Iraq (, or ; , Kurdish: Êraq), officially the Republic of Iraq (Arabic: ; ), is a country in Western Asia. The country borders Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, Kuwait to the southeast, Saudi Arabia to the south, Jordan to the southwest, and Syria to the west. The capital, Baghdad, is in the center of the country and its largest city. The largest ethnic groups in Iraq are Arabs and Kurds. Other ethnic groups include Assyrians, Turcoman, Shabaki, Armenians, Mandeans, Circassians and Kawliya form the minorities. Around 95% of the country's 36 million citizens are Shia or Sunni Muslims, with Christianity, Yarsan, Yezidism and Mandeanism also extant.
Iraq has a narrow section of coastline measuring on the northern Persian Gulf and its territory encompasses the Mesopotamian Alluvial Plain, the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, and the eastern part of the Syrian Desert. Two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, run south through the center of Iraq and flow into the Shatt al-Arab near the Persian Gulf. These rivers provide Iraq with significant amounts of fertile land.
The region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is often referred to as Mesopotamia and thought to be the birthplace of writing and the world's oldest civilizations. The area has been home to continuous successive civilizations since the 6th millennium BC. At different periods in its history, Iraq was the center of the indigenous Akkadian, Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian empires. It was also part of the Median, Achaemenid, Hellenistic, Parthian, Sassanid, Roman, Rashidun, Umayyad, Abbasid, Mongol, Safavid, Afsharid, and Ottoman empires, and under British control as a League of Nations mandate.
Iraq's modern borders were mostly demarcated in 1920 by the League of Nations when the Ottoman Empire was divided by the Treaty of Sèvres. Iraq was placed under the authority of the United Kingdom as the British Mandate of Mesopotamia. A monarchy was established in 1921 and the Kingdom of Iraq gained independence from Britain in 1932. In 1958, the monarchy was overthrown and the Republic of Iraq was created. Iraq was controlled by the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party from 1968 until 2003. After an invasion by the United States and its allies, Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party was removed from power and multi-party parliamentary elections were held. The American presence in Iraq ended in 2011 but the Iraqi insurgency continued and intensified as fighters from the Syrian Civil War spilled into the country.
Between 65,000 BC and 35,000 BC northern Iraq was home to a Neanderthal culture, archaeological remains of which have been discovered at Shanidar Cave This same region is also the location of a number of pre-Neolithic cemeteries, dating from approximately 11,000 BC.
Since approximately 10,000 BC, Iraq (alongside Asia Minor and The Levant) was one of centers of a Caucasoid Neolithic culture (known as Pre-Pottery Neolithic A) where agriculture and cattle breeding appeared for the first time in the world. The following Neolithic period (PPNB) is represented by rectangular houses. At the time of the pre-pottery Neolithic, people used vessels made of stone, gypsum and burnt lime (Vaisselle blanche). Finds of obsidian tools from Anatolia are evidences of early trade relations.
Further important sites of human advancement were Jarmo (circa 7100 BC), the Halaf culture and Ubaid period (between 6500 BC and 3800 BC), these periods show ever increasing levels of advancement in agriculture, tool making and architecture.
The historical period in Iraq truly begins during the Uruk period (4000 BC to 3100 BC), with the founding of a number of Sumerian cities, and the use of Pictographs, Cylinder seals and mass-produced goods.
The "Cradle of Civilization", is thus a common term for the area comprising modern Iraq as it was home to the earliest known civilization, the Sumerian civilization, which arose in the fertile Tigris-Euphrates river valley of southern Iraq in the Chalcolithic (Ubaid period).
It was here in the late 4th millennium BC, that the world's first writing system and recorded history itself were born. The Sumerians were also the first to harness The Wheel and create City States, and whose writings record the first evidence of Mathematics, Astronomy, Astrology, Written Law, Medicine and Organised religion.
The Sumerians spoke a Language Isolate, in other words, a language utterly unrelated to any other, including the Semitic Languages, Indo-European Languages, Afro-Asiatic Languages or any other Isolates. The major city states of the early Sumerian period were; Eridu, Bad-tibira, Larsa, Sippar, Shuruppak, Uruk, Kish, Ur, Nippur, Lagash, Girsu, Umma, Hamazi, Adab, Mari, Isin, Larsa, Kutha, Der and Akshak.
