Ancient Babylon Roots In Iraq

The Kings: From Babylon To BaghdadThe region now known as Iraq has always been, in many ways, world history’s ground zero. From this rich territory sprang the earliest cities and empires, earliest armies, and earliest tyrants.

The Kings: From Babylon To Baghdad tells the story of Iraq through the history of its rulers, from Sargon the Great to Saddam Hussein. This feature-length documentary explores the connections and relevance between ancient and modern Iraq and between Iraq and the rest of the planet.

Using dialogue drawn directly from primary sources – original texts of ancient records – it depicts events in dramatic, living reenactments. Lush cinematography filmed on location frames the dramatizations and contemporary reportage. And interviews with the world’s leading experts on the historical and current relevance of Iraq complete this authoritative portrait of the men who brought this fabled land glory and despair.

Today, as it has been many times in the past, understanding Iraq is central to the world’s well-being. This documentary offers a thorough, thought-provoking view into the politics, personalities, government, geography, culture and religion of this all-important region.

Mesopotamia - Kings From Babylon to Badhdad 3500BC to Sadaam..

YouTube Video

YouTube Video

My Voice Counts: Iraq, the Cradle of Civilisation

Posted on 02 June 2013.

My Voice Counts: Iraq, the Cradle of Civilisation

Iraq conjures up many enduring cultural images: the great lions of Babylon, the Ishtar Gate (pictured), and the superb spiral mosque of Samarra are some of the most renowned. These vast archaeological riches, spanning centuries of civilization, are part of the national heritage that is shared by all Iraqis – and part of the patrimony of all humanity.

Access to this shared patrimony is a right, protected by a number of international human rights instruments. Recent visits to the National Museum of Iraq by the UNESCO Office for Iraq, and UNAMI’s Human Rights Office (HRO) and Integrated Coordination Office for Development and Humanitarian Affairs (ICODHA) were part of the UN’s strong emphasis in 2013 on promoting economic, social and cultural rights in Iraq. Both visits were a chance to explore the Museum’s collections, and to learn about how Iraqis can access and enjoy their cultural heritage.

“The National Museum is a great cultural symbol for the people of Iraq,” says Mr. Francesco Motta, Chief of the HRO and Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Iraq. “This visit is a chance for us to identify areas where the UN might be able to assist with the protection, preservation and promotion of this cultural heritage for all Iraqis,” he said.

Established in 1926, the Museum houses a collection that covers 7,000 years of Mesopotamian history. Artefacts date from prehistory, the Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Islamic cultures, and range from tiny figurines to imposing stone statues of ancient gods.

The devastating impact of war and violence, visible throughout Iraqi society, has also left its mark on the Museum. Widespread looting of its collections occurred in 2003, and thousands of its treasures were smuggled out of the country. To date, only half of the missing pieces have been recovered, and up to 10,000 objects are still unaccounted for. For this reason, and because of damage to and deterioration of the building, it has been years since the Museum consistently opened its doors to the Iraqi people. Currently, a few exhibition halls are accessible to the public, by appointment only.

“It is clear that the Museum has faced some major challenges in the past years,” says Mr. Motta. “I hope that Iraqis will soon be able to freely enjoy these incredible collections. The right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the National Museum is arguably the greatest cultural institution in the country.”

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reiterates the importance of cultural participation, and cites conservation as a critical step to ensure the diffusion of culture in the community. Conservation is now the key activity to enable the Museum to reopen, and it is well and truly underway. In every gallery, there are conservation specialists working with tiny paintbrushes, or checking the optimal atmospheric conditions on specialized instruments that dot the walls.

Museum staff are immensely proud of what they are achieving. A special guided tour for the UN delegation was led by Museum Curator, Mr. Madhi, and Director of the Museum Education Department, Ms. Yass.

“We are working very hard to restore the galleries and reinstate the collections,” says Mr. Madhi. Standing in the centre of what will become the ‘Sumerian Room’ he points out the works still underway, and the precious objects that are being arranged in new showcases for the very first time.

“The Iraqi authorities have achieved a great deal in protecting our heritage, and to retrieve stolen and trafficked artefacts,” says Ms. Louise Haxthausen, Director of UNESCO Office for Iraq, following her first visit to the museum in her new role. “However there are still vast challenges ahead where the support of the UN and the international community at large will continue to be critical.”

International support has already made a positive impact, and continues to flow in from several countries, including the United States and Italy. The UN continues to be an important partner, with the UNESCO Office for Iraq working side by side with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the Ministry of Culture, and the Kurdistan Regional Government to support good practices in museum management, conservation and restoration of antiquities and historical sites. UNESCO also works to strengthen Iraqi capacities to regain cultural properties, both ancient and modern, that have been illicitly exported from the country. In 2013, UNESCO will organize an international conference in Baghdad to discuss the way forward for the protection of Iraqi cultural heritage, ten years after the looting of the National Museum.

