyprus to Persia.
In the 6th century BC, Cyrus the Great of neighbouring Persia defeated the Neo-Babylonian Empire at the Battle of Opis and Iraq was subsumed into the Achaemenid Empire for nearly two centuries. In the late 4th century BC, Alexander the Great conquered the region, putting it under Hellenistic Seleucid rule for nearly two centuries. The Parthians conquered the region during the reign of Mithridates I of Parthia (r. 171–138 BC). From Syria, the Romans invaded the region several times. Christianity began to take hold in Iraq (particularly in Assyria) between the 1st and 3rd centuries, and Assyria became a center of the Church of the East. The Sassanid Persians under Ardashir I destroyed the Parthian Empire and conquered the region in 224 AD. The region was thus a province of the Persian Empire for four centuries, until the Muslim conquest of Persia in the 7th century, although a number of indigenous states evolved during the Parthian era, such as Adiabene, Osroene and Hatra.
Middle Ages 
The Islamic conquest in the 7th century established Islam in Iraq. Under the Rashidun Caliphate, the prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law Ali moved his capital to Kufa "fi al-Iraq" when he became the fourth caliph. The Umayyad Caliphate ruled the province of Iraq from Damascus in the 7th century. (However, eventually there was a separate, independent Caliphate of Córdoba.)
The Abbasid Caliphate built the city of Baghdad in the 8th century as their capital, and it became the leading metropolis of the Arab and Muslim world for five centuries. Baghdad was the largest multicultural city of the Middle Ages, peaking at a population of more than a million, and was the centre of learning during the Islamic Golden Age. The Mongols destroyed the city during the siege of Baghdad in the 13th century.
In 1257, Hulagu Khan amassed an unusually large army, a significant portion of the Mongol Empire's forces, for the purpose of conquering Baghdad. When they arrived at the Islamic capital, Hulagu Khan demanded surrender but the last Abbasid Caliph Al-Musta'sim refused. This angered Hulagu, and, consistent with Mongol strategy of discouraging resistance, Baghdad was decimated. Estimates of the number of dead range from 200,000 to a million.
The Mongols destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate and the House of Wisdom, which contained countless precious and historical documents. The city has never regained its status as major center of culture and influence. Some historians believe that the Mongol invasion destroyed much of the irrigation infrastructure that had sustained Mesopotamia for millennia. Other historians point to soil salination as the culprit in the decline in agriculture.
In 1401, warlord of Mongol descent Tamerlane (Timur Lenk) invaded Iraq. After the capture of Baghdad, 20,000 of its citizens were massacred. Timur ordered that every soldier should return with at least two severed human heads to show him (many warriors were so scared they killed prisoners captured earlier in the campaign just to ensure they had heads to present to Timur).
Ottoman Iraq 
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 eyalet 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. The Safavid dynasty of Iran briefly asserted their hegemony over Iraq in the periods of 1508–1533 and 1622–1638.
By the 17th century, the frequent conflicts with the Safavids had sapped the strength of the Ottoman Empire and had weakened its control over its provinces. The nomadic population swelled with the influx of bedouins from Najd, in the Arabian Peninsula. Bedouin raids on settled areas became impossible to curb.
During the years 1747–1831 Iraq was ruled by the Mamluk officers of Georgian origin who succeeded in obtaining autonomy from the Ottoman Porte, 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 imposed their direct control over Iraq. The population of Iraq had shrunk to under 5 million by the early 20th century.
During World War I, 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 (1915–1916). In 1916, the British and French made a plan for the post-war division of Western Asia under the Sykes-Picot Agreement. British forces regrouped and captured Baghdad in 1917. An armistice was signed in 1918.
During World War I the Ottomans were driven from much of the area by the United Kingdom during the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The British lost 92,000 soldiers in the Mesopotamian campaign. Ottoman losses are unknown but the British captured a total of 45,000 prisoners of war. By the end of 1918 the British had deployed 410,000 men in the area, of which 112,000 were combat troops.
