Iraq (Mesopotamia) is the land which lies between the rivers Euphrates and Tigres in the Middle East. The area was devastated by the Mongols in the 15th century and in 1638 became part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

During the First World War people from Iraq served with the Turkish Army. In 1916, important figures such as Faisal ibn Ali and Nuri es-Said changed sides and began working closely with T. E. Lawrence. Faisal ibn Ali became the leading Arab military commander and led the troops into Damascus on 3rd October 1918.

After the war the country was occupied by the British Army. In 1920 the League of Nations granted Britain a mandate to control the area. Britain provided Iraq with a constitution and arranged for Faisal ibn Ali, the son of Sharif Husain of Mecca, to become king of Iraq.

Winston Churchill, Minister of War and Air, estimated that around 25,000 British and 80,000 Indian troops would be needed to control Iraq. However, he argued that if Britain relied on air power, you could cut these numbers to 4,000 (British) and 10,000 (Indian). The government was convinced by this argument and it was decided to send the recently formed Royal Air Force to Iraq.

An uprising of more than 100,000 armed tribesmen took place in 1920. Over the next few months the RAF dropped 97 tons of bombs killing 9,000 Iraqis. This failed to end the resistance and Arab and Kurdish uprisings continued to pose a threat to British rule. Churchill suggested that chemical weapons should be used "against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment." He added "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes to spread a lively terror" in Iraq.

In 1923 Squadron Leader Arthur Harris took command of 45 Squadron. He decided to use gas attacks and delayed action bombs on the Iraqi tribes. One RAF officer, Air Commodore Lional Charlton, resigned in 1924 after visiting a hospital that contained civilian victims of these air raids. However, Harris disagreed and remarked "the only thing the Arab understands is the heavy hand."

The mandate came to an end in October, 1932 when Iraq entered the League of Nations as an independent state. However, Britain bound Iraq closely to the British Empire by a 25 year military alliance. Britain retained military bases in Iraq and exerted a strong political influence in the country. This included ensuring that the concession for oil exploration and exploitation to the Iraq Petroleum Company, a conglomerate of British, French and United States interests.

During the 1930s there were seven military coups. These all failed but Faisal I rule came to an end when he was killed in a car accident in 1939. He was now replaced by Faisal II and as he was only four years old his uncle, Emir Abd al-llah, became regent.

During the Second World War Arab nationalists established close links with Germany in an attempt to gain Iraq independence. Rashid Ali set up a pro-German government in Baghdad and in May 1941 the British Army invaded Iraq and remained until October 1947.

The Jewish state of Israel was established on 14th May 1948 when the British mandate over Palestine came to an end. The neighbouring Arab states, including Iraq, refused to recognize Israel and invaded the country on the 15th May. The war came to an end in March 1949. By the time the cease-fire took place Israel had increased the control of its land by a quarter.

The British continued to give its support to the government of Faisal II and Nuri Es-Said in Iraq. The Baghdad Pact, an agreement on collective security between the two countries, was signed in 1955.

Faisal's rule was destabilized by the events of the Suez Crisis. On 26th July 1956 Gamal Abdel Nasser, the president of Egypt, announced he intended to nationalize the Suez Canal. The shareowners, the majority of whom were from Britain and France, were promised compensation. Nasser argued that the revenues from the Suez Canal would help to finance the Aswan Dam.

Anthony Eden, the British prime minister, feared that Nasser intended to form an Arab Alliance that would cut off oil supplies to Europe. On 21st October Guy Mollet, Anthony Eden and David Ben-Gurion met in secret to discuss the problem. During these talks it was agreed to make a joint attack on Egypt.

On 29th October 1956, the Israeli Army, led by General Moshe Dayan, invaded Egypt. Two days later British and French bombed Egyptian airfields. British and French troops landed at Port Said at the northern end of the Suez Canal on 5th November. By this time the Israelis had captured the Sinai peninsula.