Cities such as Ashur, Arbela (modern Irbil) and Arrapkha (modern Kirkuk) were also extant in what was to be called Assyria from the 25th century BC, however at this early stage they were Sumerian ruled administrative centers.
From approximately 3000 BC, a Semitic people had also entered Iraq from the west and settled amongst the Sumerians. These people spoke an East Semitic language which would later come to be known as Akkadian. From the 29th century BC Akkadian Semitic names began to appear on king lists and administrative documents of various city states.
During the 3rd millennium BCE a cultural symbiosis developed between the Sumerians and the Akkadians, which included widespread bilingualism. The influences between Sumerian and Akkadian are evident in all areas including lexical borrowing on a massive scale—and syntactic, morphological, and phonological convergence. This mutual influence has prompted scholars to refer to Sumerian and Akkadian of the 3rd millennium BCE as a Sprachbund. From this period the civilisation in Iraq came to be known as Sumero-Akkadian.
However, the Sumerians remained generally dominant until the rise of the Akkadian Empire (2335-2124 BC), based in the city of Akkad in central Iraq. Sargon of Akkad, originally a Rabshakeh to a Sumerian king, founded the empire, he conquered all of the city states of southern and central Iraq, and subjugated the kings of Assyria, thus uniting the Sumerians and Akkadians in one state. He then set about expanding his empire, conquering Gutium, Elam, Cissia and Turukku in Ancient Iran, the Hurrians, Luwians and Hattians of Anatolia, and the Amorites and Eblaites of Ancient Syria.
After the collapse of the Akkadian Empire in the late 22nd century BC, the Gutians occupied the south for a few decades, while Assyria reasserted its independence in the north. This was followed by a Sumerian renaissance in the form of the Neo-Sumerian Empire. The Sumerians under king Shulgi conquered almost all of Iraq except the northern reaches of Assyria, and asserted themselves over the Elamites, Gutians and Amorites.
An Elamite invasion in 2004 BC brought the Sumerian revival to an end. By the mid 21st century BC the Akkadian speaking kingdom of Assyria, had risen to dominance in northern Iraq, it expanded territorially into the north eastern Levant, central Iraq, and eastern Anatolia, forming the Old Assyrian Empire (circa 2035-1750 BC) under kings such as Puzur-Ashur I, Sargon I, Ilushuma and Erishum I, the latter of whom produced the most detailed set of Written Laws yet written. The south broke up into a number of Akkadian speaking states, Isin, Larsa and Eshnunna being the major ones.
During the 20th century BC, the Canaanite speaking Northwest Semitic Amorites began to migrate into southern Mesopotamia. Eventually these Amorites began to set up small petty kingdoms in the south, as well as usurping the thrones of extant city states such as Isin, Larsa and Eshnunna.
In 1792 BC, an Amorite ruler named Hammurabi came to power in this state, and immediately set about building Babylon from a minor town into a major city, declaring himself its king. Hammurabi conquered the whole of southern and central Iraq, as well as Elam to the east and Mari to the west, then engaged in a protracted war with the Assyrian king Ishme-Dagan for domination of the region, creating the short lived Babylonian Empire. He eventually prevailed over the successor of Ishme-Dagan and subjected Assyria and its Anatolian colonies.
It is from the period of Hammurabi that southern Iraq came to be known as Babylonia, while the north had already coalesced into Assyria hundreds of years before. However, his empire was short lived, and rapidly collapsed after his death, with both Assyria and southern Iraq, in the form of the Sealand Dynasty, falling back into native Akkadian hands. The foreign Amorites clung on to power in a once more weak and small Babylonia until it was sacked by the Indo-European speaking Hittite Empire based in Anatolia in 1595 BC. After this, another foreign people, the Language Isolate speaking Kassites, originating in the Zagros Mountains of Ancient Iran, seized control of Babylonia, where they were to rule for almost six hundred years, by far the longest dynasty ever to rule in Babylon.