British Mandate and Kingdom 
On 11 November 1920 Iraq became a League of Nations mandate under British control with the name "State of Iraq". The British established the Hashemite king, Faisal, who had been forced out of Syria by the French, as their client ruler. Likewise, British authorities selected Sunni Arab elites from the region for appointments to government and ministry offices.
Faced with spiralling costs and influenced by the public protestations of war hero T. E. Lawrence in The Times, Britain replaced Arnold Wilson in October 1920 with new Civil Commissioner Sir Percy Cox. Cox managed to quell the rebellion, yet was also responsible for implementing the fateful policy of close cooperation with Iraq's Sunni minority.
Britain granted independence to the Kingdom of Iraq in 1932, on the urging of King Faisal, though the British retained military bases and transit rights for their forces. King Ghazi ruled as a figurehead after King Faisal's death in 1933, while undermined by attempted military coups, until his death in 1939. Ghazi was followed by his underage son, Faisal II. 'Abd al-Ilah served as Regent during Faisal's minority.
On 1 April 1941, Rashid Ali al-Gaylani and members of the Golden Square staged a coup d'état and overthrew the government of 'Abd al-Ilah. During the subsequent Anglo-Iraqi War, the United Kingdom invaded Iraq for fear that the Rashid Ali government might cut oil supplies to Western nations because of his links to the Axis powers. The war started on 2 May and an armistice was signed 31 May.
A military occupation followed the restoration of the pre-coup government of the Hashemite monarchy. The occupation ended on 26 October 1947. The rulers during the occupation and the remainder of the Hashemite monarchy were Nuri as-Said, the autocratic Prime Minister, who also ruled from 1930–1932, and 'Abd al-Ilah, the former Regent who now served as an adviser to King Faisal II.
Republic and Ba'athist Iraq 
In 1958 a coup d'etat known as the 14 July Revolution led to the end of the monarchy. Brigadier General Abd al-Karim Qasim assumed power, but he was overthrown by Colonel Abdul Salam Arif in a February 1963 coup. After his death in 1966 he was succeeded by his brother, Abdul Rahman Arif, who was overthrown by the Ba'ath Party in 1968. Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr became the first Ba'ath President of Iraq but then the movement gradually came under the control of GeneralSaddam Hussein, who acceded to the presidency and control of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), then Iraq's supreme executive body, in July 1979.
After the success of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, President Saddam Hussein invaded Iran a year and a half later, initiating the Iran–Iraq War (or First Persian Gulf War). The war ended in stalemate in 1988, largely due to foreign support for Iraq. Between half a million and 1.5 million people from both sides died in the 1980–1988 war. With economic loss of more than $500 billion for both sides. In 1981, Israeli aircraft bombed an Iraqi nuclear materials testing reactor as part of Operation Opera which became widely criticized because of Israel's involvement in a foreign conflict. In the final stages of Iran–Iraq War, the Ba'athist Iraqi regime led the Al-Anfal Campaign, a genocidal campaign that targeted Iraqi Kurds, and led to the killing of 50,000 – 100,000 civilians.
In August 1990, Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait. This subsequently led to military intervention by United States-led forces in the Second Gulf War. The coalition forces proceeded with a bombing campaign targeting military targets. Shortly after the war ended in 1991, Shia Muslim and Kurdish Iraqis led several uprisings against the regime, but these were successfully repressed by Hussein. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 people were killed. The US, UK, France and Turkey claiming authority under UNSCR 688, established the Iraqi no-fly zones to protect Kurdish and Shiite populations from attacks by the Hussein regime's aircraft.
The Iraqi government claimed some inspectors were spies for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. On multiple occasions throughout the disarmament crisis, the UN passed further resolutions (see United Nations Resolutions concerning Iraq) compelling Iraq to comply with the terms of the ceasefire resolutions.