While the National Museum’s collections are now in safe hands, the Director of the Education Department, Ms. Yass points out that there is much work to be done throughout Iraq to protect the thousands of historical sites dotted across the country from looters, erosion and neglect. This is the next great challenge for Iraq’s cultural authorities, and for the UN. UNESCO has also been working side by side with the antiquity authorities and police forces to reinforce local capacity to protect these sites.

“If these historical and cultural riches are not protected, they will not be accessible for future generations,” Mr. Motta explains. “Conservation is crucial to ensure that this heritage is not lost, and that it remains intact for young Iraqis to discover and enjoy.”

As the Director of the Education Department, Ms. Yass reveals her plans for outreach and awareness programmes on the Museum’s collections. In particular, she is developing a programme of school visits to teach children about Iraq’s cultural heritage.

However, until the Museum’s collections are ready to be unveiled to the public, full implementation of these education programmes is on hold.

With the continued support of the international community, and the dedication of the Museum’s staff, that day may not be far off. Ms. Yass says that the Museum aims to reopen at the end of 2013, a fitting occasion to do so.

In 2013, Baghdad will be feted as the ‘Arab Capital of Culture’, a milestone for the capital city of a country that has suffered years of conflict. The reopening of the Museum would be a triumphant close to the year for Baghdad, and for all Iraqis – by once again making the rich cultural heritage of the country available to all Iraqis.

(Source: UNAMI)


After Years of War and Abuse, New Hope for Ancient Babylon

Published: March 22, 2010

The most immediate threat to preserving the ruins of Babylon, the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is water soaking the ground and undermining what is left in present-day Iraq of a great city from the time of King Nebuchadnezzar II.

Gwendolen Cates for the World Monuments Fund

SOAKED A drainage system at Ishtar Gate, where water is just below ground.

The New York Times

It is also one of the oldest threats. The king himself faced water problems 2,600 years ago. Neglect, reckless reconstruction and wartime looting have also taken their toll in recent times, but archaeologists and experts in the preservation of cultural relics say nothing substantial should be done to correct that until the water problem is brought under control.

A current study, known as the Future of Babylon project, documents the damage from water mainly associated with the Euphrates River and irrigation systems nearby. The ground is saturated just below the surface at sites of the Ishtar Gate and the long-gone Hanging Gardens, one of the seven wonders. Bricks are crumbling, temples collapsing. The Tower of Babel, long since reduced to rubble, is surrounded by standing water.

Leaders of the international project, describing their findings in interviews and at a meeting this month in New York, said that any plan for reclaiming Babylon as a tourist attraction and a place for archaeological research must include water control as “the highest priority.”

The study, aimed at developing a master plan for the ancient city, was begun last year by the World Monuments Fund in collaboration with Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage. A $700,000 grant from the United States Department of State is financing the initial two-year study and preliminary management plan. An official of the monuments fund said the entire effort could last five or six years.

“This is without doubt the most complex program we’ve ever had to organize,” said Bonnie Burnham, the fund’s president.

A few archaeologists have expressed concern about what they said was the project’s slow start. Project members said that they have had serious problems persuading foreign experts to go to Iraq and then clearing them and their instruments for work there.

Besides the wear of time that all ruins of antiquity are prey to, consider the depredations Babylon has suffered in recent history. German archaeologists who made the first careful study of the site, before World War I, recognized the despoiling inroads of irrigation waters drawn from a tributary of the Euphrates River, 50 miles south of modern Baghdad.

McGuire Gibson, a specialist in Mesopotamian archaeology at the University of Chicago, who is not involved in the project, agreed that water is Babylon’s “major problem,” which he said was made worse in recent years when a lake and canal were dug as part of a campaign to lure tourists. Nebuchadnezzar himself, Dr. Gibson noted, dealt with water encroachment by erecting new buildings at ever-higher elevations, on top of mounds of old ruins.

The first German investigators, led by Robert Koldewey, reported finding extensive water damage to mud-brick structures and the intrusion of agricultural fields and villages within boundaries of the original city. People had already carted off bricks and stones, leaving almost nothing of the Ziggurat, known from the historian Herodotus and the Bible as the Tower of Babel. The Germans themselves hauled off the elaborate Ishtar Gate to a museum in Berlin.

Then, in the 1970s and ’80s, President Saddam Hussein of Iraq, casting himself as heir to Nebuchadnezzar’s greatness, had his own imposing palace built at Babylon along the lines of his royal predecessor’s. He even adopted the king’s practice of stamping his own name on the bricks for the reconstruction. Archaeologists were aghast. The new palace and a few other restorations, they say, are hardly authentic, and yet they dominate the site.

