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The Arabic name العراق al-ʿIrāq has been in use since before the 6th century. There are several suggested origins for the name. One dates to the Sumerian city of Uruk (Biblical Hebrew Erech) and is thus ultimately of Sumerian origin, as Uruk was the Akkadian name for the Sumerian city of Unug, containing the Sumerian word for “city”, URU. According to Professor Wilhelm Eilers, “The name al-‘Irāq, for all its Arabic appearance, is derived from Middle Persian erāq for lowlands”.
Mesopotamia has always been called “the land of Iraq” in Arabic, meaning “the fertile” or “deep-rooted land”. During the medieval period, there was a region called ʿIrāq ʿArabī (“Arabian Iraq”) for lower Mesopotamia and ʿIrāq ʿajamī (“Persian Iraq” or “Foreign Iraq”), for the region now situated in Central and Western Iran. The term historically included the plain south of the Hamrin Mountains and did not include the northernmost and westernmost parts of the modern territory of Iraq.
As an Arabic word, عراق means hem, shore, bank, or edge, so that the name by folk etymology came to be interpreted as “the escarpment”, viz. at the south and east of the Jazira Plateau, which forms the northern and western edge of the “al-Iraq arabi” area.
The Arabic pronunciation is [ʕiˈrɑːq]. In English, it is either /ɪˈrɑːk/ (the only pronunciation listed in the Oxford English Dictionary and the first one in Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary) or /ɪˈræk/ (listed first by MQD), the American Heritage Dictionary, and the Random House Dictionary. /aɪˈræk/ is frequently heard in US media.
Main article: History of Iraq
Main articles: Mesopotamia, Sumer, Akkadian Empire, Babylonia, and Assyria
The upper part of the stela of Hammurabi’s code of laws
Iraq has the common epithet, the “Cradle of Civilization”, as it was home to the earliest known civilization on Earth, the Sumerian civilization, which arose in the fertile Tigris-Euphrates river valley of southern Iraq in the Chalcolithic (Ubaid period). It was here in the late 4th millennium BC, that the world’s first writing system and recorded history itself were born. The Sumerian civilization flourished for over 3,000 years and was succeeded by the rise of the Akkadian Empire in the 24th century BC. Over two centuries of Akkadian dominance was followed by a Sumerian Renaissance in the 21st century BC. An Elamite invasion in 2004 BC brought the Third Dynasty of Ur to an end. By the 18th century BC a new civilization, Babylonia, had risen to dominance in central and southern Iraq while a contemporaneous state, Assyria, had formed in northern Iraq.
In the 6th century BC, Cyrus the Great of neighbouring Persia defeated the Neo-Babylonian Empire at the Battle of Opis and Iraq was subsumed into the Achaemenid Empire for nearly four centuries. In the late 4th century BC, Alexander the Great conquered the region, putting it under Hellenistic Seleucid rule for nearly two centuries. The Parthians conquered the region during the reign of Mithridates I of Parthia (r. 171–138 BC). From Syria, the Romans invaded the region several times. The Sassanid Persians under Ardashir I destroyed the Parthian Empire and conquered the region in 224 AD. The region was thus a province of the Persian Empire for four centuries, until the Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia in the 7th century.
Islamic Golden Age
Main articles: Islamic conquest of Iraq, Abbasid Caliphate, and Islamic Golden Age
The Islamic Empire and the caliphs during their greatest extent.
Under Muhammad, 622–632
Under the Patriarchal Caliphate, 632–661
Under the Umayyad Caliphate, 661–750
The Islamic conquest in the 7th century established Islam in Iraq. Under the Rashidun Caliphate, the prophet Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law Ali moved his capital to Kufa “fi al-Iraq” when he became the fourth caliph. The Umayyad Caliphate ruled the province of Iraq from Damascus in the 7th century. (However, eventually there was a separate, independent Caliphate of Cordoba.)
The Abbasid Caliphate built the city of Baghdad in the 8th century as their capital, and it became the leading metropolis of the Arab and Muslim world for five centuries. Baghdad was the largest multicultural city of the Middle Ages, peaking at a population of more than a million, and was the centre of learning during the Islamic Golden Age. The Mongols destroyed the city during the sack of Baghdad in the 13th century.
Main articles: Battle of Baghdad (1258) and Ilkhanate
In 1257, Hulagu Khan amassed an unusually large army, a significant portion of the Mongol Empire’s forces, for the purpose of conquering Baghdad. When they arrived at the Islamic capital, Hulagu demanded surrender but the last Abbasid Caliph Al-Musta’sim refused. This angered Hulagu, and, consistent with Mongol strategy of discouraging resistance, Baghdad was decimated. Estimates of the number of dead range from 200,000 to a million.
Abbasid-era coins, Baghdad, 1244.
The Mongols destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate and The Grand Library of Baghdad (Arabic بيت الحكمة Bayt al-Hikma, lit., House of Wisdom), which contained countless, precious, historical documents. The city has never regained its status as major center of culture and influence. Some historians believe that the Mongol invasion destroyed much of the irrigation infrastructure that had sustained Mesopotamia for many millennia. Other historians point to soil salination as the culprit in the decline in agriculture.
The mid-14th-century Black Death ravaged much of the Islamic world. The best estimate for Middle East—Iraq, Iran, Syria, etc.—is a death rate of a third.
In 1401, warlord of Mongol descent Tamerlane (Timur Lenk) invaded Iraq. After the capture of Bagdad, 20,000 of its citizens were massacred. Timur ordered that every soldier should return with at least two severed human heads to show him (many warriors were so scared they killed prisoners captured earlier in the campaign just to ensure they had heads to present to Timur).
