Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Condensed History of Iraq

Ancient Times
The land area now known as modern Iraq was almost equivalent to Mesopotamia, the world's first civilization. The Mesopotamian plain between the two rivers Tigris and Euphrates (in Arabic, the Djilas and Furat, respectively), is part of the Fertile Crescent. Many dynasties and empires ruled the Mesopotamia region such as Sumer, Akkad Assyria and Babylonia.

Sumerians and Akkadians
It was in Mesopotamia about 3000 BC where the Sumerian culture flourished. The civilized life that emerged at Sumer was shaped by two conflicting factors: the unpredictability of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which at any time could unleash devastating floods that wiped out the entire populace, and the extreme richness of the river valleys, caused by centuries-old deposits of soil. Eventually, the Sumerians had to battle other peoples. Some of the earliest of these wars were with the Elamites living in what is now western Iran. This frontier has been fought over repeatedly ever since; it is arguably the most fought over frontier in the world. Sumerian dominance was challenged by the Akkadians, who migrated up from the Arabian Peninsula. The Akkadians were a Semitic people, that is, they spoke a Semitic language.

In 2340 BC, the great Akkadian leader Sargon conquered Sumer and built the Akkadian Empire stretching over most of the Sumerian city-states and extending as far away as Lebanon. Sargon based his empire in the city of Akkad, which became the basis of the name of his people.

Sargon's ambitious empire lasted for only short time in the long time spans of Mesopotamian history. In 2125 BC, the Sumerian city of Ur in southern Mesopotamia rose up in revolt, and the Akkadian empire fell before a renewal of Sumerian city-states.

Babylonians, Mitanni, and Assyrians
After the later collapse of the Sumerian civilization, the people were reunited in 1700 BC by King Hammurabi of Babylon (1792-1750 BC), and the country flourished under the name of Babylonia. Babylonian rule encompassed a huge area covering most of the Tigris-Euphrates river valley from Sumer and the Persian Gulf. He extended his empire northward through the Tigris and Euphrates River valleys and westward to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. After consolidating his gains under a central government at Babylon, he devoted his energies to protecting of Kassite Babylonia.

The Assyrians, after they finally broke free of the Mitanni, were the next major power to assert themselves on Mesopotamia. After defeating and virtually annexing Mitanni, the Assyrians challenged Babylonia. They weakened Babylonia so much that the Kassite Dynasty fell from power; the Assyrians virtually came to control Babylonia, until revolts in turn deposed them and set up a new dynasty, known as the Second Dynasty of Isin. Nebuchadnezzar I (Nabu-kudurri-usur; c. 1119 BC-c. 1098 BC) is the best known ruler from this dynasty.

Eventually, during the 800s BC, one of the most powerful tribes outside Babylon, the Chaldeans (Latin Chaldaeus, Greek Khaldaios, Assyrian Kaldu), had gained prominence. The Chaldeans rose to power in Babylonia and, by doing so, seem to have increased the stability and power of Babylonia. They fought off many revolts and aggressors. Chaldean influence was so strong that, during this period, Babylonia came to be known as Chaldea.

In 626 BC, the Chaldeans helped Nabopolassar to take power in Babylonia. At that time, Assyria was under considerable pressure from an Iranian people, the Medes (from Media). Nabo-Polassar allied Babylonia with the Medes. Assyria could not withstand this added pressure, and in 612 BC, Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, fell. The entire city, once the capital of a great empire, was burned and sacked.

Nebuchadrezzar II of Babylon
Later, Nebuchadrezzar II (Nabopolassar's son) inherited the empire of Babylonia. He added quite a bit of territory to Babylonia and rebuilt Babylon, still the capital of Babylonia.

In the 6th century BC (586 BC), Nebuchadrezzar II conquered Judea (Judah), destroyed Jerusalem; Solomon's Temple was also destroyed; Nebuchadrezzar II carried away an estimated 15,000 captives, and sent most of its population into exile in Babylonia. Nebuchadrezzar (604-562 BC) is credited for building the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Persian Domination; 550 BC to AD 652
Various invaders conquered the land after Nebuchadrezzar's death, including Cyrus the Great in 539 BC and Alexander the Great in 331 BC, who died there in 323 BC. In the sixth century BC, it became part of the Persian Empire, then was conquered by Alexander the Great and remained under Greek rule under the Seleucid dynasty for nearly two centuries. Babylon declined after the founding of Seleucia on the Tigris, the new Seleucid Empire capital. A Central Asian tribe of Iranian peoples called Parthians then annexed the region followed by the Sassanid Persians until the 7th century, when Arab Muslims captured it.

