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History of Iraq from Past to Present

The statue of former president Saddam Hussein is being torn down. Photo HH, april 2003
The statue of former president Saddam Hussein is being torn down. Photo HH, april 2003

Iraq was the first land to come up with agriculture in the 9th millennium BC. This land is also considered as a one the earliest cradle of human civilization, as civilization backs to 5000 BC. Furthermore, Iraq was a vital part of the greatest empires over history, before becoming a main part of the Islamic world in the 7th century.

By the end of the 4th millennium BC, writing was invented in Mesopotamia; something that allowed Iraq to secure steady civilizational advancements.

Cradle of civilization (2371 BC – 627 AD)

The Early Dynastic period started in Iraq with the Sumerians (the country’s native populace) in 2800 BC. Before turning into a sprawling unified kingdom, lived in a “City-State” era.

The Early Dynastic period ended when Sargon of Akkad unifying Iraq into a single kingdom (2371 BC- 2316 BC). Since then, the middle and southern sections of this kingdom was called “Sumer and Akkad”.

During these two epochs, literature and mythology were introduced in this land. This applies also to managing grassroots’ affairs, including commercial transactions and personal status affairs. In addition to the expansion of agriculture, Iraq was able to secure the start of urban life and mining. This applies also to crafting wheeled carts, plows, and sailing ships.

The Sumerian rule moved to Ur. In this city, King Ur-Nammu established the Third dynasty of Ur. Ur-Nammu’s era is considered one of Iraq’s glorious one. This era was the last one in the Sumerians’ political life (2113 BC – 2006 BC).

At the beginning of the second millennium BC (1894 BC- 1595 BC), Iraq was ruled by the First Babylonian Dynasty. This dynasty was marked by its 6th king Hammurabi (1728 BC – 1894 BC), whose conquests reached Mesopotamia northern region and to other Fertile Crescent areas. One of the Hammurabi’s milestones is enacting a unified legislation all over the kingdom (Known as Code of Hammurabi).

The Assyrians established their kingdom north of Iraq, using a military force that dominated the ancient history population for many centuries afterward. Shalmaneser I (1266 BC – 1243 BC) is considered among the greatest kings of that era.

By the middle of the 8th century, a new era in the Assyrians’ history started when Tiglath-Pileser III ascended the throne (745 BC – 727 BC). Unifying Babylonia and Assyria into a single kingdom was his greatest achievement.

King Sargon II (737 BC – 705 BC) was one of this epoch’s most prominent kings. His achievements include building a new capital, eliminating the Northern Kingdom of Samaria in 721 BC, in addition to breaking the alliance held between the pharos and the small states in Palestine and Syria.

Ashurbanipal (668 BC – 626 BC) is the most intellectual king in this era. He collected the books that enabled us to know the different aspects of the ancient civilization of Iraq.

In the Neo-Babylonian era, the Babylonian civilization witnessed its most glorious periods during the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar II (604 BC – 562 BC). The books he left behind were the only ones to provide information about building and construction in the major cities of Iraq.

Nebuchadnezzar II were succeeded by a bunch of weak kings. The last one was king Nabonidus (555 BC – 539 BC). With the deterioration of people’s circumstances, this empire was finally ended with Babylonia’s fall against the Achaemenids’ king Cyrus the Great in 539 BC. For centuries afterward, Iraq’s civilization has fallen with its glories and knowledge. Until the advent of Islam, this country became an easy prey for Seleucids, Parthians, Romans and Sassanids.

From the Advent of Islam to the Abbasids (627 – 750)

In the early 7th century, Iraq was a territory in the Persian Sasanian Empire. In 627 – 628, the Byzantines  invaded Iraq. Afterwards, a period of infighting between the generals and members of the royal family has followed.

In 637, Muslims defeated the Persian army in the  battle of al-Qadisiyyah. By the end of the following year (638), Muslims were able to conquer almost all of Iraq. The last Sasanian king Yazdegerd III fled to Iran, where he was killed in 651.