During the late 1990s, the U.N. considered relaxing the Iraq sanctions 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.
Kurdish Peshmerga became the northern front of the invasion and eventually defeated Ansar al-Islam in Northern Iraq before the invasion and Saddam's forces in the north. The battle led to the killing of a substantial number of militants and the uncovering of what was claimed to be a chemical weapons facility at Sargat. In October 2002, the U.S. Congress passed the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq, and in November the UN Security Council passed UNSCR 1441.
American invasion and aftermath 
On March 20, 2003, a United States-organized coalition invaded Iraq, with the stated reason that Iraq had failed to abandon its nuclear and chemical weapons development program in violation of U.N. Resolution 687. These claims were based on documents that were provided by the CIA and the government of the United Kingdom. However, according to a comprehensive U.S. government report, no weapons of mass destruction have been found. The Duelfer Report in 2004 found that Saddam Hussein had halted all nuclear weapons research in 1991, and had ended research into chemical and biological weapons in 1995. Antiquated warheads containing trace amounts of the nerve gas cyclosarin were found, but U.S. military tests found they would "have limited to no impact if used by insurgents against coalition forces."
Following the invasion, the United States established the Coalition Provisional Authority to govern Iraq. In May 2003 L. Paul Bremer, the chief executive of the CPA, issued orders to exclude Baath Party members from the new Iraqi government (CPA Order 1) and to disband the Iraqi Army (CPA Order 2). The decision to dissolve the army was blamed for leading many Sunnis, who led much of the army, to join the insurgency against American occupation. The exclusion of people who belonged to the ruling party and the abolition of whole ministries were considered to have gutted the state and helped bring about chaos.
The occupation years saw intense violence between Sunnis and Shias, death squads being a major threat to stability and security. The Mahdi Army, a Shia militia created in the summer of 2003 by Moqtada Sadr, was considered by the Pentagon to be the greatest threat to Iraq's security. Its membership reached some 60,000 by December 2006. By 2007, the violence had increased to the point of being described in the United States' National Intelligence Estimate as a civil war. On December 30, 2006, Saddam Hussein was hanged. Some of his closest associates were also executed. Ali Hassan al-Majid (aka Chemical Ali) was executed in 2010 for his role in the Halabja poison gas attack in 1988.
There have since been many attacks on Iraqi minorities such as the Yezidis, Mandeans, Assyrians and others. A U.S. troop surge was enacted to deal with increased violence; in September 2007, General Petraeus stated that the surge's goals were being met. Violence in Iraq began to decline from the summer of 2007. Iraq also suffered a cholera outbreak in 2007.
Crime and violence initially spiked in the months following the US withdrawal from cities. Despite the initial increase in violence, in November 2009, Iraqi Interior Ministry officials reported that the civilian death toll in Iraq fell to its lowest level since the 2003 invasion.
U.S. troops continued to work with Iraqi forces after the pullout.
The Status of Forces Agreement stated that U.S. troops would leave the country on December 31, 2011. On the morning of December 18, the final contingent of U.S. troops to be withdrawn ceremonially exited over the border to Kuwait, though the U.S. still maintains two bases and approximately 4,000 troops in the country.
The Iraqi National Movement, reportedly representing the majority of Iraqi Sunnis, boycotted Parliament for several weeks in late 2011 and early 2012, claiming that the Shiite-dominated government was striving to sideline Sunnis. In January 2012, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, fled to the semi-autonomous Kurdish region after the government accused him of running a sectarian death squad; in February, a panel of Iraqi judges concluded that "death squads commanded by Mr. Hashimi carried out 150 attacks over six years against religious pilgrims, security officers and political foes".
In February 2011 the Arab Spring protests spread to Iraq, however these initial protests had largely ended by the end of 2011. In December 2012 a new series of protests began, largely driven by Sunni Arabs who feel marginalized by Iraq's Shia government.