What to do with Hussein’s palace is another issue, said the co-director of the project, Jeff Allen. “How to balance integrity of the site with its use as a tourist attraction is the problem,” he explained, noting that Iraq counts on Babylon as a future source of foreign tourist income.

Mr. Allen, an American consultant in cultural preservation who is based in Cairo, said it would cost millions of dollars to demolish the palace or convert it into a visitor center for tourists. “This still has to be studied by other experts,” he said, joking that one suggestion is that the palace would make a perfect casino.

“I’d leave the palace alone,” Dr. Gibson said, pointing out that it was based on sketches left by the German archaeologists.

“So that way, you will walk around in something of what the ancient architecture looked like,” he continued. “Otherwise, you walk around with nothing to see but a bunch of rubble.”

Elizabeth C. Stone, an archaeologist at Stony Brook University in New York who is familiar with Babylon, said she supported efforts to reopen the site to tourists, especially Iraqis themselves. “It’s near Baghdad and is the one site where you used to see Iraqis going to get a sense of their past,” she said.

Further damage was incurred during the Iraq war, started in 2003. Looting was prevalent there and at other archaeological sites. The United States military occupied Babylon for several years, protecting it from plundering but leaving other scars. About one square kilometer of surface soil, some of it with artifacts, “got removed one way or another,” Dr. Stone said.

“The military certainly did not do the place any good,” said Lisa Ackerman, executive vice president of the monuments fund. “They moved a lot of dirt around, but that damage is largely fixable.”

The site was returned to Iraqi control more than a year ago. Ms. Ackerman and Mr. Allen said the project had already surveyed the remains, building by building, and started the restoration of two museums. Although Iraq has a large corps of trained archaeologists, they said, an immediate need is to instruct others in the conservation of ruins and bring in structural engineers and hydrologists to handle the water problem.

Babylon's undiscovered treasures threatened by new oil pipeline

Unesco expresses "concern" after Iraqi oil ministry digs 1,500-metre tunnel under archaeological site

Babylon archaeological site
Rich history ... the archaeological site of Babylon, south of Baghdad. Photograph: Ali Al-Saadi/Getty

Babylon was probably founded in the 23rd century BC. It was sacked countless times and rebuilt almost as many. It was taken by Cyrus II of Persia in 539BC and by Alexander the Great two centuries later. It slipped into oblivion in the early Christian era before being rediscovered in the 19th century by Claudius Rich. At the end of the 20th century it was spoiled by Saddam Hussein and in the early 21st century damaged by the US army. Now it's bracing for an oil pipeline.

At the end of March, the last sections of this pipeline triggered a letter expressing "concern" from Unesco's deputy director general for culture to the Iraqi minister for tourism and antiquities. In Iraq the pipeline is the subject of dispute between the oil and tourism ministries, and the Iraq state board of antiquities and heritage (Isbah) is challenging the legality of the project. "The oil ministry has caused incalculable damage by digging a 1,500-metre-long tunnel under the Babylon archaeological site," declared Qaïs Hussein Rachid, Chairman of Isbah, to the news agency Agence France-Presse in mid-May.

The new pipeline is not far from two others built in the 1980s and 1990s, one of which is no longer in use. "The pipeline crosses the perimeter of the archaeological site but outside the walls, beneath the so-called outer city," said Véronique Dauge, chief of the Arab States Unit at the Unesco World Heritage Centre. "But even if it doesn't cross the centre of the ancient city, it is in an area that has never been excavated." The site covers approximately 850 hectares, most of which is virgin territory for archaeologists. A spokesman from the Iraqi oil ministry quoted by AFP reported that the land dug up revealed no archaeological remains.

"No one can say right now if the oil pipeline has caused damage," said Lisa Ackerman, executive vice-president of the World Monuments Fund (WMF), a New York-based foundation for preserving architectural heritage, who works on the site with the Iraqi authorities. "But I think it's very likely that it crosses sensitive archaeological zones."

The pipeline is causing a furore in Iraq, said Dauge, because Babylon is still not listed as a World Heritage site, despite being one of the most prestigious archaeological locations in the world. The application was made several times under Saddam Hussein but was always turned down because of the "absence of any management and preservation plans for the site", she explained. That entails preparing the site to receive visitors, demarcating the boundaries, protecting the site, and so on.

"It is very important for Iraqis that Babylon be listed," explained Alessandra Peruzzetto, a WMF archaeologist who specialises in the Middle East. "But the new pipeline will damage the site's integrity, which is an important factor in assessing a site for listing." Dauge confirmed that the pipeline "will be an issue" if a new application is made – which is not yet the case.