The Arabic term "Iraq", a derivative form of Persian Ērāk (lower Iran) was not used at this time; in the mid-6th century the Iranian Empire under Sassanid dynasty was divided by Khosrow I into four quarters, of which the western one, called Khvārvarān, included most of modern Iraq, and subdivided to provinces of Mishān, Asuristān, Ādiābene and Lower Media. The term Iraq is widely used in the medieval Arabic sources for the area in the centre and south of the modern republic as a geographic rather than a political term, implying no precise boundaries.

The area of modern Iraq north of Tikrit was known in Muslim times as Al-Jazirah, which means "The Island" and refers to the "island" between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. To the south and west lay the Arabian deserts, inhabited largely by Arab tribesmen who occasionally acknowledged the overlord ship of the Sassanian Emperors.
Until 602 the desert frontier of greater Iran had been guarded by the Lakhmid kings of Al-Hirah, who were themselves Arabs but who ruled a settled buffer state. In that year Shahanshah Khosrow II Aparviz (Persian خسرو پرويز) rashly abolished the Lakhmid kingdom and laid the frontier open to nomad incursions. Farther north, the western quarter was bounded by the Byzantine Empire. The frontier more or less followed the modern Syria-Iraq border and continued northward into modern Turkey, leaving Nisibis (modern Nusaybin) as the Sassanian frontier fortress while the Byzantines held Dara and nearby Amida (modern Diyarbakır).

To give a good sense of those parts of Iraq, Syria and Turkey (which is inhabited by Kurds, ones of Iranian races) were parts of Iran. Iraq was the capital of Iran for more than 1000 years. After Islam, the holy Shiite places like Najaf and Karbala made Iraq the capital of Shiite Muslims and the center of Iranian civilization until the establishment of modern Iraq. That's why even during the worst times of war between Iran and Iraq under Saddam's racist regime, Iranians called Iraqis brothers. Even now, a lot of Iraqis speak Iranian languages like Kurdish and Farsi.

The Arab Conquest and the Early Islamic Period
The first organized conflict between local Bedouin Arab tribes and Iranian forces seems to have been in 634, when the Arabs were defeated at the Battle of the Bridge. There was a force of some 5,000 Muslims under Abū `Ubayd ath-Thaqafī, which was routed by the Iranians. Around 636, a much larger Arab Muslim force under Sa`d ibn Abī Waqqās defeated the main Iranian army at the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah and moved on to sack the capital of the Iranian Empire, Ctesiphon. By the end of 638, the Muslims had conquered almost all of Western Iranian provinces (modern Iraq), and the last Sassanid Emperor, Yazdegerd III, had fled to central and then northern Iran, where he was killed in 651.

The Islamic conquest was followed by mass immigration of Arabs from eastern Arabia and Mazun (Oman) to Khvarvārān. These new arrivals did not disperse and settle throughout the country; instead they established two new garrison cities, at al-Kūfah, near ancient Babylon, and at Basrah in the south.

The intention was that the Muslims should be a separate community of fighting men and their families living off taxes paid by the local inhabitants. In the north of the North eastern Iran, Mosul began to emerge as the most important city and the base of a Muslim governor and garrison. Apart from the Iranian elite and the Zoroastrian priests, who did not convert to Islam and thus lost their lives and property, most of the Iranian peoples became Muslim and were allowed to keep their possessions. Khvarvārān, now became a province of the Muslim Caliphate, known as Iraq.

The Turkish Conquest
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. Later, most of Iraq would become part of the Safavid Empire that arose in Iran in 1501. In the 16th century Iraq became a part of the Ottoman Empire, although the Safavids temporarily recaptured much of Iraq during the first part of the 17th century.

Modern History
Ottoman rule over Iraq lasted until the Great War (World War I) when the Ottomans sided with Germany and 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 (1915–16). 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. 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 to the north. During the British occupation the Shiates and Kurds fought for independence. Britain used phosphorus bombs against Kurdish villagers in the revolt. Legal experts consider phosphorus bombs chemical weapons when used as an anti-personnel weapon.