Iraq lies between latitudes 29° and 38° N, and longitudes 39° and 49° E (a small area lies west of 39°). Spanning 437,072 km2 (168,754 sq mi), it is the 58th-largest country in the world. It is comparable in size to the US state of California, and somewhat larger than Paraguay.
Iraq mainly consists of desert, but near the two major rivers (Euphrates and Tigris) are fertile alluvial plains, as the rivers carry about 60,000,000 m3 (78,477,037 cu yd) of silt annually to the delta. The north of the country is mostly composed of mountains; the highest point being at 3,611 m (11,847 ft) point, unnamed on the map opposite, but known locally as Cheekah Dar (black tent). Iraq has a small coastline measuring 58 km (36 mi) along the Persian Gulf. Close to the coast and along the Shatt al-Arab (known as arvandrūd: اروندرود among Iranians) there used to be marshlands, but many were drained in the 1990s.
Most of Iraq has a hot arid climate with subtropical influence. Summer temperatures average above 40 °C (104 °F) for most of the country and frequently exceed 48 °C (118.4 °F). Winter temperatures infrequently exceed 21 °C (69.8 °F) with maxima roughly 15 to 19 °C (59 to 66.2 °F) and night-time lows 2 to 5 °C (35.6 to 41 °F). Typically precipitation is low; most places receive less than 250 mm (9.8 in) annually, with maximum rainfall occurring during the winter months. Rainfall during the summer is extremely rare, except in the far north of the country. The northern mountainous regions have cold winters with occasional heavy snows, sometimes causing extensive flooding.
Government and politics 
The federal government of Iraq is defined under the current Constitution as a democratic, federal parliamentary Islamic republic. The federal government is composed of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as well as numerous independent commissions. Aside from the federal government, there are regions (made of one or more governorates), governorates, and districts within Iraq with jurisdiction over various matters as defined by law.
The National Alliance is the main Shia parliamentary bloc, and was established as a result of a merger of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's State of Law Coalition and the Iraqi National Alliance. The Iraqi National Movement is led by Iyad Allawi, a secular Shia widely supported by Sunnis. The party has a more consistent anti-sectarian perspective than most of its rivals. The Kurdistan List is dominated by two parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by Masood Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan headed by Jalal Talabani. Both parties are secular and enjoy close ties with the West.
In 2010, according to the Failed States Index, Iraq was the world's seventh most politically unstable country. The concentration of power in the hands of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and growing pressure on the opposition have led to growing concern about the future of political rights in Iraq.
In October 2005, the new Constitution of Iraq was approved in a referendum with a 78% overall majority, although the percentage of support varying widely between the country's territories. The new constitution was backed by the Shia and Ķurdish communities, but was rejected by Arab Sunnis. Under the terms of the constitution, the country conducted fresh nationwide parliamentary elections on December 15, 2005. All three major ethnic groups in Iraq voted along ethnic lines.
Law no. 188 of the year 1959 (Personal Status Law) made polygamy extremely difficult, granted child custody to the mother in case of divorce, prohibited repudiation and marriage under the age of 16. Article 1 of Civil Code also identifies Islamic law as a formal source of law. Iraq had no Sharia courts but civil courts used Sharia for issues of personal status including marriage and divorce. In 1995 Iraq introduced Sharia punishment for certain types of criminal offenses. The code is based on French civil law as well as Sunni and Jafari (Shi’ite) interpretations of Sharia.
In 2004, the CFA chief executive L. Paul Bremer said he would veto any constitutional draft stating that sharia is the principal basis of law. The declaration enraged many local Shia clerics, and by 2005 the United States had relented, allowing a role for sharia in the constitution to help end a stalemate on the draft constitution.
The Iraqi Penal Code is the statutory law of Iraq.
