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BBC Country Profile: Iraq

BBC, 19 February 2002

[map of Iraq]

Iraq under the leadership of Saddam Hussein engaged in two major wars, against Iran in the 1980s and against an American-led alliance in 1991 after it invaded Kuwait. The government stands defiant in the face of international sanctions, which have caused severe hardship for the people but which are unlikely to be lifted until Iraq satisfies United Nations demands over weapons inspections.


Straddling the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and stretching from the Gulf to the Anti-Taurus Mountains, modern Iraq occupies roughly what was once ancient Mesopotamia, one of the cradles of human civilisation.

In the Middle Ages Iraq was the centre of the Islamic Empire, with Baghdad the cultural and political capital of an area extending from Morocco to the Indian subcontinent. Mongol invasions in the 13th century saw its influence wane, and it played a minor role in the region until independence from British control in 1932.

Following the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958 and a coup in 1968, Iraq became one of the centres of Arab nationalism under the control of the ruling Ba'th (Renaissance) party. Oil made the country rich, and when Saddam Hussein became president in 1979 petroleum made up 95% of its foreign exchange earnings.

But the war with Iran from 1980 to 1988 and the Gulf War in 1991 following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, together with the subsequent imposition of international sanctions, had a devastating effect on its economy and society. In 1991 the UN said Iraq had been reduced to a pre-industrial state, while later reports described living standards as being at subsistence level.

The standoff with the UN continues, with US and British planes patrolling no-fly zones in the north and south, while the Kurdish community has broken away and created a semi-autonomous region of its own.


IRAQ FACTS Population: 22 million Capital: Baghdad Major languages: Arabic, Kurdish Major religion: Islam Life expectancy: 66 years (men), 68 years (women) Monetary unit: 1 Iraqi dinar = 1,000 fils Main exports: Crude oil Average annual income: US $593 Internet domain: .iq International dialling code: 964


President: Saddam Hussein

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President Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein was born on 28 April 1937 in Al-Awja near Tikrit north of Baghdad. He took part in the failed attempt on the life of Prime Minister Abd-al-Karim Qasim in 1959 and in the 1968 revolution. In the late 60s and 70s he held senior posts in the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party (ASBP) and the Revolution Command Council (RCC) - the state's supreme authority - and was often referred to in the Western media as the Iraqi strong man. He became president in 1979.


The government and the Ba'th Party tightly control and own all print, news age ncy and broadcast media. The media do not report opposing points of view expressed either domestically or abroad. Their sole mission is to relay state propaganda.

The president's son, Uday Hussein, heads an extensive media empire, said to include the most popular of the three television channels, Shebab, or Youth TV, and more than a dozen weeklies and dailies. Uday is also head of the national press union, which has named him journalist of the century for his innovative role, his efficient contribution in the service of Iraq's media family... and his defence of honest and committed speech.

In the northern autonomous Kurdish enclaves, rival factions operate their own radio and TV stations and newspapers beyond the reach of official repression.

There are numerous clandestine radio services targeting Iraq. Operated by a number of opposition movements, some supported by foreign countries, they broadcast, often randomly, from neighbouring countries. In 1998 the US government launched Radio Free Iraq.