Iraq was from this point divided into three polities; Assyria in the north, Kassite Babylonia in the south central region, and the Sealand Dynasty in the far south. The Sealand Dynasty was finally conquered into Babylonia by the Kassites circa 1380 BC.
The Middle Assyrian Empire (1365–1020 BC) saw Assyria rise to be the most powerful nation in the known world. Beginning with the campaigns of Ashur-uballit I, Assyria destroyed the rival Hurrian-Mitanni Empire, annexed huge swathes of the Hittite Empire for itself, annexed northern Babylonia from the Kassites, forced the Egyptian Empire from the region, and defeated the Elamites, Phrygians, Canaanites, Phoenicians, Cilicians, Gutians, Dilmunites and Arameans. At its height the Middle Assyrian Empire stretched from The Caucasus to Dilmun (modern Bahrain), and from the Mediterranean coasts of Phoenicia to the Zagros Mountains of Iran. In 1235 BC, Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria took the throne of Babylon, thus becoming the very first native Mesopotamian to rule the state.
After a period of comparative decline in Assyria, it once more began to expand with the Neo Assyrian Empire (935–605 BC). This was to be the largest and most powerful empire the world had yet seen, and under rulers such as Adad-Nirari II, Ashurnasirpal, Shalmaneser III, Semiramis, Tiglath-pileser III, Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal, Iraq became the center of an empire stretching from Persia, Parthia and Elam in the east, to Cyprus and Antioch in the west, and from The Caucasus in the north to Egypt, Nubia and Arabia in the south.
It was during this period that an Akkadian influenced form of Eastern Aramaic was introduced by the Assyrians as the lingua franca of their vast empire, and Mesopotamian Aramaic began to supplant Akkadian as the spoken language of the general populace of both Assyria and Babylonia. The descendant dialects of this tongue survive amongst the Assyrians of northern Iraq to this day.
The short lived Neo-Babylonian Empire (620-539 BC) succeeded that of Assyria. It failed to attain the size, power or longevity of its predecessor, however it came to dominate The Levant, Canaan, Arabia, Israel and Judah, and to defeat Egypt. Initially, Babylon was ruled by yet another foreign dynasty, that of the Chaldeans, who had migrated to the region in the late 10th or early 9th century BC. Its greatest king, Nebuchadnezzar II rivaled another non native ruler, the ethnically unrelated Amorite king Hammurabi, as the greatest king of Babylon. However by 556 BC the Chaldeans had been deposed from power by the Assyrian born Nabonidus and his son and regent Belshazzar.
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 two centuries. The Chaldeans and Chaldea disappeared at around this time, though both Assyria and Babylonia endured and thrived under Achaemenid rule (see Achaemenid Assyria). Little changed under the Persians, having spent three centuries under Assyrian rule, their kings saw themselves as successors to Ashurbanipal, and they retained Assyrian Imperial Aramaic as the language of empire, together with the Assyrian imperial infrastructure, and an Assyrian style of art and architecture.
The Parthians (247 BC – 224 AD) from Persia conquered the region during the reign of Mithridates I of Parthia (r. 171–138 BC). From Syria, the Romans invaded western parts of the region several times, briefly founding Assyria Provincia in Assyria. Christianity began to take hold in Iraq (particularly in Assyria) between the 1st and 3rd centuries, and Assyria became a center of Syriac Christianity, the Church of the East and Syriac literature. A number of indigenous independent Neo-Assyrian states evolved in the north during the Parthian era, such as Adiabene, Assur, Osroene and Hatra.
A number of Assyrians from Mesopotamia were conscripted into or joined the Roman Army, and the Aramaic language of Assyria and Mesopotamia has been found as far afield as Hadrians Wall in northern Ancient Britain, with inscriptions written by Assyrian and Aramean soldiers of the Roman Empire.