Although Iraq was a close ally of Britain, King Faisal, under pressure from his own population, was forced to give his support to Egypt in the war. However, he upset Arab nationalists in 1958 when he opposed the plan to establish the United Arab Republic of Egypt and Syria.

In July 1958, King Faisal II and his entire household were assassinated during a military coup.Nuri Es-Said attempted to escape from Baghdad disguised as a woman but he was captured and executed on 14th July, 1958.

As a result of the Iraqi Revolution, the Arab nationalist, Abdul Karim Kassem, became the country's new leader and in 1959 Iraq withdrew from the Baghdad Pact. In 1961 the Kurds, located in northern Iraq, staged a revolt and demanded independence from Baghdad.

Kassem's moderate policies lost him the support of the Ba'ath Party and he was executed after a military coup in February 1963. Colonel Abd al-Salam Aref became the new president and Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr served as prime minister. As well as nationalizing the oil industry the new government developed close links with Gamal Abdel Nasser and his government in Egypt. Ahmad Hasan al Bakr left the government later that year when right-wing military leaders ousted the Ba'ath Party from power.

When Abd al-Salam Aref was killed in an air crash on 13th April 1966 he was replaced by his brother General Abdul Rahman. Another military coup on 17th July 1968 brought to power Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr. He quickly nationalized the Iraq Petroleum Company and introduced wide-ranging social and economic reforms.

Over the next ten years Saddam Hussein held several important political posts in the government. This included Deputy Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (1968-1979).The Ba'ath Party government ruthlessly suppressed opposition but it did agree to enter negotiations with the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP). In March 1970 the government promised to grant the Kurds a degree of autonomy.

On 6th October 1973, Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a surprise attack on Israel. Two days later the Egyptian Army crossed the Suez Canal while Syrian troops entered the Golan Heights. Iraq joined in the Arab-Israeli War but was defeated when Israeli troops counter-attacked on 8th October. Iraq was able to hurt the Western economy when it participated in the oil boycott against Israel's supporters.

It gradually became clear to the Kurdish Democratic Party that Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr was not going to keep his promises about Kurdish autonomy. In the spring 1974 fighting broke out between the Kurds and the government's armed forces. In March 1975 Iran closed its border with Iraq which led to the collapse of the Kurdish military force. Kurdish villages were destroyed and their inhabitants resettled in specially constructed villages surrounded by barbed wire and fortified posts.

Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr also suppressed non-Kurds in Iraq. In July 1978 a decree was passed which made all non-Ba'thist political activity illegal and membership of any other political party punishable by death for all those who were members or former members of the armed forces.

In July 1979 Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr resigned and was replaced by Saddam Hussein. In the next few months Saddam Hussein swiftly executed his political rivals. Increasing oil revenues allowed him to increase spending on the building of schools, hospitals and clinics. He also established a literacy project that won him a Unesco award.

Another important reform was a massive programme to bring electricity to Iraq. This was followed by a huge nationwide distribution of free fridges and television sets. He also improved the status of women and by the late 1970s they were a major part of the workforce.

A student of dictators such as Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein arranged for portraits and statues to be placed all over the country. He also created the Republican Guard, an elite presidential security force.

In 1980 Saddam Hussein launched a war against Iran in an attempt to gain control of the Shatt al Arab Waterway, that runs along the border of both countries. During the war Iraq received support from the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and France.

In an effort to gain their independence from Iraq, the Kurds supported Iran during the war. Saddam Hussein retaliated and in the spring of 1988 the Iraq air force responded with poison gas, causing 5,000 deaths. As a result of these raids thousands fled to Turkey.

Iraq agreed to a cease-fire in July 1988. It is estimated that the Iraq-Iran War caused the deaths of 400,000 deaths and around 750,000 seriously injured. Of these casualties, three-quarters were Iranian.

Disillusioned by his rule, a group of soldiers in the Iraq Army attempted to overthrow Saddam Hussein in December 1989. The military coup failed and Saddam Hussein ordered the execution of 19 senior army officers.

