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Iraq: Country Profile

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Basics:

Official country name: Republic of Iraq
Area: 168,754 sq miles (437,072 sq km)
Population: 27.5 million (2007 est.); as of April 2007, 2.2 million to 2.4 million Iraqi refugees lived abroad, according to the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index.
Median age: 20
Ethnic Groups: Arab 75 to 80 percent, Kurdish 15 to 20 percent, Turkoman, Assyrian, or other 5 percent
GDP and GDP per capita: $48.5 billion and $1,687 (2006 estimates)

Government and Politics:

Voters approved a new constitution in October 2005. The 275-member Council of Representatives was elected in December 2005. Seats are apportioned along sectarian lines. The council appoints 37 cabinet ministers. The prime minister (currently, Jawad al-Maliki, a Shiite) is nominated by the president. The president, Kudish leader Jalal Talabani, holds a mostly ceremonial post. Paper gains aside, the council is wracked by boycotts and impotence. A third of the ministers have resigned. The government has made no progress on disbanding militias or moving toward national reconciliation.

Religion:

The last detailed census was conducted in 1977, leaving current demographic figures closer to estimates than fact. The majority of the nation, by perhaps 60 to 65 percent, is Shiite Muslim. About 30 to 35 percent of Iraqis are Sunnis, including ethnic Kurds (although Kurds consider themselves autonomous from Sunni Arabs). Small communities of Chritians and Jews still live in Iraq, mostly in Baghdad.

Economy:

Two-thirds of the Iraqi economy is powered by oil production. But average production for the first seven months of 2007 was below 2 million barrels per day, less than pre-war levels of 2.5 million barrels per day. Oil exports generate an average of $2.6 billion a month. An Oct. 2003 by the United Nations and the World Bank put Iraq’s infrastructure repair bill at $56 billion over four years. Less than $20 billion has been spent. Unemployment is estimated at 25 to 40 percent. Inflation is running at 50 percent a year. The national debt stands at $89 billion.

Military:

By August 2007, American and coalition forces had trained and equipped 165,500 soldiers for the reconstituted Iraqi armed forces. The number, however, does not reflect combat readiness or fair and impartial application of force where necessary. A September 2007 Government Accountability Office report found that Iraqi commanders cannot operate without political interference from coalition forces, and that security forces engage in sectarian-based abuses. In late 2007, Iraq signed a deal to buy $1.6 billion in U.S. arms, and a $100 million deal in Chinese weaponry.

Human Rights, Civil Rights and Media:

The human rights situation in post-war Iraq is not brighter than it was before the war. It’s merely different. Sectarian killings by Sunni and Shiite militias continued by the thousands most months in 2006 and 2007. Victims usually show signs of torture. Allegations of torture have been leveled against the Iraqi interior ministry, which runs the nation’s prison system. American occupation authorities are holding prisoner upwards of 26,000 Iraqis without charge or legal representation. Media are free, but at least 205 journalists have been killed since 2003, including 60 in 2006, the deadliest year yet.

Early History:

It isn’t hyperbole to call Iraq the cradle of civilization. The first known villages in history rose along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, giving rise to Sumer, the world’s first civilization, about 6,000 years ago. Ninth century Baghdad was the seat of the powerful Abbasid Dynasty, which dominated the Islamic world from central Asia to the Iberian Peninsula. Baghdad’s golden age ended with the Mongol invasion in the 13th century. Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire from the 16th to the early 20th century—first as an autonomous region, then as a province under the direct rule of Ottomans.

Modern History:

As part of its mandate over several regions in the Middle East (including Palestine, Jordan and Kuwait) Britain occupied Iraq and drew its modern-day boundaries following World War I. Iraq won independence in 1932. A monarchy ruled the country fitfully, between attempted coups and re-occupation by Britain from 1941 to 1947. In 1958, a coup instituted military-style dictatorship. Saddam Hussein gradually took power in the late 1960s. Hussein attacked Iran in 1980, triggering a war that lasted until 1988 and ended inconclusively. He invaded Kuwait in 1990 and was repulsed by an American-led coalition in 1991.

Current Issues:

By the Iraqi government’s own admission , national reconciliation is out of reach. In effect, Iraq is a divided country, with Kurds controlling the north, Sunnis controlling some central and western regions, and Shiites controlling the rest. The country’s professional and middle class has largely fled. Turkey is signaling impending attacks against Kurdish rebels in the north. Iran is influencing Shiite policy, and contributing money and arms to the cause. The continued presence of the American-led occupation force is more certain than its purpose.
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