The Ottoman Empire's entry into World War I proved to be disastrous, as the conclusion of that war in 1918 culminated in the Treaty of S%E8vres and the Treaty of Lausanne that shattered the Empire into independent countries. Under the provisions of the treaties, the French gained control of Syria and Lebanon, while the British received Palestine and Iraq, the latter having been seized in 1915. Under a League of Nations mandate, Britain retained control until Iraq gained independence in 1932.
From 1979 to 2003, Iraq was under Ba'ath Party rule, under the leadership of President Saddam Hussein. The unicameral Iraqi parliament, the National Assembly or Majlis al-Watani, had 250 seats and its members were elected for 4-year terms. Like in presidential elections, no non-Ba'ath candidates were allowed to run.
From April 2003 to June 28, 2004, Iraq was under occupation following the ousting of the Ba'ath Party and President Saddam Hussein. Its political future is uncertain, as a violent campaign of attacks by insurgents against coalition forces, and newly formed Iraqi institutions, is hampering the emergence of post-war stability. Crime and infrastructure problems continue to plague the country. The occupation was led by the coalition's Civil Administrator, L. Paul Bremer. An Interim Iraq Governing Council has also been appointed by the coalition with a monthly rotating interim presidency. The Council has in turn appointed a cabinet of ministers and other officials.
Under the interim Iraqi constitution, signed March 2004, the country's executive branch is now led by a three-person presidential council. The election system for the council effectively ensures that all three of Iraq's major ethnic groups are represented. The constitution also includes basic freedoms like freedom of religion, speech, and assembly, and in many ways has been hailed as more liberal than the U.S. constitution. Controversially, however, it states that all laws that were in effect on the transfer date cannot be repealed. Furthermore, since the coalition forces are currently an official occupying power under the United Nations, Coalition troops can remain in control of the country indefinitely despite the transfer of sovereignty. Since Iraqi forces are currently considered ill-equipped to police and secure the country, it is expected that coalition troops will remain in the country for many years to come.
Part of the proposed system—holding regional caucuses which then elect national leaders—has been rejected by AyatollahAli al-Sistani, which has resulted in massive peaceful protests against the proposed systems. Sistani, the most senior Shiite cleric in Iraq, declared the system as too easy to manipulate to elect an U.S.-friendly government and not representative of the people.
Large parts of Iraq consist of desert, but the area between the two major rivers Euphrates and Tigris is fertile, with the rivers carrying about 60 million cubic meters of silt annually to the delta. The north of the country is largely mountainous, with the highest point being Haji Ibrahim at 3,600 m. Iraq has a small coastline with the Persian Gulf. Close to the coast and along the Shatt al-Arab there used to be marshlands, but many of these were drained in the 1990s.
The local climate is mostly a desert clime with mild to cool winters and dry, hot, cloudless summers. The northern mountainous regions experience cold winters with occasional heavy snows, sometimes causing extensive flooding. The capital Baghdad is situated in the centre of the country, on the banks of the Tigris. Other major cities include Basra in the south and Mosul in the north. Iraq is considered to be one of the fifteen lands that comprise the so-called "Cradle of Humanity".
Iraq's economy is dominated by the oil sector, which has traditionally provided about 95% of foreign exchange earnings. In the 1980s financial problems caused by massive expenditures in the eight-year war with Iran and damage to oil export facilities by Iran led the government to implement austerity measures, borrow heavily, and later reschedule foreign debt payments; Iraq suffered economic losses from the war of at least $100 billion. After hostilities ended in 1988, oil exports gradually increased with the construction of new pipelines and restoration of damaged facilities.
Iraq's seizure of Kuwait in August 1990, subsequent international economic sanctions, and damage from military action by an international coalition beginning in January 1991 drastically reduced economic activity. Although government policies supporting large military and internal security forces and allocating resources to key supporters of the regime have hurt the economy, implementation of the United Nations' oil-for-food programme in December 1996 has helped improve conditions for the average Iraqi citizen. For the first six, six-month phases of the programme, Iraq was allowed to export limited amounts of oil in exchange for food, medicine, and some infrastructure spare parts.
In December 1999 the UN Security Council authorised Iraq to export under the program as much oil as required to meet humanitarian needs. Oil exports were more than three-quarters of the pre-war level. However, 28% of Iraq's export revenues under the programme are deducted to meet UN Compensation Fund and UN administrative expenses. The drop in GDP in 2001 was largely the result of the global economic slowdown and lower oil prices. Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq the economy has to a great extent shut down and attempts are underway to revive it from the damages of the war and rampant crime.
Almost 75% of Iraq's population consists of Arabs; the other major ethnic group are the Kurds (20%), who live in the north and north-east of the country. Other distinct groups are Turkomans, East Arameans (consisting of Christian Assyrians and Mandean Babylonians), Iranians, Lurs, and Armenians. Arabic is the official language, although Kurdish has an official status in the North and English is the most commonly spoken Western language. East Aramaic is also used by the country's Aramean population. More than 40% of the Iraqi population is under the age of 15.
Most Arab Iraqi Muslims are members of the Shiite sect, but there is a large Sunni population as well, made up of both Arabs and Kurds. Small communities of Christians, Bahá'ís, Mandaeans, and Yezidis also exist. Most Kurds are Sunni Muslim but differ from their Arab neighbours in language, dress, and customs.