It is estimated that Saddam Hussein spent around $5 billion a year on military rearmament. This created serious economic problems and began to consider the possibility of capturing the Rumaila oilfield in northern Kuwait. On 2nd August 1990 Saddam Hussein ordered an invasion of Kuwait.

The United Nations immediately impose economic sanctions on Iraq and demanded an immediate withdrawal from Kuwait. In January 1991 a United States led coalition of 32 countries launch an attack on Iraq. Operation Desert Storm is a great success and after Iraq left Kuwait President George H. W. Bush was able to declare a cease-fire on 28th February.

In April 1991 Saddam Hussein agreed to accept the UN resolution calling on him to destroy weapons of mass destruction. He was also forced to allow UN inspectors into his country to monitor the disarmament. A no-fly zone was established in Northern Iraq to protect the Kurds from Saddam Hussein. The following year a no-fly zone was also created to protect the Shiite population living near Kuwait and Iran.

In April 1995, the UN Security Council passed an "oil-for-food" resolution. This allowed Iraq to export oil in exchange for humanitarian aid. However, this resolution was not accepted by Saddam Hussein until 1996.

The UN disarmament commission reported in October 1996 that Iraq continued to conceal information on biological and chemical weapons and missiles. Two months later Iraq suspended all cooperation with the UN inspectors.

In December 1998 the United States and Britain launched Operation Desert Fox, a four day intensive air strike that attempted to destroy Iraq command centres, missile factories and airfields. The following month U.S. and British bombers begin regular bombing attacks on Iraq. Over a 100 air strikes took place in 1999 and continued regularly over the next few years.

By the end of the 20th century Iraq had a population of around 18 million people. The official language is Arabic but about 15 per cent of the population speak Kurdish. The south of Iraq is populated mainly by Shia Muslims and the centre, west and north of Iraq are mainly Sunni Muslims. An estimated 23 per cent of the population are Kurds. They are mainly based in the north and the north-west.

Primary Sources

(1) Wing Commander J. A. Chamier, writing about the bombing tactics of the Royal Air Force in Iraq (1921)

The best way to demoralise local people was to concentrate bombing on the most inaccessible village of the most prominent tribe which it is desired to punish. All available aircraft must be collected the attack with bombs and machine guns must be relentless and unremitting and carried on continuously by day and night, on houses, inhabitants, crops and cattle.

(2) Squadron Leader Arthur Harris writing about the impact of bombing Iraq in 1923.

The Arab and Kurd now know what real bombing means within 45 minutes a full-sized village can be practically wiped out, and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured, by four or five machines which offer them no real target, no opportunity for glory as warriors, no effective means of escape.

(3) H. Howe, Aircraftsman 2nd Class, writing about the punishment of Iraqis caught stealing from the RAF Hunaidi air base in Baghdad in 1923.

Woe betide any native who was caught in the act of thieving any article of clothing that may be hanging out to dry. It was the practice to take the offending native into the squadron gymnasium. Here he would be placed in the boxing ring, used as a punch bag by members of the boxing team, and after he had received severe punishment, and was in a very sorry condition, he would be expelled for good, minus his job.

(4) Burhan al-Chalabi, chairman of the British Iraqi Foundation, The Guardian (25th March, 2003)

After British troops were forced to retreat from Basra yesterday, a military spokesman said: "We were expecting a lot of hands up, but it hasn't quite worked out that way." It is now clear to everyone that ordinary Iraqis are resisting this military aggression with their lives and souls. Commentators and politicians in Britain and America seem taken aback: how come the Iraqis are putting up such a fight? Why do they so passionately resist this attempt to liberate them from the brutal dictator, Saddam? But Iraqis aren't surprised at all.