Babylon's new scar will be just one more of many – all of which are recent. There were those resulting from Camp Alpha, a military base for the US and Polish armed forces established on the site's perimeter from April 2003 to December 2004. The levelling work carried out for the helicopter landing pads, and the trenches that were dug and later filled with landfill from elsewhere, caused much damage, as did the plundering of engraved ceramics and bricks.

A damage assessment report commissioned by Unesco in 2009 stated: "During their presence in Babylon, the US army and contractors employed by them, mainly KBR [a construction company], directly caused major damage to the city by digging, cutting, scraping, and levelling. Key structures that were damaged include the Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way."

"However," said Ackerman, "even though the armed forces' installation did cause damage, most of the destruction of the past few years has been due to the lack of conservation measures." Runoff, in particular, has devastated the monuments. Since 2007 WMF has been working with the Iraqi authorities to establish a site management plan, and has now begun conservation work on several key structures.

This article originally appeared in Le Monde

Iraq Country Profile

Iraq, in an area once home to some of the earliest civilisations, became a battleground for competing forces after the US-led ousting of President Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The Shia-led government struggled to restore order until a "surge" of US troops in late 2007 began to push insurgents and militias out of cities and provinces they had long contested.

The country remains volatile, and disputes with the autonomous Kurdistan Region over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk have threatened to derail progress towards political stability.

The 2003 campaign to remove Saddam Hussein began with a US missile attack on Baghdad in the early hours of 20 March. US and British forces invaded from the south days later.

Iraqis perform Friday prayers at at Imam Al-Askari Shrine in the city of Samarra
  • Politics: Iraq became a battleground for forces vying for power after the US-led invasion of 2003.
  • Security: Unity government and US-led coalition forces made progress in establishing control after thousands of civilians were killed in rebel-orchestrated violence
  • Economy: Violence and sabotage has hindered efforts to revive an economy shattered by decades of conflict and sanctions; Iraq has the world's third largest reserves of crude oil but attacks, corruption and smuggling have crippled exports

Country profile compiled by BBC Monitoring

Only three weeks after the start of the fighting, they had entered Baghdad, and the Iraqi leader's grip on power had withered. The majority Shia population, which had to a large extent been excluded from power, was initially jubilant.

However, optimism gradually gave way to despair as insurgent groups - mainly drawn from embittered Sunnis, dismissed army officers and supporters of the former regime - began an increasingly bloody campaign of bomb attacks.

The insurgents - with Al-Qaeda in Iraq among the most violent - targeted civilians as well as security forces, at times killing hundreds of people in one day. The conflict descended into near sectarian warfare in 2006-7 when Shia militant groups struck back with a campaign of kidnappings and killings.

The transfer of power to an interim Iraq government in June 2004, and seven months later, Iraq's first multi-party elections in 50 years, which brought an overwhelmingly Shia-dominated coalition to power, failed to stem the violence.

By 2008, however, a "surge" in US troop levels to confront the insurgents, the co-opting of moderate Sunni tribesmen in the struggle against militants and an improving Iraqi army had succeeded in turning the situation around. The number of attacks lessened, although sporadic attacks continue.

In June 2009 US troops withdrew from Iraq's towns and cities, handing over security to Iraqi forces. In line with a pledge by US President Barack Obama the last US combat troops left Iraq in August 2010. All US troops are meant to be gone from Iraq by the end of 2011.

However, Iraq's top army officer has warned that the Iraqi military might not be ready to take control for another decade.

Cradle of civilisation
Ziggurat of Ur Iraq is home to several ancient sites, such as the Ziggurat of Ur, a temple thought to be 4,000 years old

Straddling the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and stretching from the Gulf to the Anti-Taurus Mountains, modern Iraq occupies roughly what was once ancient Mesopotamia, one of the cradles of human civilisation.

In the early Middle Ages, Iraq was the heartland of the Islamic Empire, but a brutal Mongol invasion in the 13th century destroyed its importance. Part of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th century, it came under British control after World War I, gaining independence in 1932.

The British-installed monarchy was toppled in 1958 and a coup in 1968 brought the Arab nationalist Ba'ath (Renaissance) party to power. Oil made the country rich, and when Saddam Hussein became president in 1979, petroleum made up 95% of its foreign exchange earnings.

But the 1989-88 war with Iran and the 1991 Gulf War, sparked by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, together with the subsequent imposition of international sanctions, had a devastating effect on its economy and society.

What remained of the economy was largely shattered by the 2003 invasion and the subsequent violence. Attacks by insurgents on Iraq's oil infrastructure cost the country billions of dollars in lost revenues.