Iraqi security forces are composed of forces serving under the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense, as well as the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Bureau, reporting directly to the Prime Minister of Iraq, which oversees the Iraqi Special Operations Forces. Ministry of Defense forces include the Iraqi Army, the Iraqi Air Force and the Iraqi Navy. The Peshmerga are a separate armed force loyal to the Kurdistan Regional Government. The regional government and the central government disagree as to whether they are under Baghdad's authority and to what extent.
The Iraqi Army is an objective counter-insurgency force that as of November 2009 includes 14 divisions, each division consisting of 4 brigades. It is described as the most important element of the counter-insurgency fight. Light infantry brigades are equipped with small arms, machine guns, RPGs, body armor and light armored vehicles. Mechanized infantry brigades are equipped with T-54/55 main battle tanks and BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles. As of mid-2008, logistical problems included a maintenance crisis and ongoing supply problems.
The Iraqi Air Force is designed to support ground forces with surveillance, reconnaissance and troop lift. Two reconnaissance squadrons use light aircraft, three helicopter squadrons are used to move troops and one air transportation squadron uses C-130 transport aircraft to move troops, equipment, and supplies. It currently has 3,000 personnel. It is planned to increase to 18,000 personnel, with 550 aircraft by 2018.
The Iraqi Navy is a small force with 1,500 sailors and officers, including 800 Marines, designed to protect shoreline and inland waterways from insurgent infiltration. The navy is also responsible for the security of offshore oil platforms. The navy will have coastal patrol squadrons, assault boat squadrons and a marine battalion. The force will consist of 2,000 to 2,500 sailors by year 2010.
Foreign relations 
On November 17, 2008, the U.S. and Iraq agreed to a Status of Forces Agreement, as part of the broader Strategic Framework Agreement. This agreement states "the Government of Iraq requests" U.S. forces to temporarily remain in Iraq to "maintain security and stability," and that Iraq has jurisdiction over military contractors, and US personnel when not on US bases or on–duty.
On 12 February 2009, Iraq officially became the 186th State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Under the provisions of this treaty, Iraq is considered a party with declared stockpiles of chemical weapons. Because of their late accession, Iraq is the only State Party exempt from the existing timeline for destruction of their chemical weapons. Specific criteria is in development to address the unique nature of Iraqi accession.
Iran–Iraq relations have flourished since 2005 by the exchange of high level visits: Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki makes frequent visits, along with Jalal Talabani visiting numerous times, to help boost bilateral cooperation in all fields. A conflict occurred in December 2009, when Iraq accused Iran of seizing an oil well on the border.
Relationships with Turkey are tense, largely because of the Kurdistan Regional Government, as clashes between Turkey and the PKK continue. In October 2011, the Turkish parliament renewed a law that gives Turkish forces the ability to pursue rebels over the border in Iraq."
Human rights 
Relations between Iraq and its Kurdish population have been sour in recent history, especially with Saddam Hussein's genocidal campaign against them in the 1980s. After uprisings during the early 90s, many Kurds fled their homeland and no-fly zones were established in northern Iraq to prevent more conflicts. Despite historically poor relations, some progress has been made, and Iraq elected its first Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani, in 2005. Furthermore, Kurdish is now an official language of Iraq alongside Arabic according to Article 4 of the constitution.
LGBT rights in Iraq remain limited. Although decriminalized, homosexuality remains stigmatized in Iraqi society. Targeting people because of their gender identity or sexual orientation is not uncommon and is usually carried out in the name of family honor. People who dress in emo style are mistakenly associated with homosexuality and may suffer the same fate. A BBC article published in 2009, which includes interviews of homosexual and transgendered Iraqis, suggests that LGBT people were less subject to violence under Hussein's regime.
Administrative divisions 
Iraq is composed of eighteen governorates (or provinces) (Arabic: muhafadhat (singular muhafadhah); Kurdish: پاریزگه Pârizgah). The governorates are subdivided into districts (or qadhas). Iraqi Kurdistan (Arbil, Duhok, Sulaymaniyah) is the only legally defined region within Iraq, with its own government and quasi-official army Peshmerga.
