The conflict in Iraq
End of an empire
In 1932, Britain granted Iraq independence, handing over power to the Hashemite monarchy, which was later overthrown in a military coup in 1958. In 1968, the the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party took power led by Ahmed Hasan Al-Bakir, the first President of Iraq. .
The rise and fall of Saddam Hussein
Over the next few years, Saddam Hussein gradually took over the party, and in 1979 he ousted the leader to become president, arresting and killing his leadership rivals. Saddam’s regime was brutal and heavy-handed, in particular targeting minority groups in Iraq, including Shia Muslim and Kurdish Iraqis. The regime initiated conflict with neighbouring countries that it felt threatened by, including Iran and Kuwait, and in the 1980s launched a genocidal campaign against the Kurdish population called the Al-Anfal Campaign, which led to the murder of over 180,000 Kurdish civilians by chemical weapons.
In 1991 after the Gulf War, the UN imposed sanctions against Iraq, preventing the international sale of oil unless Iraq stopped developing chemical and nuclear weapons. These sanctions created a situation of economic and humanitarian crisis in the country and plunged the population into poverty.
The War in Iraq
In 2003, a US-led coalition invaded Iraq on the grounds that it was developing weapons of mass destruction. While the invasion was initially welcomed by the oppressed Shia Muslim minority, it had unexpected and unwelcome results as insurgent and rebel groups vied for power. The invasion also sparked violence between sectarian groups and against coalition parties, and there was also fighting between the newly liberated Shia minority, and the Sunni Muslim majority. In 2008, the UNHCR reported that an estimated 4.7 million people had been displaced by the violence. The Red Cross stated at the same time that Iraq’s humanitarian situation remained among the most critical in the world.
In 2004, US troops handed control over to an Iraqi Interim Government, however this did not create stability, and sectarian violence continued. At the same time, in the absence of security, the most prominent insurgent group, Al-Qaeda, began a bloody campaign of suicide bombs and attacks on civilians.
By 2009 an Iraqi government had been elected, and US troops officially pulled out of the country. At this point crime rates spiked with bomb assaults, shootings, kidnappings and robberies increasing dramatically. Most of this violence was carried out by insurgent groups or gangs affiliated with them. Over time, the number and frequency of attacks has declined as Iraqi security forces have become more established, but violence is still prevalent. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable.
The situation in the country is still volatile, and disputes over oil-rich land have hindered progress towards political stability. Significant problems remain with law enforcement and the administration of justice, and lots of work remains to be done to improve human rights practice. The continued violence has also prevented the recovery of the economy, which was shattered by decades of conflict and sanctions.