Short History of Iraq

Short History of Iraq

Short History of Iraq

Short History of Iraq


This accessible guide has been fully updated to take into account the Iraq War and subsequent developments, whilst retaining its character as a non-partisan and approachable text for students and interested readers alike.

The twentieth century witnessed the transformation of the area known currently as Iraq from a backward region of the Ottoman Empire, to one of the most important and dynamic states in the Middle East. The rise of modern Iraq has its roots in the second half of the nineteenth century when Ottoman reforms led to gradual state modernization and increasing integration in the World Economy. British control after World War I was one of the determining factors in the establishment of the current borders of the country and the nature of its subsequent national identity. The other important factor was the highly heterogeneous nature of Iraqi society being divided along tribal, ethnic, religious, and sectarian lines.

This book focuses on the interaction between the old and the new, or between continuity and change, as it is manifested in the nature of social development, nation-building, the state and the political opposition.

An entirely new chapter focusing on the recent conflict has been added, and will contain sections on:

The new chapter will have the following sections:

  • The Question of American Intervention
  • Invasion and the Fall of Saddam
  • Looting & the Collapse of the Central State
  • The Provisional Authority's Reforms
  • The Nature of the Resistance
  • Iraq's New Political Reality
  • Elections and the Rise of Sectarian Parties
  • Social-Economic Transformations
  • The Challenge of the Future.


This book presents a concise survey of the main events and important transformations that occurred in Iraq from the Arab conquest of the seventh century to the American-led occupation and establishment of an elected government, with greater emphasis on the modern period. Its primary focus is the struggle of the country’s diverse peoples to coexist in an unstable region. While the Tigris and Euphrates rivers formed a strong basis for social unity, the country’s central location and potential wealth have attracted numerous invasions and migrations which constantly upset the social balance. It is also situated between the Persian and Mediterranean culture zones, both of which have had a profound influence on Iraqi society and constantly caused the country to shift its orientation between east and west.

The term “Iraq” has referred to different areas at different times. During most of the period covered by this book, “Arab Iraq” was understood to include the lands between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers from around the region of Tikrit in the north down to the Persian Gulf in the south. To simplify matters in this work, the term “Iraq” will cover all the lands of the modern Iraqi state, which was born in 1921. The Arab conquest of this land is taken as the starting point because it introduced two of the most important defining features of Iraqi society today. The first, the Arabic language, later formed the foundation of an Arab national identity. Though it eventually became dominant, the Arabic language did not completely eliminate all linguistic or ethnic identities like Kurdish, Assyrian and Turkoman. The second, the Islamic religion, also came to dominate Iraqi society without eradicating religious diversity. Islam, in fact, introduced a new level of diversity in the form of its two rival Sunni and Shiʿi branches.

Chapter One examines how Iraq emerged from the fall of the Persian Empire to re-establish its position as the centre of a new prosperous empire. Up to the mid-tenth century, Iraq’s governing group came from predominantly Arab or Arabized elements. From about 950 to the early twentieth . . .

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