Iraq, officially the Republic of Iraq (Al Jumhūrīyah al-‘Iraqia
in Arabic), country in southwestern Asia. 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). Baghdād is the
country’s capital and largest city.
Iraq is situated at the northern tip of the Arab Gulf. Its coastline along the gulf is only 30 km (19 mi) long. Its only port on the gulf, Umm Qaşr, is small and located on shallow water, and only small craft can dock there. Thus, the country is nearly landlocked.
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 population is Arab. Since its inception as a modern state in 1920, 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 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 Arab Gulf region. It failed in eight years of war in the 1980s to bring down the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It conquered Kuwait in 1990 but was forced to relinquish it by a coalition of Western and Arab countries in the Gulf War. Afterward, it found itself shackled by an international oil embargo and other sanctions. A United States-led invasion overthrew Hussein’s regime in 2003.