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.

The Iraqi Monarchy
Emir Faisal, leader of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman sultān during the Great War, and member of the Sunni Hashimite family from Mecca, became the first king of the new state. He obtained the throne partly by the influence of T. E. Lawrence. Although the monarch was legitimized and proclaimed King by a plebiscite in 1921, nominal independence was only achieved in 1932, when the British Mandate officially ended.

In 1927, huge oil fields were discovered near Kirkuk and brought economic improvement. Exploration rights were granted to the Iraqi Petroleum Company, which despite the name was a British oil company. King Faisal I was succeeded by his son Ghazi in December 1933. King Ghazi's reign lasted five and a half years. He claimed Iraqi sovereignty over Kuwait. An avid amateur racer, the king drove his car into a lamppost and died 3 April 1939. His son Faisal followed him to the throne.

King Faisal II (1935 – 1958) was the only son of King Ghazi I and Queen `Aliyah. The new king was four when his father died. His uncle 'Abd al-Ilah became regent (April 1939 – May 1953).

In 1945, Iraq joined the United Nations and became a founding member of the Arab League. At the same time, the Kurdish leader Mustafā Barzānī led a rebellion against the central government in Baghdad. After the failure of the uprising Barzānī and his followers fled to the Soviet Union.

In 1948, Iraq and five other Arab countries fought a war against the newly-declared State of Israel. Iraq was not a party to the cease-fire agreement signed in May 1949. The war had a negative impact on Iraq's economy. The government had to allocate 40 percent of available funds to the army and for the Palestinian refugees. Oil royalties paid to Iraq were halved when the pipeline to Haifa was cut. The war and the hanging of several Jewish businessmen led to the departure of most of Iraq's Jewish community.

Iraq signed the Baghdad Pact in 1956. It allied Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom. Its headquarters were in Baghdad. The Pact constituted a direct challenge to Egyptian president Gamal Abdal Nasser. In response, Nasser launched a media campaign that challenged the legitimacy of the Iraqi monarchy.

In February 1958 King Hussein of Jordan and `Abd al-Ilāh proposed a union of Hāshimite monarchies to counter the recently formed Egyptian-Syrian union. The prime minister Nuri as-Said wanted Kuwait to be part of the proposed Arab-Hāshimite Union. Shaykh `Abd-Allāh as-Salīm, the ruler of Kuwait, was invited to Baghdad to discuss Kuwait's future. This policy brought the government of Iraq into direct conflict with Britain, which did not want to grant independence to Kuwait. At that point, the monarchy found itself completely isolated. Nuri as-Said was able to contain the rising discontent only by resorting to ever greater political oppression.

The Republic
Inspired by Nasser, officers from the Nineteenth Brigade known as "Free Officers", under the leadership of Brigadier Abdul-Karim Qassem (known as "az-Za`īm", 'the leader') and Colonel Abdul Salam Arif overthrew the Hashimite monarchy on 14 July 1958. King Faisal II and `Abd al-Ilāh were executed in the gardens of ar-Rihāb Palace. Their bodies (and those of many others in the royal family) were displayed in public. Nuri as-Said evaded capture for one day, but after attempting to escape disguised as a veiled woman, he was caught and shot.

The new government proclaimed Iraq to be a republic and rejected the idea of a union with Jordan. Iraq's activity in the Baghdād Pact ceased. When Qāsim distanced himself from `Abd an-Nāsir, he faced growing opposition from pro-Egypt officers in the Iraqi army. `Arif, who wanted closer cooperation with Egypt, was stripped of his responsibilities and thrown in prison. When the garrison in Mosul rebelled against Qāsim's policies, he allowed the Kurdish leader Barzānī to return from exile in the Soviet Union to help suppress the pro-Nāsir rebels.

In 1961, Kuwait gained independence from Britain and Iraq claimed sovereignty over Kuwait. Britain reacted strongly to Iraq's claim and sent troops to Kuwait to deter Iraq. Qāsim was forced to back down and in October 1963, Iraq recognized the sovereignty of Kuwait.