Main articles: Ottoman Empire, Ottoman Iraq, and Mamluk rule in Iraq
During the late 14th and early 15th centuries, the Black Sheep Turkmen ruled the area now known as Iraq. In 1466, the White Sheep Turkmen defeated the Black Sheep and took control. In the 16th century, most of the territory of present-day Iraq came under the control of Ottoman Empire as the pashalik of Baghdad. Throughout most of the period of Ottoman rule (1533–1918) the territory of present-day Iraq was a battle zone between the rival regional empires and tribal alliances. The Safavid dynasty of Iran briefly asserted their hegemony over Iraq in the periods of 1508–1533 and 1622–1638.
During the years 1747–1831 Iraq was ruled by the Mamluk officers of Georgian origin who succeeded in obtaining autonomy from the Sublime Porte, suppressed tribal revolts, curbed the power of the Janissaries, restored order and introduced a program of modernization of economy and military. In 1831, the Ottomans managed to overthrow the Mamluk regime and imposed their direct control over Iraq. The population of Iraq had shrunk to under 5 million by the early 20th century.
Further information: Iraqi revolt against the British
Ottoman rule over Iraq lasted until World War I when the Ottomans sided with Germany and the Central Powers. In the Mesopotamian campaign against the Central Powers, British forces invaded the country and suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Turkish army during the Siege of Kut (1915–1916). British forces regrouped and captured Baghdad in 1917. An armistice was signed in 1918.
Iraq was carved out of the Ottoman Empire by the French and British as agreed in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The Sykes-Picot agreement was a secret agreement between UK and France with the assent of Imperial Russia, defining their respective spheres of influence and control in West Asia after the expected downfall of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The Agreement was concluded on 16 May 1916. On 11 November 1920 it became a League of Nations mandate under British control with the name “State of Iraq”.
Britain imposed a Hāshimite monarchy on Iraq and defined the territorial limits of Iraq without taking into account the politics of the different ethnic and religious groups in the country, in particular those of the Kurds and the Assyrians to the north. During the British occupation, the Shi’ites and Kurds fought for independence.
Faced with spiraling costs and influenced by the public protestations of war hero T. E. Lawrence in The Times, Britain replaced Arnold Wilson in October 1920 with new Civil Commissioner Sir Percy Cox. Cox managed to quell the rebellion, yet was also responsible for implementing the fateful policy of close cooperation with Iraq’s Sunni minority.
In the Mandate period and beyond, the British supported the traditional, Sunni leadership (such as the tribal shaykhs) over the growing, urban-based nationalist movement. The Land Settlement Act gave the tribal shaykhs the right to register the communal tribal lands in their own name. The Tribal Disputes Regulations gave them judiciary rights, whereas the Peasants’ Rights and Duties Act of 1933 severely reduced the tenants’, forbidding them to leave the land unless all their debts to the landlord had been settled. The British resorted to military force when their interests were threatened, as in the 1941 Rashīd `Alī al-Gaylānī coup. This coup led to a British invasion of Iraq using forces from the British Indian Army and the Arab Legion from Jordan.
World War I
Main articles: Mesopotamian campaign, Damascus Protocol, McMahon-Hussein Correspondence, and Sykes–Picot Agreement
During World War I the Ottomans were driven from much of the area by the United Kingdom during the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The British lost 92,000 soldiers in the Mesopotamian campaign. Ottoman losses are unknown but the British captured a total of 45,000 prisoners of war. By the end of 1918 the British had deployed 410,000 men in the area, though only 112,000 were combat troops.
During World War I the British and French divided Western Asia in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The League of Nations granted France mandates over Syria and Lebanon and granted the United Kingdom mandates over Mesapotamia and Palestine (which was subsequently partitioned into two autonomous regions: Palestine and Transjordan).
British Mandate of Mesopotamia
Main article: British Mandate of Mesopotamia
At the end of World War I, the League of Nations granted the area to the United Kingdom as a mandate. It initially formed two former Ottoman vilayets (regions): Baghdad and Basra into a single country in August 1921. Five years later, in 1926, the northern vilayet of Mosul was added, forming the territorial boundaries of the modern Iraqi state.
For three out of four centuries of Ottoman rule, Baghdad was the seat of administration for the vilayets of Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra. During the mandate, British colonial administrators ruled the country, and through the use of British armed forces, suppressed Arab and Kurdish rebellions against the occupation. They established the Hashemite king, Faisal, who had been forced out of Syria by the French, as their client ruler. Likewise, British authorities selected Sunni Arab elites from the region for appointments to government and ministry offices.[specify]
Main article: Kingdom of Iraq
Britain granted independence to Iraq in 1932, on the urging of King Faisal, though the British retained military bases and transit rights for their forces. King Ghazi ruled as a figurehead after King Faisal’s death in 1933, while undermined by attempted military coups, until his death in 1939. Ghazi was followed by his under age son, Faisal II. ‘Abd al-Ilah served as Regent during Faisal’s minority.
On 1 April 1941, Rashid Ali al-Gaylani and members of the Golden Square staged a coup d’état and overthrew the government of ‘Abd al-Ilah. During the subsequent Anglo-Iraqi War, the United Kingdom invaded Iraq for fear that the Rashid Ali government might cut oil supplies to Western nations because of his links to the Axis powers. The war started on 2 May and an armistice was signed 31 May.
A military occupation followed the restoration of the pre-coup government of the Hashemite monarchy. The occupation ended on 26 October 1947. The rulers during the occupation and the remainder of the Hashemite monarchy were Nuri al-Said, the autocratic Prime Minister, who also ruled from 1930–1932, and ‘Abd al-Ilah, the former Regent who now served as an adviser to King Faisal II.
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