The Sassanids of Persia under Ardashir I destroyed the Parthian Empire and conquered the region in 224 AD. During the 240s and 250's AD the Sasanids gradually conquered the small Neo Assyrian states, culminating with Assur in 256 AD. The region was thus a province of the Sassanid Empire for over four centuries, and became the frontier and battle ground between the Sassanid Empire and Byzantine Empire, with both empires weakening each other greatly, paving the way for the Arab-Muslim conquest of Persia in the mid-7th century,
The Arab Islamic conquest in the mid-7th century AD established Islam in Iraq and saw a large influx of Arabs and Kurds. Under the Rashidun Caliphate, the prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali, moved his capital to Kufa 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 Córdoba in Iberia.)
The Abbasid Caliphate built the city of Baghdad in the 8th century as its capital, and the city 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 siege of Baghdad in the 13th century.
The Mongols destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate and Baghdad's House of Wisdom, which contained countless precious and historical documents. The city has never regained its previous pre-eminence as a major center of culture and influence. Some historians believe that the Mongol invasion destroyed much of the irrigation infrastructure that had sustained Mesopotamia for millennia. Other historians point to soil salination as the culprit in the decline in agriculture.
In 1401 a warlord of Mongol descent, Tamerlane (Timur Lenk), invaded Iraq. After the capture of Baghdad, 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). Timur also conducted massacres of the indigenous Assyrian Christian population, hitherto still the majority population in northern Mesopotamia, and it was during this time that the ancient Assyrian city of Assur was finally abandoned.
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 eyalet 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.
By the 17th century, the frequent conflicts with the Safavids had sapped the strength of the Ottoman Empire and had weakened its control over its provinces. The nomadic population swelled with the influx of bedouins from Najd, in the Arabian Peninsula. Bedouin raids on settled areas became impossible to curb.
During World War I, the Ottomans sided with Germany and the Central Powers. In the Mesopotamian campaign against the Central Powers, British forces invaded the country and initially suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Turkish army during the Siege of Kut (1915–1916). However, subsequent to this the British began to gain the upper hand, and were further aided by the support of local Arabs and Assyrians. In 1916, the British and French made a plan for the post-war division of Western Asia under the Sykes-Picot Agreement. British forces regrouped and captured Baghdad in 1917, and defeated the Ottomans. An armistice was signed in 1918.
During World War I the Ottomans were defeated and driven from much of the area by the United Kingdom during the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The British lost 92,000 soldiers in the Mesopotamian campaign. Ottoman losses are unknown but the British captured a total of 45,000 prisoners of war. By the end of 1918 the British had deployed 410,000 men in the area, of which 112,000 were combat troops.
British adminitration and independent Kingdom
On 11 November 1920 Iraq became a League of Nations mandate under British control with the name "State of Iraq". The British established the Hashemite king, Faisal I of Iraq, who had been forced out of Syria by the French, as their client ruler. Likewise, British authorities selected Sunni Arab elites from the region for appointments to government and ministry offices.
Faced with spiralling costs and influenced by the public protestations of war hero T. E. Lawrence in The Times, Britain replaced Arnold Wilson in October 1920 with new Civil Commissioner Sir Percy Cox. Cox managed to quell the rebellion, yet was also responsible for implementing the fateful policy of close cooperation with Iraq's Sunni minority. The institution of slavery was abolished in the 1920s.
Britain granted independence to the Kingdom of Iraq in 1932, on the urging of King Faisal, though the British retained military bases, local militia in the form of Assyrian Levies, and transit rights for their forces. King Ghazi ruled as a figurehead after King Faisal's death in 1933, while undermined by attempted military coups, until his death in 1939. Ghazi was followed by his underage son, Faisal II. 'Abd al-Ilah served as Regent during Faisal's minority.
On 1 April 1941, Rashid Ali al-Gaylani and members of the Golden Square staged a coup d'état and overthrew the government of 'Abd al-Ilah. During the subsequent Anglo-Iraqi War, the United Kingdom (which still maintained air bases in Iraq) invaded Iraq for fear that the Rashid Ali government might cut oil supplies to Western nations because of his links to the Axis powers. The war started on 2 May, and the British, together with loyal Assyrian Levies, defeated the forces of Al-Gaylani, forcing an armistice on 31 May.