A period of considerable instability followed. Qāsim was assassinated in February 1963, when the Ba'ath Party took power under the leadership of General Ahmed Hasan al-Bakr (prime minister) and Colonel Abdul Salam Arif (president). Nine months later `Abd as-Salam Muhammad `Arif led a successful coup against the Ba`th government. On 13 April 1966, President Abdul Salam Arif died in a helicopter crash and was succeeded by his brother, General Abdul Rahman Arif. Following the Six Day War of 1967, the Ba'ath Party felt strong enough to retake power (17 July 1968). Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr became president and chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC).

Barzānī and the Kurds who had begun a rebellion in 1961 were still causing problems in 1969. The secretary-general of the Ba`ath party, Saddam Hussein, was given responsibility to find a solution. It was clear that it was impossible to defeat the Kurds by military means and in 1970 a political agreement was reached between the rebels and the Iraqi government.

Iraq's economy recovered sharply after the 1968 revolution. The Arif brothers had spent close to 90% of the national budget on the army but the Ba'ath government gave priority to agriculture and industry. The British Iraq Petroleum Company monopoly was broken when a new contract was signed with ERAP, a major French oil company. Later the IPC was nationalized. As a result of these policies Iraq experienced fast economic growth.

During the 1970s, border disputes with Iran and Kuwait caused many problems. Kuwait's refusal to allow Iraq to build a harbor in the Shatt al-Arab delta strengthened Iraq's belief that conservative powers in the region were trying to control the Persian Gulf. Iran's occupation of numerous islands in the Strait of Hormuz didn't help alter Iraq's fears. The border disputes between Iraq and Iran were temporarily resolved with the signing of the Algiers Accord on 6 March 1975.

In 1972 an Iraqi delegation visited Moscow. The same year diplomatic relations with the US were restored. Relations with Jordan and Syria were good. Iraqi troops were stationed in both countries. During the 1973 October War, Iraqi divisions engaged Israeli forces.

In retrospect, the 1970s can be seen as a high point in Iraq's modern history. A new, young, technocratic elite was governing the country and the fast growing economy brought prosperity and stability. Many Arabs outside Iraq considered it an example. However, the following decades would not be as favorable for the fledgling country.

Under Saddam
In July 1979, President Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr resigned, and his chosen successor, Saddam Hussein, assumed the offices of both President and Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council. He was the de facto ruler of Iraq for some years before he formally came to power.

Young Saddam Hussein

Saddam at his trial.

Territorial disputes with Iran led to an inconclusive and costly eight-year war, the Iran-Iraq War (1980 – 1988, termed Qādisiyyat-Saddām – 'Saddam's Qādisiyyah'), eventually devastating the economy. Iraq declared victory in 1988 but actually achieved a weary return to the status quo ante bellum. The war left Iraq with the largest military establishment in the Persian Gulf region but with huge debts and an ongoing rebellion by Kurdish elements in the northern mountains. The government suppressed the rebellion by using weapons on civilian targets.

A mass chemical weapons attack on the city of Halabja in March 1988 during the Iran-Iraq War is usually attributed to Saddam's regime; although responsibility for the attack is a matter of some dispute (Saddam maintained his innocence in this matter until his execution in December, 2006). Almost all current accounts of the incident regard the Iraqi regime as the party responsible for the gas attack (as opposed to Iran), and the event has become iconic in depictions of Saddam's cruelty. Estimates of casualties range from several hundred to at least 7,000 people. The Iraqi government continued to be supported by a broad international community including most of the West, the Soviet Union, and the People's Republic of China, which continued sending arms shipments to combat Iran. Indeed, shipments from the US (though always a minority) increased after this date, and the UK awarded £400 million in trade credits to Iraq ten days after condemning the massacre.

In the late 1970s, Iraq purchased a French nuclear reactor, dubbed Osirak or Tammuz 1. Construction began in 1979. In 1980, the reactor site suffered minor damage due to an Iranian air strike, and in 1981, before the reactor could be completed, it was destroyed by the Israeli Air Force (see Operation Opera), greatly setting back Iraq's nuclear weapons program.

