Iraq (ee RAHK) is an Arab republic in southwestern Asia which is slightly larger than California. Iraq is bordered by Kuwait, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The country slopes from mountains over 3,000 meters (10,000 ft.) above sea level along the border with Iran and Turkey to the remnants of sea-level marshes in the southeast. Much of the land is desert or wasteland. The mountains in the northeast are an extension of the alpine system that runs eastward from the Balkans into southern Turkey, northern Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, terminating in the Himalayas.
Average temperatures range from higher than 48°C (120°F) in July and August to below freezing in January. Most of the rainfall occurs from December through April and averages between 10 and 18 centimeters (4-7 in.) annually. The mountainous region of northern Iraq receives appreciably more precipitation than the central or southern desert region.
Almost 75% of Iraq's population lives in the flat, alluvial plain stretching southeast from Baghdad and Basrah to the Persian Gulf. The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers carry about 70 million cubic meters of silt annually to the delta. Known in ancient times as Mesopotamia, the region is the legendary locale of the Garden of Eden. The ruins of Ur, Babylon, and other ancient cities are located in Iraq.
Iraq's two largest ethnic groups are Arabs and Kurds. Other distinct groups include Turcoman, Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Armenians. Arabic is the most commonly spoken language. Kurdish is spoken in the north, and English is the most commonly spoken Western language.
The majority (60%-65%) of Iraqi Muslims are members of the Shi'a sect, but there is a large (32-37%) Sunni population as well, made up of both Arabs and Kurds. Most Kurds are Sunni Muslim but differ from their Arab neighbors in language and customs. Communities of Christians, Mandaeans, and Yezidis also exist. Iraq's once-substantial Jewish community has almost completely disappeared from the country.
The Iran-Iraq war ended with Iraq sustaining the largest military structure in the Middle East, with more than 70 divisions in its army and an air force of over 700 modern aircraft. In August 1990 Iraqi troops occupied Kuwait. The United Nations passed 12 resolutions and urged Iraq to leave Kuwait by 15 January 1991, but to no avail. United States and multi-national forces were rushed into Saudi-Arabia in response to an urgent call from the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
On 16 January 1991 the Gulf War started with thousands of bombing raids in an effort to evict Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi forces from Kuwait. On 23 February 1991 the ground war started; it ended in a US and multi-national forces victory after 100 hours fighting by ground forces. Kuwait was liberated and fighting erupted between Iraqi troops and Shiite and Kurd rebels. Losses during the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and subsequent expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991 by a UN coalition resulted in the reduction of Iraq's ground forces to 23 divisions and air force to less than 300 aircraft.
Citing Iraq's failure to comply with UN inspections, a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in March-April 2003 and removed the Ba'ath regime, leading to the overthrow of the dictator Saddam Hussein. (Following his capture in December 2003 and subsequent trial, Saddam Hussein was executed on December 30, 2006 by the Government of Iraq.) The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) assumed security and administrative responsibility for Iraq while Iraqi political leaders and the Iraqi people established a transitional administration. The CPA's mission was to restore conditions of security and stability and to create conditions in which the Iraqi people could freely determine their own political future. The UN Security Council acknowledged the authority of the Coalition Provisional Authority and provided a role for the UN and other parties to assist in fulfilling these objectives.
In April 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority officially dissolved the Iraqi military and Ministry of Defense. On August 7, 2003, the CPA established the New Iraqi Army as the first step toward the creation of the national self-defense force of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. The CPA disbanded on June 28, 2004, transferring sovereign authority for governing Iraq to the Iraqi Interim Government (IIG). The U.S. Forces-Iraq Assistance and Training Assistance Mission (A&T) mans, trains, and equips Iraq's security forces. The Ministry of Interior, with the help of A&T, is training and equipping civilian police forces to establish security and stability. Initially under the command and control of the Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I) command, in 2006 police and Iraqi Army units began to transition to Iraqi control.
By November 2007, all of the original 10 Iraq Army divisions had completed the transfer to Iraq Ground Forces Command. The process of transferring provinces to Provincial Iraqi Control (PIC) began in July 2007, when Muthanna became the first province where Iraq Security Forces took the leading role of security in a province. By December 31, 2008 all provinces had transferred to PIC. U.S. forces remained in Iraq under a UN Security Council mandate until December 31, 2008, and under the bilateral Security Agreement thereafter, helping to provide security and to support the freely elected government. On June 31, 2009, , in accordance with the bilateral Security Agreement, U.S. forces withdrew from Iraqi cities, villages, and localities, in accordance with the Security Agreement. On August 31, 2010, President Barack Obama announced the end of major combat operations, the completion of the withdrawal of all U.S. combat brigades, and the transition of the role of the remaining U.S. military force of 50,000 troops to advising and assisting Iraqi security forces. By December 31, 2011, all U.S. military forces will withdraw from the country.
Despite great improvements in 2010, Iraq can be a dangerous place. Violence against both foreigners and Iraqis persists, and the threat of attacks against U.S. citizens and facilities remains high. In addition, roads and other public areas continue to be dangerous for Iraqi or foreign travelers. Law enforcement is strengthening as new Iraqi police units continue to be trained and deployed. Attacks against military and civilian targets throughout Iraq continue, including indirect fire attacks in the International Zone. In addition, planned and random killings have occurred, as well as extortions and kidnappings. U.S. citizens and other foreigners, as well as Iraqi officials and citizens, have been targeted by insurgent groups and opportunistic criminals for kidnapping and murder.
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