In the north, the Kurdish community has broken away to create a semi-autonomous region of its own.

The Ancient Babylon Roots In Iraq

See attached documents at the bottom of the page

about Iraq and it's Babylon connections

Thursday, July 21, 2011New York Times


Updated: June 27, 2011

For most of the last decade, Iraq occupied center stage in the Arab world, as it was swiftly invaded and occupied by American forces in 2003 before being wracked by the insurgency that sprang up in opposition and then by waves of sectarian killing that grew into something close to a civil war.

Since the bloodshed peaked in 2006, order has gradually been restored, though violence remains high by any but wartime standards. The fairest elections in the country's history in March 2010 led to the creation of a government of national unity, although only after eight months of political stalemate that played out mostly along sectarian lines.

There is still plenty of conflict left in Iraq. Many Sunnis, a minority that once held the reins of power under Saddam Hussein, consider the unity government a figleaf for increasingly centralized control by the Shiite majority. Violence is still endemic in the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul, where Kurds, Arabs and other groups jockey for control. The insurgency continues, flaring up in brutal attacks like one in March 2011 on the seat of local government in Tikrit, Hussein’s hometown, that left nearly 60 people dead, including three members of the provincial council.

And fissures have appeared within the Shiite coalition, particularly concerning the remnants of the American military force, whose official combat role was declared over by President Obama on Aug. 31, 2010. American military leaders have said publicly and many Iraqi leaders say privately that the country's military will still need the assistance of U.S. forces after the current agreement ends in December. But Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki owes his reelection to a radically anti-American cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, who turned out thousands of protesters after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates mentioned the idea.

The difficult and divisive question of asking the United States to keep a contingency force in Iraq after the scheduled withdrawal has been met with paralysis in the government. Mr. Maliki and his main rival, Ayad Allawi, refuse to speak to each other despite signing on to an American-backed power sharing agreement.They have been unable to agree on who should run the Interior and Defense Ministries, the government’s two most important departments.

The one kind of turmoil Iraq has seen little of is the pro-democracy movement that sprang to life in early 2011 across the region, the so-called Arab spring. In February, demonstrators turned out, not seeking to topple their leaders but demanding better government services after years of war and deprivation. But security forces responded with a heavy hand.

In a country where the demographics skew even younger than in places like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, the wave of political change in the region has laid bare a generation gap here split by old resentments nurtured by dictatorship and war and a youthful grasping for a stake in the new Iraq. But the forces of youth are blunted by the same forces that have robbed Iraqi society of so much for so long — violence, a stagnant economy, zero-sum politics and sectarianism — and that have prevented a new political class from emerging to take Iraq into a new democratic future.



Almost immediately after ousting the Taliban from power in Afghanistan following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — some argue, even before — President George W. Bush began to press the case for an American-led invasion of Iraq. He cited the possibility that Saddam Hussein still sought nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in defiance of United Nations restrictions and sanctions. Mr. Bush and other senior American officials also sought to link Iraq to Al Qaeda, the terrorist organization led by Osama bin Laden that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks. Both claims have since been largely discredited, though some officials and analysts continue to argue otherwise, saying that Mr. Hussein's Iraq posed a real and imminent threat to the region and to the United States.

In his State of the Union address in 2002 , Mr. Bush linked Iraq with Iran and North Korea as an " axis of evil. '' In his 2003 address , Mr. Bush made it clear the United States would use force to disarm Mr. Hussein, despite the continuing work of United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq, and despite growing international protests, even from some allies. A week later Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made the administration's case before the United Nations Security Council with photographs, intercepted messages and other props, including a vial that, he said, could hold enough anthrax to shut down the United States Senate.

The invasion of Iraq began on March 19, 2003—the early hours of March 20 in Iraq—when Mr. Bush ordered missiles fired at a bunker in Baghdad where he believed that Saddam Hussein was hiding. Within weeks, with a "coalition of the willing" and disputed legal authority , the United States quickly toppled Mr. Hussein's government, despite fierce fighting by some paramilitary groups. The Iraqi leader himself reportedly narrowly avoided being killed in the war's first air strikes. The Army's Third Infantry Division entered Baghdad on April 5, seizing what was once called Saddam Hussein International Airport. On April 9, a statue of Mr. Hussein in Firdos Square was pulled down with the help of the Marines. That effectively sealed the capture of Baghdad, but began a new war.