The Islamic Conquest was followed by a mass migration of Arabs from the eastern Arabian Peninsula and Oman. Iraq became a vassal of an Islamic Caliphate that spread from North Africa and Spain in the west, to Sindh (South of Pakistan) in the east. When the 3rd Caliph Othman ibn Affan was murdered in 656, Ali bin Abi Talib succeeded him, turning Kufa into the capital of the Caliphate. In 661, Ali was murdered in Kufa, and the Caliphate moved to the competing Umayyad dynasty in Syria.

Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf was the first Umayyad governor of Iraq. Al-Hajjaj faced the opposing parties with tyranny and killing many people.

Iraq witnessed many revolts during the Umayyad rule. In 739, Zayd ibn Ali led a revolt against the Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik. The Umayyad reign in Iraq came to an end after the defeat of the Umayyad Caliph against the Abbasid armies in the Battle of Zab (750).

Abbasid Caliphate (750 – 1258)

After the Caliphate capital was moved from Damascus to Baghdad. during the rule of the Caliph Al-Ma’mun (813 -833), Iraq became a center of great cultural activity. However, the country was overwhelmed by mass chaos when Caliph Al-Mutawakil was assassinated in 861. This resulted in an open civil war between Samarra and Baghdad in 865, ending with a destructive siege on Baghdad.

In 870, stability was restored by the Caliph al-Muʿtaṣim biʾllāh in Samarra. Once again, Iraq became unified under the Abbasids (892 – 908) during the rule of Al-Mu’tadid bi-llah and his son. However, stability has relapsed during the reign of Al-Muqtadir bi-llah (908 – 932).

Despite all of what happened, the Abbasid Caliphate continued in Iraq until 1258 (Abdullah Al-Muʿtaṣim biʾllāh’s reign).

After a long war with the Abbasids, Mosul (the new capital) failed in resisting the Mongols. Mosul was besieged for more than a year. In 1261, the Mongols were able to invade the city.

From Ottoman to present time (1534-2020)

Iraq witnessed long decades of conflict until the Safavid invasion (1508 – 1534). Iraq became a part of the Ottoman Empire (1534 – 1918) until Britain seized power.

Iraq acquired its independence in 1932, then went through a chain of military coups until Saddam Hussein became a president in 1979.

Iraq fought a long border war with Iran during the period between 1980 and 1988. Two years later, Iraq invaded Kuwait, which put Iraq face to face with the international community.

After a long period of sanctions, American-led international alliance invaded Iraq in 2003. Saddam was arrested at the end of the same year, to be executed in December 2006.

Ever since, Iraq still goes through a state of instability, despite having different government successions. This is due to the internal sectarian conflicts, in addition to the international and territorial power struggles.

Further Reading

The territory of Iraq largely coincides with the basin of the Dishla and Furat, otherwise known as the Tigris and Euphrates. From antiquity this region has been called Mesopotamia, Greek for ‘Land between Two Rivers’. Over the...
The Kingdom of Iraq was proclaimed in 1932, it will last until 1958 when King Faysal II was murdered, marking the end of the Hashemite dynasty.
A group of 'Free Officers' under the leadership of Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim carried out a military coup on 14 July 1958, causing the end of the Hashemite monarchy and proclaiming the beginning of the Republic of Iraq.
On 8 February 1963 Qasim's government was overthrown in a military coup by Baathist and other officers aligned with Arab nationalism.
Under Saddam's leadership, Iraq had, since 1968, been transformed into a police state, and he had become the most powerful man in the regime.
After the fall of the Shah in 1979 Saddam Hussein's regime hoped to fill the regional power vacuum that had been created in Iran and initiated a war that lasted until 1988.
Saddam Hussein's regime, on 2 August 1990, ordered the invasion of Kuwait in order to remedy the economic problems created by the war. During the Kuwait crisis the United Nations took a remarkably unified stand. Many saw in this...
After its military victory in Kuwait, the US gave priority to dismantling Iraq's stocks and production facilities of weapons of mass destruction. When republican President George W. Bush took office in January 2001, things picked ...
The US and Britain proceeded to attack Iraq without the approval of the Security Council after months of unproductive negotiationsat at the United Nations. The official arguments to convince the outside world, both in Washington a...
The fall of the Saddam Hussein regime was followed by a US-British occupation, backed by a military force of about 150,000. The UN Security Council quickly accepted the new situation: its Resolution 1483 (22 May 2003) legitimized...

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