November 25, 2012 6:52 pm

In 2003, the world’s attention became focused on Iraq. That’s when the United States invaded the country to overthrow Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein. American leaders said Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” and was a threat to the rest of the world. No such weapons were found. But Hussein’s rule ended, and he was captured by U.S. troops.
Facts About Iraq
Official name
Republic of Iraq
Official language
28,200,000 people
Rank among countries in population
Major cities
Baghdad, Mosul, Al Basrah
169,000 square miles
438,000 square kilometers
Rank among countries in area
Highest point
Mt. Haji Ibrahim
11,834 feet/3,607 meters
Iraqi dinar
Iraq is a country in the Middle East. Much of Iraq is desert. Enormous deposits of oil lie beneath the desert. Oil forms the basis of Iraq’s economy. But wars since 1980 have destroyed much of the country’s oil production.
Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq in 1979. He had total control and allowed no opposition to his policies. Hussein wanted Iraq to play a leading role in the Middle East. He took many risks.
Hussein led Iraq into a war with its neighbor Iran. The destructive and costly Iran-Iraq War dragged on from 1980 to 1988. Neither side gained anything from it. But Iraq had borrowed money and came out of the war deeply in debt.
Iraq’s debts led to the Persian Gulf War. Iraq needed income from oil to repay its debts. In 1990, Hussein sent Iraqi forces into neighboring Kuwait during a dispute over oil. This invasion started the Persian Gulf War. The United States led military forces that drove Iraq out of Kuwait. Iraq suffered heavy damage from bombing during the war.
After the Persian Gulf War, most countries stopped doing business with Iraq. The country became very poor. Life became extremely hard for most Iraqis.
United States leaders still considered Hussein and Iraq a threat. The United States claimed that Iraq was hiding illegal weapons. In March 2003, U.S. forces supported by Britain and other countries invaded Iraq. They bombed Baghdad and other cities in Iraq. Today, Iraqis are struggling to rebuild their shattered country.
Oil has shaped modern Iraq. But water shaped the early history of this land. Two important rivers run through the country, the Tigris and the Euphrates. In ancient times, the land between these rivers was called Mesopotamia.
The Tigris and Euphrates brought soil down from mountains in northern Iraq. Over time, this fertile soil spread over the river valleys. This made Mesopotamia an easy region to farm. Early settlers in the river valleys built canals from the rivers to water their crops.
About 5,000 years ago, villages along these rivers began growing into cities. The more powerful cities conquered other cities and built ever-bigger empires. A number of ancient civilizations flourished in Mesopotamia. They made many advances in literature, law, and science.
Baghdad is the biggest city in Iraq and the country’s capital. From the mid-700s to the mid-1200s, Baghdad ranked as a great center of trade and culture.
Have you heard the story of Aladdin and his magic lamp? Or of Sindbad the Sailor and his seven voyages? These stories come from a book called the Arabian Nights. Many of the stories are set in Baghdad, in the court of ruler Harun ar-Rashid.
Baghdad grew important with the spread of a new religion called Islam. Islam developed in nearby Arabia during the ad 600s. The followers of Islam built a huge empire. In 762, the capital of this empire moved to Baghdad.
Karbala, one of the holiest cities of Islam, is located in central Iraq. Karbala is sacred to members of the Shia branch of Islam. Most Iraqis belong to this branch. Every year, Shia pilgrims flock to Karbala to honor the death of Husayn, one of their early leaders. Husayn was the grandson of the prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam. Husayn was killed at Karbala.
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