A military occupation followed the restoration of the pre-coup government of the Hashemite monarchy. The occupation ended on 26 October 1947, although Britain was to retain military bases in Iraq until 1954, after which the Assyrian militias were disbanded. The rulers during the occupation and the remainder of the Hashemite monarchy were Nuri as-Said, the autocratic Prime Minister, who also ruled from 1930–1932, and 'Abd al-Ilah, the former Regent who now served as an adviser to King Faisal II.
Republic and Ba'athist Iraq
In 1958 a coup d'etat known as the 14 July Revolution led to the end of the monarchy. Brigadier General Abd al-Karim Qasim assumed power, but he was overthrown by Colonel Abdul Salam Arif in a February 1963 coup. After his death in 1966 he was succeeded by his brother, Abdul Rahman Arif, who was overthrown by the Ba'ath Party in 1968. Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr became the first Ba'ath President of Iraq but then the movement gradually came under the control of General Saddam Hussein, who acceded to the presidency and control of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), then Iraq's supreme executive body, in July 1979.
After the success of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, President Saddam Hussein initially welcomed the overthrow of the Shah and sought to establish good relations with Ayatollah Khomeini's new government. However, Khomeini openly called for the spread of the Islamic Revolution to Iraq, arming Shiite and Kurdish rebels against Saddam's regime and sponsoring assassination attempts on senior Iraqi officials. Following months of cross-border raids between the two countries, Saddam declared war on Iran in September 1980, initiating the Iran–Iraq War (or First Persian Gulf War). Iraq withdrew from Iran in 1982, and for the next six years Iran was on the offensive. The war ended in stalemate in 1988 and cost the lives of between half a million and 1.5 million people. In 1981, Israeli aircraft bombed an Iraqi nuclear materials testing reactor at Osirak and was widely criticized at the United Nations. Iraq waged chemical warfare against Iran. In the final stages of Iran–Iraq War, the Ba'athist Iraqi regime led the Al-Anfal Campaign, a genocidal campaign that targeted Iraqi Kurds, and led to the killing of 50,000 – 100,000 civilians.
In August 1990, Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait. This subsequently led to military intervention by United States-led forces in the First Gulf War. The coalition forces proceeded with a bombing campaign targeting military targets and then launched a 100-hour-long ground assault against Iraqi forces in Southern Iraq and those occupying Kuwait.
Iraq's armed forces were devastated during the war and shortly after it ended in 1991, Shia and Kurdish Iraqis led several uprisings against Saddam Hussein's regime, but these were successfully repressed using the Iraqi security forces and chemical weapons. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 people, including many civilians were killed. During the uprisings the US, UK, France and Turkey, claiming authority under UNSCR 688, established the Iraqi no-fly zones to protect Kurdish and Shiite populations from attacks by the Hussein regime's fixed-wing aircraft (but not helicopters).
Iraq was ordered to destroy its chemical and biological weapons and the UN attempted to compel Saddam Hussein's government to disarm and agree to a ceasefire by imposing additional sanctions on the country in addition to the initial sanctions imposed following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The Iraqi Government's failure to disarm and agree to a ceasefire resulted in sanctions which remained in place until 2003. Studies dispute the effects of the sanctions on Iraqi civilians.
During the late 1990s, the U.N. considered relaxing the Iraq sanctions because of the hardships suffered by ordinary Iraqis and attacks on U.S. aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones led to U.S. bombing of Iraq in December 1998.
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks the George W. Bush administration began planning the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's government and in October 2002, the U.S. Congress passed the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq. In November 2002 the UN Security Council passed UNSCR 1441 and in March 2003 the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq.
On March 20, 2003, a United States-organized coalition invaded Iraq, under the pretext that Iraq had failed to abandon its weapons of mass destruction program in violation of U.N. Resolution 687. This claim was based on documents provided by the CIA and British government and were later found to be unreliable.
Following the invasion, the United States established the Coalition Provisional Authority to govern Iraq. In May 2003 L. Paul Bremer, the chief executive of the CPA, issued orders to exclude Baath Party members from the new Iraqi government (CPA Order 1) and to disband the Iraqi Army (CPA Order 2). The decision dissolved the largely Sunni Iraqi Army and excluded many of the country's former government officials from participating in the country's governance, helping to bring about a chaotic post-invasion environment.