When Iraq was first colonised by Britain in 1917, Iraqis were fed the same British propaganda about liberation through occupation. We fought the best part of last century to get rid of colonial Britain and, since then, have helped a great number of independence movements worldwide. Iraqis may wish for the current regime to change, but anyone who understands our culture will know that in this war Iraqis will fight and die, not to save President Saddam Hussein, but to protect their home, land, dignity and self-respect from a new world order alien to their way of life. We are an enormously proud people.

And so history repeats itself. Just as in the past century, the military superiority of the Anglo-American invaders may eventually overwhelm the Iraqi army, which is weak and ill-equipped because of sanctions, containment and isolation. But there is also no doubt that in the end this military crusade against Iraq will fail just like the previous British occupation of Iraq, led by General Maude, where the military odds were just as much in favour of the British army. Iraqis - in particular the Arab-Iraqi Shi'ites - fought bitter and hard and suffered thousands of casualties in order to liberate Iraq from the British occupation. They will do so again.

It is true that, this time, the British and US forces may assume control of sea, air and deserts of Iraq, but they will never win the war for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Not only do the people of Iraq face devastation by the US and UK aggression on a scale not previously known to mankind, but they also face death and destruction by another war - the civil war that would inevitably follow. We know what this means, because we have been there before.

As a young lad in the town of Mosul I lived through the horror of the civil war in Iraq in 1959-60, when the communist and Kurdish coalition fought the nationalists for control of the country. With my brothers and parents, we used to hide huddled together, in a small concealed basement for days on end, absolutely terrified of being slaughtered because we were considered to be on the Nationalist side.

saw Iraqis split in half, while alive, by two cars. Girls were hanged from telegraph posts, with fish hooks through their breasts. Men were hanged outside my school gates. We were forced to watch mass hangings in public squares. Dead bodies with their throats slit lay in the streets.

Forty years on, in the comfort and safety of London, those images remain vivid. A scar of fear for life, and one shared by a great many of my people.

This is the fate that awaits "liberated" Iraq. Only today, the Kurds - backed by the US - have even more violent scores to settle. There are many, many people in Iraq today who fear the sectarian violence that may result from the breakdown of the secular regime; and Iraqi history shows that they are right to fear it. I do not wish this future to await anybody in the world, friend or foe.

(5) Jonathan Glancey, Our Last Occupation (19th April, 2003)

Iraq is the product of a lying empire. The British carved it duplicitously from ancient history, thwarted Arab hopes, Ottoman loss, the dunes of Mesopotamia and the mountains of Kurdistan at the end of the first world war. Unsurprisingly, anarchy and insurrection were there from the start.

The British responded with gas attacks by the army in the south, bombing by the fledgling RAF in both north and south. When Iraqi tribes stood up for themselves, we unleashed the flying dogs of war to "police" them. Terror bombing, night bombing, heavy bombers, delayed action bombs (particularly lethal against children) were all developed during raids on mud, stone and reed villages during Britain's League of Nations' mandate. The mandate ended in 1932; the semi-colonial monarchy in 1958. But during the period of direct British rule, Iraq proved a useful testing ground for newly forged weapons of both limited and mass destruction, as well as new techniques for controlling imperial outposts and vassal states.

The RAF was first ordered to Iraq to quell Arab and Kurdish and Arab uprisings, to protect recently discovered oil reserves, to guard Jewish settlers in Palestine and to keep Turkey at bay. Some mission, yet it had already proved itself an effective imperial police force in both Afghanistan and Somaliland (today's Somalia) in 1919-20. British and US forces have been back regularly to bomb these hubs of recalcitrance ever since.

(6) Ian Kershaw, historian, The Guardian (19th February, 2003)

The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, is among those who have looked to the mistakes of the past to justify the present policy against Iraq. It would be repeating the disastrous appeasement policy of the 1930s, it is said, if we were not now to act against Saddam Hussain. But this is no more than a spin on history. The parallels are as good as non-existent.