The fall of Iraq's brutal, powerful dictator unleashed a wave of celebration, then chaos, looting, violence and ultimately insurgency. Rather than quickly return power to the Iraqis, including political and religious leaders returning from exile, the United States created an occupation authority that took steps widely blamed for alienating many Iraqis and igniting Sunni-led resistance. They included disbanding the Iraqi Army and purging members of the former ruling Baath Party from government and public life, both with consequences felt to this day. On May 1, 2003, Mr. Bush appeared on an American aircraft carrier that carried a banner declaring " Mission Accomplished ," a theatrical touch that even the president years later acknowledged sent the wrong message.

In the security and political vacuum that followed the invasion, violence erupted against the American-led occupation forces and against the United Nations headquarters, which was bombed in August 2003, killing the body's special representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello. The capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003—the former leader was found unshaven and disheveled in a spider hole north of Baghdad—did nothing to halt the bloodshed. Nor did the formal transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people in June 2004, which took place a few months after the publication of photographs showing the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib had further fueled anger and anti-American sentiment.

In January 2005, the Americans orchestrated Iraq's first multi-party elections in five decades, a moment symbolized by Iraqis waving fingers marked in purple ink after they voted. The elections for a Transitional National Assembly reversed the historic political domination of the Sunnis, who had largely boycotted the vote. A Shiite coalition supported by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most powerful Shiite cleric, won a plurality, and put Shiites in power, along with the Kurds. Saddam Hussein stood trial, remaining defiant and unrepentant as he faced charges of massacring Shiites in Dujail in 1982.

A new constitution followed by the end of the year, and new elections in January 2006 cemented the new balance of power, but also exposed simmering sectarian tensions, as many Sunnis boycotted. In February 2006, the bombing of the Askariya Mosque in Samarra, one of the most revered Shiite shrines, set off a convulsion of violence against both Sunnis and Shiites that amounted to a civil war. In Baghdad, it soon was not unusual for 30 bodies or more to be found on the streets every day, as Shiite death squads operated without hindrance and Sunnis retaliated. That steady toll was punctuated by spikes from bomb blasts, usually aimed at Shiites. Even more families fled, as neighborhoods and entire cities were ethnically cleansed. Ultimately, more than 2 million people were displaced in Iraq, and many of them are still abroad to this day, unable or too afraid to return.

Arab and Kurdish tensions also ran high. In Mosul, a disputed city in the north, Sunni militants attacked Kurdish and Christian enclaves. The fate of Kirkuk, populated by Arabs, Kurds and smaller minority groups, remains disputed territory, punctured routinely by killings and bombings. After a political impasse that reflected the chaos in the country, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a little-known Shiite politician previously known as Jawad al-Maliki, became Iraq's first permanent prime minister in April 2006.


The messy aftermath of a swift military victory made the war in Iraq increasingly unpopular at home, but not enough to derail Mr. Bush's re-election in November 2004. Almost immediately afterwards, though, his approval rating dropped as the war dragged on. It never recovered. By 2006, Democrats regained control of Congress. Their victory rested in large part on the growing sentiment against the war, which rose with the toll of American deaths, which reached 3,000 by the end of the year, and its ever spiraling costs. Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death just before the Congressional elections, and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld resigned the day after the vote, widely blamed for having mismanaged the war.

In the face of rising unpopularity and against the advice of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan group of prominent Americans, Mr. Bush ordered a large increase in American forces, then totaling roughly 130,000 troops.

The "surge," as the increase became known, eventually raised the number of troops to more than 170,000. It coincided with a new counterinsurgency strategy that had been introduced by a new American commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and the flowering of a once-unlikely alliance with Sunnis in Anbar province and elsewhere. Moktada al-Sadr, the radical anti-American Shiite cleric, whose followers in the Mahdi Army militia had been responsible for some of the worst brutality in Baghdad, declared a cease-fire in September. These factors came together in the fall of 2007 to produce a sharp decline in violence.

Political progress and ethnic reconciliation were halting, though, fueling calls by Democrats to begin a withdrawal of American forces, though they lacked sufficient votes in Congress to force one. Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, an early opponent of the war, rose to prominence in the Democratic race for the nomination in large part by capitalizing on the war's unpopularity. But by the time Mr. Obama defeated Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for the nomination in 2008 and then the Republican nominee, Senator John McCain, Iraq hardly loomed as an issue as it once had, both because of the drop in violence there and because of the rising economic turmoil in the United States and later the world.


At the end of 2007, Mr. Bush and General Petraeus had succeeded in maintaining the level of American forces in Iraq above what it was before the "surge" began. Mr. Maliki's government, increasingly confident of its growing military might, expanded operations against insurgents and other militants that had once been the exclusive fight of the Americans. The militias loyal to Mr. Sadr, who had gone into exile, were routed in a government-led offensive in southern Iraq, though significant assistance from American forces and firepower was needed for the Iraqis to succeed. By May, the offensive extended to Sadr City in Baghdad, a densely populated neighborhood that had been largely outside of the government's control.