Invasion of Kuwait and the Persian Gulf War
A long-standing territorial dispute led to the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Iraq accused Kuwait of violating the Iraqi border to secure oil resources, and demanded that its debt repayments should be waived. Direct negotiations began in July 1990, but they soon failed. Saddam Hussein had an emergency meeting with April Glaspie, the United States Ambassador to Iraq, on 25 July 1990, airing his concerns but stating his intention to continue talks. April Glaspie informed Saddām that the United States had no interest in border disputes between Iraq and Kuwait.

Arab mediators convinced Iraq and Kuwait to negotiate their differences in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, on 1 August 1990, but that session resulted only in charges and counter-charges. A second session was scheduled to take place in Baghdad, but Iraq invaded Kuwait the following day. Iraqi troops overran the country shortly after midnight on August 2, 1990. The United Nations Security Council and the Arab League immediately condemned the Iraqi invasion. Four days later, the Security Council imposed an economic embargo on Iraq that prohibited nearly all trade with Iraq.

Iraq responded to the sanctions by annexing Kuwait as the "19th Province" of Iraq on 8 August, prompting the exiled Sabah family to call for a stronger international response. Over the ensuing months, the United Nations Security Council passed a series of resolutions that condemned the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and implemented total mandatory economic sanctions against Iraq. Other countries subsequently provided support for "Operation Desert Shield". In November 1990, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 678, permitting member states to use all necessary means, authorizing military action against the Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait and demanded a complete withdrawal by 15 January 1991.

When Saddam Hussein failed to comply with this demand, the Persian Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) ensued on January 17, 1991 (3am Iraqi time), with allied troops of 28 countries, led by the US launching an aerial bombardment on Baghdad. The war, which proved disastrous for Iraq, lasted only six weeks. One hundred and forty-thousand tons of munitions had showered down on the country, the equivalent of seven Hiroshima bombs. Probably as many as 100,000 Iraqi soldiers and tens of thousands of civilians were killed.

Allied air raids destroyed roads, bridges, factories, and oil-industry facilities (shutting down the national refining and distribution system) and disrupted electric, telephone, and water service. Conference centers and shopping and residential areas were hit. Hundreds of Iraqis were killed in the attack on the Al-Amiriyah bomb shelter. Diseases spread through contaminated drinking water because water purification and sewage treatment facilities could not operate without electricity.

A cease-fire was announced by the US on 28 February 1991. UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar met with Saddam Hussein to discuss the Security Council timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Kuwait. Iraq agreed to UN terms for a permanent cease-fire in April 1991, and strict conditions were imposed, demanding the disclosure and destruction of all stockpiles of weapons.

Iraq under UN Sanction
On 6 August 1990, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 661 which imposed economic sanctions on Iraq, providing for a full trade embargo, excluding medical supplies, food and other items of humanitarian necessity, these to be determined by the Security Council sanctions committee. After the end of the Gulf War and after Iraqi’s withdrawal from Kuwait, the sanctions were linked to removal of weapons of mass destruction by Resolution 687.

The United States, citing a need to prevent the genocide of the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq and the Kurds to the north, declared "air exclusion zones" north of the 36th parallel and south of the 32nd parallel. The Clinton administration judged an alleged assassination attempt on former President George H. W. Bush by Iraqi secret agents to be worthy of a military response on 27 June 1993. The Iraqi Intelligence Headquarters in Baghdad was targeted by Tomahawk cruise missiles.

During the time of the UN sanctions, internal and external opposition to the Ba'ath government was weak and divided. In May 1995, Saddam sacked his half-brother, Wathban, as Interior Minister and in July demoted his Defense Minister, Ali Hassan al-Majid. These personnel changes were the result of the growth in power of Saddām Hussein's two sons, Uday Hussein and Qusay Hussein, who were given effective vice-presidential authority in May 1995. In August Major General Husayn Kāmil Hasan al-Majīd, Minister of Military Industries and a political ally of Saddam, defected to Jordan, together with his wife (one of Saddam's daughters) and his brother, Saddam, who was married to another of the president's daughters; both called for the overthrow of the Iraqi government. After a few weeks in Jordan, being given promises for their safety, the two brothers returned to Iraq where they were killed.

During the latter part of the 1990s the UN considered relaxing the sanctions imposed because of the hardships suffered by ordinary Iraqis. According to UN estimates, between 500,000 and 1.2 million children died during the years of the sanctions. The United States used its veto in the UN Security Council to block the proposal to lift the sanctions because of the continued failure of Iraq to verify disarmament. However, the oil for food program was established in 1996 to ease the effects of sanctions.