The US was then isolationist, largely uninterested in Europe. Stalinist Russia was isolated for other reasons. Britain had to take the concerns of a world empire into account. France was petrified about the growing danger on the other side of the Rhine. The threat was indeed in the very heart of Europe, and unmistakably real. Britain's very existence was at stake. No weapons inspectors were needed to see whether Hitler was building "weapons of mass destruction". Everybody knew he was doing this illegally even before he openly announced it. He then used military might and bullying tactics to force changes to state borders within Europe. The annexation of what was left of Czechoslovakia in 1939, without any pretext of uniting ethnic Germans, finally convinced the government to take a stand, at the risk of a war they did not want.

Today, there is no self-evident threat from Iraq. There is no invasion of a sovereign territory (as in 1991) to repulse. We have to take it on trust that Saddam is building weapons of mass destruction. Even if he has them, he is unlikely to use them against Britain or America - seemingly bent on war and towing Britain in its slipstream.

(7) Andrew Roberts, historian, The Guardian (19th February, 2003)

This is not another Suez crisis, for the obvious and straightforward reasons that the west is not today trying to recapture anything for itself, that Egypt posed no military threat to the Nato allies in 1956 and that the British government is pursuing its ends openly through the UN, at least initially, rather than through collusion. Moreover, the people of Egypt were fully in support of Nasser, whereas the moment a US-led invasion of Iraq is successful, the full extent of the Iraqi people's fear and hatred of Saddam will immediately become evident.

No, the situation is far closer to the late 1930s, when a fascist dictator stealthily acquired weapons of mass destruction - the Luftwaffe's bombing arm - and attempted to acquire nuclear weapons, too. That totalitarian dictator later invaded his neighbour (as Saddam did), gassed his political and racial enemies (as Saddam has) and brutalized and tortured his own people (as Saddam does.) The League of Nations, on the morning after Poland was invaded, had on its urgent agenda the standardization of European railway gauges. Today's United Nations is fast shaping up to be equally ineffectual.

(8) Linda Colley, historian, The Guardian (19th February, 2003)

Saddam may in essence be as evil and megalomaniac a man as Adolf Hitler (how would one judge?). He is certainly a dictator who has killed large numbers of people. But, as a determinedly secular ruler, he lacks the international ideological underpinning fascism gave Hitler. And, crucially, he lacks comparable hardware. In 1939, Germany had the strongest, most modern army, navy and air force in the world. In 2003, it is Iraq's primary enemy, the US, that unquestionably possesses the world's greatest stock of weapons of mass destruction.

(9) Robert Dreyfuss, Mother Jones (March, 2003)

If you were to spin the globe and look for real estate critical to building an American empire, your first stop would have to be the Persian Gulf. The desert sands of this region hold two of every three barrels of oil in the world - Iraq's reserves alone are equal, by some estimates, to those of Russia, the United States, China, and Mexico combined. For the past 30 years, the Gulf has been in the crosshairs of an influential group of Washington foreign-policy strategists, who believe that in order to ensure its global dominance, the United States must seize control of the region and its oil. Born during the energy crisis of the 1970s and refined since then by a generation of policymakers, this approach is finding its boldest expression yet in the Bush administration - which, with its plan to invade Iraq and install a regime beholden to Washington, has moved closer than any of its predecessors to transforming the Gulf into an American protectorate.

In the geopolitical vision driving current U.S. policy toward Iraq, the key to national security is global hegemony - dominance over any and all potential rivals. To that end, the United States must not only be able to project its military forces anywhere, at any time. It must also control key resources, chief among them oil - and especially Gulf oil. To the hawks who now set the tone at the White House and the Pentagon, the region is crucial not simply for its share of the U.S. oil supply (other sources have become more important over the years), but because it would allow the United States to maintain a lock on the world's energy lifeline and potentially deny access to its global competitors. The administration "believes you have to control resources in order to have access to them," says Chas Freeman, who served as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia under the first President Bush. "They are taken with the idea that the end of the Cold War left the United States able to impose its will globally - and that those who have the ability to shape events with power have the duty to do so. It's ideology."