American and Iraqi officials spent most of 2008 negotiating a new security agreement to replace the United Nations mandate authorizing the presence of foreign troops. Negotiations proceeded haltingly for months, but Mr. Bush, who for years railed against those calling for timetables for withdrawal, agreed in July 2008 to a "general time horizon." That ultimately became a firm pledge to remove all American combat forces from Iraqi cities by the end of June 2009 and from the whole country by 2011. He also agreed to give Iraq significant control over combat operations, detentions of prisoners and even prosecutions of American soldiers for grave crimes, though with enough caveats to make charges unlikely.


The American military returned control of military operations to Iraq's military and police on Jan. 1, 2009. The American combat mission — Operation Iraqi Freedom, in the Pentagon's argot — officially ended on Aug. 31, 2010.

President Obama marked the date with a prime-time address from the Oval Office, saying that the United States had met its responsibility to Iraq and that it was time to turn to pressing problems at home.

The mission's name changed from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn, and the 50,000 remaining transitional troops will leave by the end of 2011.

At the end of June 2009, also in keeping with the security agreement, the vast majority of American troops withdrew from Iraq's cities, garrisoning themselves on vast bases outside. Mr. Maliki declared June 30 a national holiday, positioning himself as a proud leader who ended the foreign occupation of Iraq. But Mr. Maliki's fanfare about ending the occupation rang hollow for Iraqis who feared that their country's security forces were not yet ready to stand alone. A series of catastrophic attacks in August, October, December and January 2010 - striking government ministries, universities, hotels - only heightened anxiety and suspicion among Iraqis.


Iraq’s latest parliamentary election was originally scheduled for December 2009, but was delayed for months by political bickering. A fight over the election rules prompted a veto by one of Iraq's two vice presidents, Tariq al-Hashimi, who said Sunni Arabs inside and outside the country faced disadvantages. Then in January a parliamentary commission with disputed legal standing disqualified more than 500 candidates on the grounds they were former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party or remained sympathetic to it.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, hoping to build on his success in the 2009 provincial elections, sought to form a broader, cross-sectarian coalition that would include Sunnis, Kurds and other minority groups. Other parties followed suit, appealing for “national unity” in a country where it has rarely before existed, and only then a unity ruled by an iron hand.

They faced a formidable challenge from a coalition led by Ayad Allawi, a Shiite who served as interim prime minister before the 2005 elections. Mr. Allawi’s alliance, called Iraqiya, drew broader support across the country’s sectarian lines, attracting Mr. Hashimi, the Sunni vice president, and Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni lawmaker who was the most prominent candidate barred from running in March’s election.

The pre-election turmoil unfolded against a backdrop of violence and intimidation, and a steady withdrawal of American troops. On Feb. 12, 2010, the Islamic State of Iraq, the insurgent group that now includes the remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, vowed to disrupt the elections. While the level of violence plunged from the shocking carnage of 2006 and 2007, suicide bombers continued to attack, seemingly at will, plunging Baghdad into chaos on a regular basis and undercutting Mr. Maliki's claims to have restored security. Political disputes between Arabs and Kurds in the north continued to fester, prompting the Americans to intervene. Mr. Maliki's use of the military and security forces to settle political disputes also raised alarms, and put the Americans in the awkward middle.

Election Day on March 7 was marked by violence that left at least 38 dead, but that did not dissuade voters from turning out in large numbers. The vote counting process proved to be more chaotic than expected, with accusations of fraud by leading parties, divisions among highly politicized electoral officials and chaos in disclosing the results.

The initial results showed the coalition led by Mr. Allawi taking a slim lead over the slate of Mr. Maliki. Mr. Allawi, although himself a Shiite, benefited from a surge in voting by Sunnis, many of whom boycotted earlier elections.

Mr. Maliki vigorously challenged the results, but Mr. Allawi's narrow lead survived a recount. Mr. Maliki also forged an alliance between his coalition and the other major Shiite bloc, a move that cleared the way for a Shiite-dominated government for the next four years. Together they were only four votes short of a majority, leading many in Iraq to expect that a deal could be reached with Kurdish parties, once the Kurds extract new promises of expanded autonomy.

But as weeks dragged on, the Shiite alliance had not agreed on a candidate for prime minister, as many of its members strongly oppose giving Mr. Maliki a second term. The leader of one Shiite faction, Moktada al-Sadr, an anti-American cleric, even met with Mr. Allawi in an apparent effort to increase pressure on Mr. Maliki to step aside. American efforts to have the two men share power also failed to resolve the issue.