Insurgency against the U.S.-led coalition-rule of Iraq began in summer 2003 within elements of the former Iraqi secret police and army who formed guerilla units. In fall 2003, also self-entitled ‘Jihadist’ groups began targeting coalition forces.
The Mahdi Army--a Shia militia created in the summer of 2003 by Muqtada al-Sadr--began to fight Coalition forces in April 2004. 2004 saw Sunni and Shia militants fighting against each other and against the new Iraqi Interim Government installed June 2004, and against Coalition forces, as well as the First Battle of Fallujah in April and Second Battle of Fallujah in November. Sunni militia Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad became Al-Qaeda in Iraq in October 2004 and targeted Coalition forces as well as civilians, mainly Shia Muslims, further exacerbating ethnic tensions.
In January 2005 the first elections since the invasion took place and in October a new Constitution was approved which was followed by parliamentary elections in December. Insurgent attacks were common however and increased to 34,131 in 2005 from 26,496 in 2004.
During 2006 fighting continued and reached its highest levels of violence, more war crimes scandals were made public, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq was killed by U.S. forces and Iraq's former dictator Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity and hanged. In late 2006 the U.S. government's Iraq Study Group recommended that the U.S. begin focusing on training Iraqi military personnel and in January 2007 U.S. President George W. Bush announced a "Surge" in the number of U.S. troops deployed to the country.
In May 2007 Iraq's Parliament called on the United States to set a timetable for withdrawal and U.S. coalition partners such as the UK and Denmark began withdrawing their forces from the country.
In 2008 fighting continued and Iraq's newly trained armed forces launched attacks against militants. The Iraqi government signed the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement which required U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraqi cities by 30 June 2009 and to withdraw completely out of Iraq by 31 December 2011.
U.S. troops handed over security duties to Iraqi forces in June 2009, though they continued to work with Iraqi forces after the pullout. On the morning of 18 December 2011, the final contingent of U.S. troops to be withdrawn ceremonially exited over the border to Kuwait. Crime and violence initially spiked in the months following the US withdrawal from cities in mid-2009 but despite the initial increase in violence, in November 2009, Iraqi Interior Ministry officials reported that the civilian death toll in Iraq fell to its lowest level since the 2003 invasion.
Following the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011 the insurgency continued and Iraq suffered from political instability. In February 2011 the Arab Spring protests spread to Iraq; but the initial protests did not topple the government. The Iraqi National Movement, reportedly representing the majority of Iraqi Sunnis, boycotted Parliament for several weeks in late 2011 and early 2012, claiming that the Shiite-dominated government was striving to sideline Sunnis.
In 2012 and 2013 levels of violence increased and armed groups inside Iraq were increasingly galvanised by the Syrian Civil War. Both Sunnis and Shias crossed the border to fight in Syria. In December 2012, mainly Sunni Arabs protested against the government who they claimed marginalized them.
During 2013 Sunni militant groups stepped up attacks targeting the Iraq's Shia population in an attempt to undermine confidence in the Nouri al-Maliki-led government. In 2014 Sunni insurgents belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist group seized control of large swathes of land including several major Iraqi cities, like Tikrit, Fallujah and Mosul creating hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons amid reports of atrocities by ISIL fighters.
After an inconclusive election in April 2014, Nouri al-Maliki served as caretaker-Prime-Minister.
On 11 August, Iraq’s highest court ruled that PM Maliki’s bloc is biggest in parliament, meaning Maliki could stay Prime Minister. By 13 August, however, the Iraqi president had tasked Haider al-Abadi with forming a new government, and the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and some Iraqi politicians expressed their wish for a new leadership in Iraq, for example from Haider al-Abadi. Maliki on 14 August stepped down as PM, to support Mr al-Abadi and to “safeguard the high interests of the country”. The U.S. government welcomed this as “another major step forward” in uniting Iraq. On September 9, 2014, Haider al-Abadi had formed a new government and became the new prime minister.