Iraqi cooperation with UN weapons inspection teams were questioned on several occasions during the 1990s. UNSCOM chief weapons inspector Richard Butler withdrew his team from Iraq in November 1998 because of Iraq's lack of cooperation. The team returned in December. Butler prepared a report for the UN Security Council afterwards in which he expressed dissatisfaction with the level of compliance. The same month, US President Bill Clinton authorized air strikes on government targets and military facilities. Air strikes against military facilities and alleged WMD sites continued into 2002.

2003 invasion of Iraq
After the terrorist attacks by the group formed by the multi-millionaire Saudi Osama bin Laden on New York and Washington in the United States in 2001, American foreign policy began to call for the removal of the Ba'ath government in Iraq. Conservative think-tanks in Washington had for years been urging regime change in Baghdad, but until the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, official US policy was to simply keep Iraq complying with UN sanctions. In addition, unofficial US policies, including a CIA backed coup attempt, were aimed at removing Saddam Hussein from power. After the terrorist attacks of September 11th, regime change became official policy. The occupation of Iraq later was identified by the George W. Bush administration as a part of the global War on Terrorism.

The US urged the United Nations to take military action against Iraq. The American president George Bush stated that Saddām had repeatedly violated 16 UN Security Council resolutions. The Iraqi government rejected Bush's assertions. A team of U.N. inspectors, led by Swedish diplomat Hans Blix was admitted, into the country; their final report stated that Iraqis capability in producing "weapons of mass destruction" was not significantly different from 1992 when the country dismantled the bulk of their remaining arsenals under terms of the ceasefire agreement with U.N. forces, but did not completely rule out the possibility that Saddam still had Weapons of Mass Destruction. The United States and the United Kingdom charged that Iraq was hiding Weapons and opposed the team's requests for more time to further investigate the matter.

Resolution 1441 was passed unanimously by the UN Security Council on November 8, 2002, offering Iraq "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations" that had been set out in several previous UN resolutions, threatening "serious consequences" if the obligations were not fulfilled. The UN Security Council did not issue a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. In March 2003 the United States and the United Kingdom, with military aid from other nations, invaded Iraq.

Coalition occupation of Iraq
In 2003, after the American and British invasion, Iraq was occupied by Coalition forces. On 23 May 2003, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution lifting all economic sanctions against Iraq. As the country struggled to rebuild after three wars and a decade of sanctions, it was racked by violence between a growing Iraqi insurgency and occupation forces. Saddam Hussein, who vanished in April, was captured on 13 December 2003.

The initial US interim civil administrator, Jay Garner, was replaced in May 2003 by L. Paul Bremer, who was himself replaced by John Negroponte in 19 April 2004 who left Iraq in 2005. Negroponte was the last US interim administrator. Terrorism emerged as a threat to Iraq's people not long after the invasion of 2003. Al Qaeda now has a presence in the country, in the form of several terrorist groups formerly led by Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. Many foreign fighters and former Ba'ath Party officials have also joined the insurgency, which is mainly aimed at attacking American forces and Iraqis who work with them. The most dangerous insurgent area is the Sunni Triangle, a mostly Sunni-Muslim area just north of Baghdad.

Coalition withdrawal
A few days after the 11 March 2004 Madrid attacks, the conservative government of Spain was voted out of office. The War had been deeply unpopular and the incoming Socialist government followed through on its manifesto commitment to withdraw troops from Iraq. Following on the heels of this, several other nations that once formed the Coalition of the Willing began to reconsider their role. The Dutch refused a US offer to commit their troops to Iraq past 30 June. South Korea kept its troops deployed.

Soon after the decisions to withdrawal in the Spring of 2004, the Dominican Republic, Honduran, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Singapore, Thailand, Portugal, Philippines, Bulgaria, Nicaragua and Italy left or are planning to leave as well. Other nations (such as Australia, Denmark and Poland) continued their commitment in Iraq.

On 28 June 2004, the occupation was formally ended by the U.S.-led coalition, which transferred power to an interim Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. On 16 July 2004, the Philippines ordered the withdrawal of all of its troops in Iraq in order to comply with the demands of terrorists holding Filipino citizen Angelo de la Cruz as a hostage. Many nations that have announced withdrawal plans or are considering them have stated that they may reconsider if there is a new UN resolution that grants the UN more authority in Iraq.

