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A Conflict Overseas

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What was once a prosperous home to regal kings and vocatious merchants is now the primary battlefield in the war against terror.. The continued fighting between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims, as well as an ongoing war between the United States and remnants of Saddam Hussein's Iraq has taken a heavy toll on the country. But is all the news coming out of Iraq bad? Is the situation constantly getting worse? Or are there signs of hope beginning to emerge from the rubble?

Iraq: Pre-Colonial

Iraq has had its troubles between its two major religious groups since history has been recorded. During Iraq's pre-colonial ages there were constant disputes between Sunni's and Shi'ites over land and general rule. These battles continued through the entire pre-colonial era of Iraq. In the late 9th and 10th centuries, Iraq was the last remnant of a caliph state that at one time ruled the entire middle-eastern provinces as one. In the year 945, Iraq entered the dynasty known as the Buyids, its residents were identified Shi'ites. "The line was founded by the three sons of Buyeh (or Buwayh), 'Ali, Hasan, and Ahmad. This dynasty lasted until the Turkish Conquest."

Iraq and its Struggles as a Colony

From the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, the course of Iraqi history was affected by the continuing conflicts between the Safavid Empire in Iran and the Ottoman Turks. The Safavids, who were the first to declare Shia Islam the official religion of Iran, sought to control Iraq both because of the Shia holy places at An Najaf and Karbala and because Baghdad, the seat of the old Abbasid Empire, had great symbolic value. The Ottomans, fearing that Shia Islam would spread to Anatolia (Asia Minor), sought to maintain Iraq as a Sunni-controlled buffer state. In 1509 the Safavids, led by Ismail Shah (1502-24), conquered Iraq, thereby initiating a series of protracted battles with the Ottomans. In 1514 Sultan Selim the Grim attacked Ismail's forces and in 1535 the Ottomans, led by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-66), conquered Baghdad from the Safavids. The Safavids reconquered Baghdad in 1623 under the leadership of Shah Abbas (1587-1629), but they were expelled in 1638 after a series of brilliant military maneuvers by the dynamic Ottoman sultan, Murad IV. The introduction of Western disciplines in the schools accompanied a greater Western political and economic presence in Iraq. The British had established a consulate at Baghdad in 1802, and a French consulate followed shortly thereafter. European interest in modernizing Iraq to facilitate Western commercial interests coincided with the Ottoman reforms. Steamboats appeared on the rivers in 1836, the telegraph was introduced in 1861, and the Suez Canal was opened in 1869, providing Iraq with greater access to European markets. The landowning tribal shaykhs began to export cash crops to the capitalist markets of the West. Turkish rule was maintained until Mid-WWI, when the Ottoman Empire sided with Germany and the central powers. The Ottomans were driven back by the United Kingdom. The British then maintained control of Iraq until 1932, when they granted them full independence. The time of British occupancy was very peaceful as Iraq was maintained as a colony. However in 1932 when full independence was achieved British forces maintained bases in Iraq. British forces invaded Iraq again in 1941, for fears that the government of Rashid Ali might cut oil supplies to Western nations. A military occupation followed which ended with WWII in October of 1947.

Iraqi Struggles for Independence

The Hashemite monarchy was reinstalled by the British and lasted until 1958, when it was overthrown through a coup d'etat by the Iraqi army, known as the 14 July Revolution. The coup brought Brigadier General Abdul Karim Qassim's government to power (which withdrew from the Baghdad Pact and established friendly relations with the Soviet Union) from 1958 till 1963. In 1963, he was overthrown by Colonel Abdul Salam Arif. Salam Arif died in 1966 and his brother, Abdul Rahman Arif, assumed the presidency. In 1968, Rahman Arif was overthrown by the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party led by General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr. The Ba'ath's ruling clique named Saddam Hussein vice-chairman of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council and vice president of Iraq. In 1979 Hussein acceded to the presidency and took control of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), Iraq's supreme executive decision making body, executing many of his opponents in the process.

Saddam Hussein's rule lasted throughout the devastating Iran-Iraq War (1980Ð'-1988); the al-Anfal campaign of the late 1980s, which led to the death of thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq. Hussein is now on trial for killing over 100 Shi'ites. Not only did Saddam kill his rivals; he was extremely cruel in doing so, often torturing prisoner and mutilating their bodies. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 resulting in the first Gulf War; and the ensuing United Nations economic sanctions ostensibly designed as leverage to press for Iraqi disarmament. During the period of the sanctions the U.S. and the U.K. declared no-fly zones over Kurdish northern and Shiite southern Iraq to protect the Kurds and southern Shiites.

Iraq was invaded and occupied in March 2003 by the United States and allies, who established a Coalition Provisional Authority to govern Iraq. Government authority was transferred by the U.S. led "Coalition Authority" to the Iraqi Interim Government in 2004, although over 140,000 U.S. and allied troops remain in the country, which fostered accusations among critics that Iraq was an American puppet state.

Elections were held in May 2005 for the Iraq Transitional Government, and then in December 2005 to elect a permanent government for 2006-2010. Sunnis are becoming violent due to their low impact role in the new government. "Of the 275 seats up for grabs in the parliament, religious Shiites are expected to win about half with Kurds taking another quarter. The rest will be divided among nationalist parties and Sunni Arabs. Which means they're not likely to have a major impact on the makeup of the new government. Which is why some Sunnis are already rejecting the results. So the question becomes can these factions move beyond their party lines and form a government which would unite all of Iraq's warring ethnic tribes." Insurgencies, frequent terrorist attacks and sectarian violence has plagued the country since the coalition's invasion and have gotten even worse since the May elections.

Iraq's Present Day Conflict




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