Iraq's economy is dominated by the oil sector, which has traditionally provided about 95% of foreign exchange earnings. The lack of development in other sectors has resulted in 18%–30% unemployed and a depressed per capita GDP of $4,000. Public sector employment accounted for nearly 60% of full-time employment in 2011. The oil export industry, which dominates the Iraqi economy, generates very little employment. Currently only a modest percentage of women (the highest estimate for 2011 was 22%) participate in the labour force.
Prior to US occupation, Iraq's centrally planned economy prohibited foreign ownership of Iraqi businesses, ran most large industries as state-owned enterprises, and imposed large tariffs to keep out foreign goods. After the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority quickly began issuing many binding orders privatizing Iraq's economy and opening it up to foreign investment.
On November 20, 2004, the Paris Club of creditor nations agreed to write off 80% ($33 billion) of Iraq's $42 billion debt to Club members. Iraq's total external debt was around $120 billion at the time of the 2003 invasion, and had grown another $5 billion by 2004. The debt relief will be implemented in three stages: two of 30% each and one of 20%.
The official currency in Iraq is the Iraqi dinar. The Coalition Provisional Authority issued new dinar coins and notes, with the notes printed by De La Rue using modern anti-forgery techniques. Jim Cramer's October 20, 2009 endorsement of the Iraqi Dinar on CNBC has further piqued interest in the investment.
Five years after the invasion, an estimated 2.4 million people were internally displaced (with a further two million refugees outside Iraq), four million Iraqis were considered food-insecure (a quarter of children were chronically malnourished) and only a third of Iraqi children had access to safe drinking water.
According to the Overseas Development Institute, international NGOs face challenges in carrying out their mission, leaving their assistance "piecemeal and largely conducted undercover, hindered by insecurity, a lack of coordinated funding, limited operational capacity and patchy information". International NGOs have been targeted and during the first 5 years, 94 aid workers were killed, 248 injured, 24 arrested or detained and 89 kidnapped or abducted.
Oil and energy 
With its 143.1 billion barrels (2.275×1010 m3) of proved oil reserves, Iraq ranks second in the world behind Saudi Arabia in the amount of oil reserves. Oil production levels reached 3.4 million barrels per day by December 2012. Iraq intends to increase its production to 5 million barrels per day by 2014. Only about 2,000 oil wells have been drilled in Iraq, compared with about 1 million wells in Texas alone. Iraq was one of the founding members of OPEC.
As of 2010, despite improved security and billions of dollars in oil revenue, Iraq still generates about half the electricity that customers demand, leading to protests during the hot summer months.
According to a US Study from May 2007, between 100,000 barrels per day (16,000 m3/d) and 300,000 barrels per day (48,000 m3/d) of Iraq’s declared oil production over the past four years could have been siphoned off through corruption or smuggling. In 2008, Al Jazeera reported $13 billion of Iraqi oil revenues in U.S. care was improperly accounted for, of which $2.6 billion is totally unaccounted for.
In June 2008, the Iraqi Oil Ministry announced plans to go ahead with small one- or two-year no-bid contracts to Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — once partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and smaller firms to service Iraq’s largest fields. These plans were canceled in September because negotiations had stalled for so long that the work could not be completed within the time frame, according to Iraqi oil minister Hussain al-Shahristani. Several United States senators had also criticized the deal, arguing it was hindering efforts to pass the hydrocarbon law.
On June 30 and December 11, 2009, the Iraqi ministry of oil awarded service contracts to international oil companies for some of Iraq's many oil fields. Oil fields contracted include the "super-giant" Majnoon Field, Halfaya Field, West Qurna Field and Rumaila Field. BP and China National Petroleum Corporation won a deal to develop Rumaila, the largest Iraqi oil field.
There are many projects under-way throughout Iraq to modernise the infrastructure.
- In 2009, the IBBC was established (Iraqi-British Business Council). The Council was established by Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne.
