Iraq (pronounced /ɪˈræk/ or /ɪˈrɑːk/, Arabic: العراق Al-Irāq), officially the Republic of Iraq (Arabic: جمهورية العراق (help·info) Jumhūrīyat Al-Irāq, Kurdish: كؤماری عهراق, Komara Îraqê, Assyrian: ܥܝܪܐܩ) is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert.
Iraq is bordered by Jordan to the west, Syria to the northwest, Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to the south. Iraq has a narrow section of coastline measuring 58 km (35 miles) on the northern Persian Gulf. The capital city, Baghdad (Arabic: بغداد Baġdād), is in the center-east of the country.
Two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, run through the centre 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.
Historically, the territory comprising Iraq was known in Europe by the Greek toponym 'Mesopotamia' (Land between the rivers). Iraq has been home to continuous successive civilizations since the 6th millennium BC. The region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is identified as the cradle of civilization and the birthplace of writing and the wheel.
Throughout its long history, Iraq has been the center of the Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Hellenistic, Parthian, Sassanid and Abbasid empires, and part of the Achaemenid, Roman, Rashidun, Umayyad, Mongol, Ottoman and British empires. The Kingdom of Iraq was founded in 1932.
The occupation ended when sovereignty was transferred to the Iraqi Interim Government June 2004. As of January 2010, 112,000 US troops remain in the country. A new Constitution of Iraq has since been approved by referendum and a new Government of Iraq has been elected. There is a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq by 31 December 2011.
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 Unug, containing the Sumerian word for "city", URU. another maintains according to Professor Wilhelm Eilers, "The name al-‘Irāq, for all its Arabic appearance, is derived from Middle Persian erāq lowlands".
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.
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 [ʕiˈrɑːq]. In English, it is either /ɪˈrɑːk/ (the only pronunciation listed in the Oxford English Dictionary and the first one in Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary) or /ɪˈræk/ (listed first by MQD), the American Heritage Dictionary, and the Random House Dictionary. /aɪˈræk/ is frequently heard in US media.
Iraq has been home to continuous successive civilizations since the 6th millennium BC. These civilizations produced the earliest writing, literature, sciences, mathematics, laws, and philosophies of the world; hence its common epithet, the "Cradle of Civilization". Iraq was home to the earliest known civilization on Earth, the Sumerian civilization, which arose in the fertile Tigris-Euphrates river valley of southern Iraq in the mid 6th millennium BC. 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 18th century BC a new civilization, Babylonia, had risen to dominance in central and southern Iraq while a contemporaneous civilization, Assyria, had formed in northern Iraq.
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 four centuries. In the late 4th century BC, Alexander the Great conquered the region, putting it under Hellenistic Seleucid rule for nearly two centuries. A Central Asian tribe of ancient Iranian peoples known as the Parthians later annexed the region, followed by the Romans, then the Sassanid Persians. The region remained a province of the Persian Empire for nine centuries, until the Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia in the 7th century AD.
Islamic Golden Age
|This section requires expansion.|
The Islamic conquest in the 7th century CE established Islam in Iraq. Under the Rashidun Caliphate, the prophet Mohammed'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 Cordoba.)
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 sack 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 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 Grand Library of Baghdad (Arabic بيت الحكمة Bayt al-Hikma, lit., House of Wisdom), which contained countless, precious, 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 many 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 Bagdad, 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).
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. 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 Sublime 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.