Iraq History

The Cradle of Civilisation

In ancient times the land area now known as modern Iraq was almost equivalent to Mesopotamia, the land between the two rivers (Tigris and Euphrates). This region is known as the Cradle of Civilisation, for it was here in about 4000BC that the Sumerian culture flourished. Land was cultivated for the first time, early calendars were used and the first written alphabet was invented here. Ur of the Chaldees was a great and famous Sumerian city, dating from this time.

After the collapse of this civilisation, the people were reunited in 1700BC by King Hammurabi of Babylon, and the country flourished under the name of Babylonia. On Hammurabi's death, the land was under Assyrian rule for about two centuries. It was then restored to its former Babylonian glory under Nebuchadnezzar II, who built the famous Hanging Gardens, and made Babylon the most famous city of the ancient world.

 Various invaders conquered the land after Nebuchadnezzar's death, including Cyrus the Great in 539BC and Alexander the Great in 331BC. In the second century BC, it became part of the Persian Empire, remaining thus until the 7th century AD, when it was captured by Arab Muslims (Abbasids). The capital was moved to Baghdad which became an important commercial and cultural centre in the Middle Ages.

Mongol invaders in AD1258 sacked Baghdad and murdered the Abbasid caliph. After much conflict over supremacy, the country was conquered by the Turks in the 17th century and became part of the Ottoman Empire. Turkish rule continued unchecked, and with very little development, until the end of the 19th century. Minirate  

 British influence

During the First World War, Turkey became a German ally and its empire collapsed when British forces invaded Mesopotamia in 1917 and occupied Baghdad.

The country became a British Mandate -- due, in no small part, to the British interest in Iraqi oil-fields -- and an armistice was signed with Turkey in 1918. Local unrest, however, resulted in an Arab uprising in 1920, and after costly attempts to quell this, the British government decided to draw up a new plan for the state of Iraq. It was to be a kingdom, under the rule of Emir Faisal, and, although the monarch was elected by plebiscite in 1921, full independence was not achieved until 1932, when the British Mandate was officially terminated. Iraq joined the League of Nations in the October of that year, and was officially recognised as an independent sovereign state. On Faisal's death in 1933, he was succeeded by his son, King Ghazi I.

Three years later, Ghazi was killed in a road accident and was succeeded by his three-year-old son, Faisal II, under a regency. Faisal, the cousin of Jordan's present King Hussein, did not assume the throne formally until his eighteenth birthday, in May 1953.

During the earlier part of World War II, Iraq's government was strongly pro-British, but a military revolt in 1941 resulted in British troops landing at Basra in 1941. The ensuing war between Britain and Iraq lasted less than a month, before Iraq conceded defeat, and a new, pro-British government was established. In the following year Iraq became an important Middle Eastern supply centre for American and British forces, particularly with regard to the trans-shipment of arms to the USSR.