- In August 2009, two American firms reached a deal with the Iraqi Government to build Basra Sports City, a new sports complex. Basra Sports City will be the venue for the 2014 Gulf Cup of Nations.
- In October 2012, the Emirati property firm, Emaar Properties reached a deal with the Iraqi Ministry of Construction and Housing to build and develop housing and commercial projects in Iraq.
- In January 2013, the Emirati property firm, Nakheel Properties signed a deal to build Al Nakheel City, a future town in Basra, Iraq.
|Historical populations in millions|
|Source: Population in Iraq|
An April 2009 estimate of the total Iraqi population is 31,234,000. Iraq's population was estimated at only 2 million in 1878. Iraq's population as announced by the government has reached 35 million amid a post-war population boom.
According to the Central Intelligence Agency, Arabs form 75%–80% of the population. Minorities include a 15%–20% of Kurds, and Turkoman, Assyrian, or other make up 5% of the population. Around 20,000 Marsh Arabs live in southern Iraq. The Iraqi population includes a community of around 30,000 Circassians, 20,000 Armenians, and a community of 2,500 Chechens. In southern Iraq there is a community of Iraqis of African descent, a legacy of the slavery practiced in the Islamic Caliphate beginning before the Zanj Rebellion of the 9th century, and Basra's role as a key port.
Iraq is a Muslim-majority country; Islam accounts for 95% of the population, while Christianity or other religions for just 3%. It has a mixed Shia and Sunnis population. Most sources estimate that around 65% of the population in Iraq are Shia, and around 35% are Sunni. Christians have inhabited what is modern day Iraq for about 2,000 years. Assyrians, most of whom are adherents of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Syriac Orthodox Church and the Assyrian Church of the East account for most of the Christian population, along with Armenians belonging to the Armenian Apostolic Church. Estimates for the numbers of Christians suggest a decline from 8–10% in the mid-20th century to 5% around the start of the 21st century, to around 4% in 2008. More than half of Iraqi Christians have fled to neighboring countries since the start of the war, and few plan to return.
Arabic is the majority language, Kurdish is spoken by approximately 15–20% of the population, South Azeri (called Turkmen locally), Neo-Aramaic and others by 5%. Other smaller minority languages include Mandaic Shabaki, Armenian, and Persian. Arabic, Kurdish, Persian, and South Azeri are written with versions of the Arabic script, the Neo-Aramaic languages in the Syriac script and Armenian is written in the Armenian script.
Prior to the invasion in 2003, Arabic was the sole official language. Since the new Constitution of Iraq approved in June 2004, both Arabic and Kurdish are official languages, while Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and South Azeri (referred to as respectively "Syriac" and "Turkmen" in the constitution) are recognized regional languages. In addition, any region or province may declare other languages official if a majority of the population approves in a general referendum.
Diaspora and refugees 
The dispersion of native Iraqis to other countries is known as the Iraqi diaspora. The UN High Commission for Refugees has estimated that nearly two million Iraqis have fled the country after the Multi-National invasion of Iraq in 2003, mostly to Syria and Jordan. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates an additional 1.9 million are currently displaced within the country.
In 2007, the U.N. said that about 40% of Iraq's middle class is believed to have fled and that most are fleeing systematic persecution and have no desire to return. Refugees are mired in poverty as they are generally barred from working in their host countries. In recent years the diaspora seems to be returning with the increased security; the Iraqi government claimed that 46,000 refugees have returned to their homes in October 2007 alone.
In November 2006, the UNHCR estimated that 1.8 million Iraqis had been displaced to neighboring countries, who are mostly Sunni Muslims and Christians. Nearly 100,000 Iraqis fleeing to Syria and Jordan each month, while another 1.6 million were displaced internally. According to official United States Citizenship and Immigration Services statistics, 58,811 Iraqis have been granted refugee-status citizenship as of May 25, 2011.