But on October 1 it was announced that Mr. Maliki’s party, State of Law, and another Shiite party with ties to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr shut out a third, the Iraqi National Alliance, and its contender, Adel Abdelmehdi, in negotiations within the Shiite bloc.

The Kurds, with 57 seats in the new 325-member Parliament, emerged as powerbrokers in the final talks, throwing their support behind Mr. Maliki in exchange for holding onto the presidency.

The Obama administration had for months urged Iraq’s quarreling factions to create a government that included all major ethnic and sectarian groups, lest the country descend into the chaos that consumed it in the worst years after the invasion of 2003.

Under the new pact, the county’s current president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader, would remain as president, solidifying the role of Iraq’s Kurds. The new government that will oversee the withdrawal of American troops will look much like the one that has governed in the past four tumultuous years. But Mr. Allawi’s role in the new government remained to be defined.

Mr. Maliki was formally granted a second term on Dec. 21, when Parliament unanimously voted to accept the cabinet he had painstakingly assembled.


The protracted election turmoil, and the strengthened position of the fiercely anti-American Mr. Sadr, cast new doubt on establishing any enduring American military role in Iraq after the last of nearly 50,000 troops withdraw in the next 12 months. Given Iraq’s military shortcomings, especially in air power, intelligence coordination and logistics, American and Iraqi officials had long expected that some American military presence, even if only in an advisory role, would continue beyond 2011.

The November agreement by Mr. Allawi's party to join a unity government was a significant victory for Mr. Maliki, who has proven a forceful and wily politician, unwavering in his determination to remain in office. How Mr. Maliki can now manage the unwieldy alliance is a big question. Rivalries among the various factions, including a bitter historical opposition between Mr. Maliki and Mr. Sadr, remain barely below the surface.

The long stalemate cast a shadow over the drawdown that brought the American force in Iraq to about 50,000 troops by August 31, down from 144,000 when Mr. Obama took office. The remaining “advise and assist” brigades will officially focus on supporting and training Iraqi security forces, protecting American personnel and facilities, and mounting counterterrorism operations. The 50,000 transitional troops will leave by the end of 2011, according to an agreement negotiated by President George W. Bush and reaffirmed by Mr. Obama.

The drawdown of American combat forces represents a significant milestone after the war that toppled Saddam Hussein, touched off waves of sectarian strife and claimed the lives of more than 4,400 American soldiers and more than 70,000 Iraqis, according to the United States and Iraqi government figures. Yet the date largely went unnoticed by Iraqis.

The withdrawal also is a feat of logistics that has been called the biggest movement of military matériel since World War II. But it is also an exercise in semantics: What soldiers today would call combat operations - hunting insurgents, joint raids between Iraqi security forces and United States Special Forces to kill or arrest militants - will continue but be called "stability operations." The Obama administration is planning a remarkable civilian effort, buttressed by a small army of contractors, to fill the void. By October 2011, the State Department will assume responsibility for training the Iraqi police, a task that will largely be carried out by contractors.


The departure of the bulk of American forces in 2010 does not mean an end to the country's involvement in Iraq. But the tiny military presence under the Obama administration's plan — limited to several dozen to several hundred officers in an embassy office who would help the Iraqis purchase and field new American military equipment — and the civilians' growing portfolio have led some veteran Iraq hands to suggest that thousands of additional troops will be needed after 2011.

The array of tasks for which American troops are likely to be needed, military experts and some Iraqi officials say, include training Iraqi forces to operate and logistically support new M-1 tanks, artillery and F-16s they intend to acquire from the Americans; protecting Iraq's airspace until the country can rebuild its air force; and perhaps assisting Iraq's special operations units in carrying out counterterrorism operations.

Such an arrangement would need to be negotiated with Iraqi officials, who insisted on the 2011 deadline in the agreement with the Bush administration for removing American forces. With the Obama administration in campaign mode for the coming midterm elections and Iraqi politicians yet to form a government, the question of what future military presence might be needed has been all but banished from public discussion.

By October 2011, the State Department will assume responsibility for training the Iraqi police, a task that will largely be carried out by contractors. With no American soldiers to defuse sectarian tensions in northern Iraq, it will be up to American diplomats in two new $100 million outposts to head off potential confrontations between the Iraqi Army and Kurdish pesh merga forces.

To protect the civilians in a country that is still home to insurgents with Al Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias, the State Department is planning to more than double its private security guards, up to as many as 7,000, according to administration officials who disclosed new details of the plan. Defending five fortified compounds across the country, the security contractors would operate radars to warn of enemy rocket attacks, search for roadside bombs, fly reconnaissance drones and even staff quick reaction forces to aid civilians in distress, the officials said.

Mark Aldrich,
Aug 3, 2011, 8:23 AM