Iraq, in this view, is a strategic prize of unparalleled importance. Unlike the oil beneath Alaska's frozen tundra, locked away in the steppes of central Asia, or buried under stormy seas, Iraq's crude is readily accessible and, at less than $1.50 a barrel, some of the cheapest in the world to produce. Already, over the past several months, Western companies have been meeting with Iraqi exiles to try to stake a claim to that bonanza.

But while the companies hope to cash in on an American-controlled Iraq, the push to remove Saddam Hussein hasn't been driven by oil executives, many of whom are worried about the consequences of war. Nor are Vice President Cheney and President Bush, both former oilmen, looking at the Gulf simply for the profits that can be earned there. The administration is thinking bigger, much bigger, than that.

"Controlling Iraq is about oil as power, rather than oil as fuel," says Michael Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and author of Resource Wars. "Control over the Persian Gulf translates into control over Europe, Japan, and China. It's having our hand on the spigot."

(10) Military Analysis Network, Iran-Iraq War (2002)

The Iran-Iraq War permanently altered the course of Iraqi history. It strained Iraqi political and social life, and led to severe economic dislocations. Viewed from a historical perspective, the outbreak of hostilities in 1980 was, in part, just another phase of the ancient Persian-Arab conflict that had been fueled by twentieth-century border disputes. Many observers, however, believe that Saddam Hussein's decision to invade Iran was a personal miscalculation based on ambition and a sense of vulnerability. Saddam Hussein, despite having made significant strides in forging an Iraqi nation-state, feared that Iran's new revolutionary leadership would threaten Iraq's delicate SunniShia balance and would exploit Iraq's geostrategic vulnerabilities.

The Iran-Iraq war lasted nearly eight years, from September of 1980 until August of 1988. It ended when Iran accepted United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 598, leading to a 20 August 1988 cease-fire.

Casualty figures are highly uncertain, though estimates suggest more than one and a half million war and war-related casualties -- perhaps as many as a million people died, many more were wounded, and millions were made refugees. Iraq's victory was not without cost. The Iraqis suffered an estimated 375,000 casualties, the equivalent of 5.6 million for a population the size of the United States. Another 60,000 were taken prisoner by the Iranians.

(11) Kenneth Morgan, historian, The Guardian (1st March, 2003)

As a historian, I worry about the crude use of history, particularly our old friend the 1930s. Time and again we hear that this crisis is the 1930s come again - what nonsense. Saddam is not another Hitler. Where is his Mein Kampf? Where is his dream of universal conquest? George Bush is certainly no Churchill; it would be a calumny on the reputation of that great man to suggest it. It is a facile argument, and it disturbs me that Downing Street produces it, all the more because I taught one or two of them. My efforts were clearly in vain.

Tony Blair is a brave man who prides himself on being another Churchill. He must be wary of being another Ramsay MacDonald. This is said to be a listening government; one that listens to the people. They should listen - not to transatlantic ideologues but to the wisdom, humanity and decency of the British people.

(12) Rupert Murdoch owns more than 175 newspapers and magazines on three continents. He publishes 40 million newspapers a week and dominates the newspaper markets in Britain, Australia and New Zealand. In an interview published in the Sydney Daily Telegraph in March, 2003, he explained why his 175 editors around the world were backing the war with Iraq.

We can't back down now, where you hand over the whole of the Middle East to Saddam... I think Bush is acting very morally, very correctly, and I think he is going to go on with it... I think Tony (Blair) is being extraordinarily courageous and strong... It's not easy to do that living in a party which is largely composed of people who have a knee-jerk anti-Americanism and are sort of pacifist. But he's shown great guts as he did, I think, in Kosovo and various problems in the old Yugoslavia.

The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy...would be $20 a barrel for oil. That's bigger than any tax cut in any country. Once it (the Iraq War) is behind us, the whole world will benefit from cheaper oil which will be a bigger stimulus than anything else.