The Iraqi government has officially requested the assistance of (at least) American troops until further notice. On January 30, 2005, the transitional parliamentary elections took place.

Post-transition violence
By the end of 2006 violence continued as the new Iraqi Government struggled to extend complete security within Iraq. U.S. forces, as well as lesser amounts of "coalition" forces remained in Iraq. An increasingly disturbing trend had arisen - sectarian fighting. As the country attempted to move from occupation by western forces to a new entity within the Middle East, a new phase of conflict seemed to erupted within Iraq. This new phase of conflict was waged predominately along religious sectarian lines. Fighting was primarily between the majority Shia and the minority Sunni; but there were reports of infighting as well. To outside observers, as well as people in Iraq, the cause of violence was obfuscate - as developments came faster than could be easily analyzed.

Reported acts of violence conducted by an uneasy tapestry of Sunni militants steadily increased by the end of 2006. These attacks become predominately aimed at Iraqi civilians rather than coalition forces. Violence was conducted by Sunni militants that include the Iraq Insurgency, which has been fighting since the initial U.S. invasion of 2003. Also, criminal elements within Iraq's society seemed to perpetuate violence for their own means and ambitions. Iraqi nationalist and Ba'athist elements (part of the insurgency) remained committed to expelling U.S. forces and also seemed to attack Shia populations, presumably, due to the Shia's threat to the Ba'athis aspirations. Further, Islamic Jihadist - of which Al Qaeda in Iraq is a member - continued to use terror and extreme acts of violence against civilian populations to formant their religious and political agenda(s). The aims of these attacks were not completely clear as 2006 ended, but it was argued at the time that these attacks were aimed at fomenting civil conflict within Iraq to destroy the legitimacy of the newly created Iraqi government (which many of its Sunni critics saw as illegitimate and a product of the U.S. government) and create an unsustainable position for the U.S. forces within Iraq. The most widely reported evidence of this argument stemmed from the February 23, 2006 attack on the Askari Mosque in Samarra, one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest sites. Analysis of the attack suggested that the Mujahideen Shura Council and Al-Qaeda in Iraq were responsible, and that the motivation was to provoke forth violence by outraging the Shia population.

In response to attacks like the one against the Askari Mosque, violent reprisal escalated. Shia militia organizations associated with various factions of the majority sect of Shia Islam within Iraq gained increasing power and influence in the Iraqi government. Additionally, the militias, it appeared in late 2006, had the capability to act outside the scope of government. As a result these powerful militias, it seemed as of late 2006, were leading reprisal acts of violence against the Sunni minority. A cycle of violence thus ensued whereby Sunni insurgent or terrorist attacks followed with Shia reprisals - often in the form of Shi'ite death squads that sought out and killed Sunnis. Many commentators on the Iraq War began, by the end of 2006, to refer to this violent escalation as a civil war.

Kurdish North
Nouri al-Maliki was at loggerheads with the leader of ethnic Kurds, who brandished the threat of secession in a growing row over the symbolic issue of flying the Iraqi national flag at government buildings in the autonomous Kurdish north. Maliki's Arab Shi'ite-led government was locked in a dispute with the autonomous Kurdish regional government, which has banned the use of the Iraqi state flag on public buildings. The prime minister issued a statement saying: "The Iraqi flag is the only flag that should be raised over any square inch of Iraq." But Mesud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan region, told the Kurdish parliament the national leadership were "failures" and that the Iraqi flag was a symbol of his people's past oppression by Baghdad: "If at any moment we, the Kurdish people and parliament, consider that it is in our interests to declare independence, we will do so and we will fear no one." The dispute exposes a widening rift between Arabs and Kurds, the second great threat to Iraq's survival as a state after the growing sectarian conflict between Arab Sunnis and Shi'ites.

Execution of Saddam Hussein
Former President of Iraq Saddam Hussein (April 28, 1937–December 30, 2006) was executed by hanging after being convicted of crimes against humanity by the Iraqi Special Tribunal following his trial for the murder of 148 Iraqi Shi'ites in the town of Dujail in 1982 in retaliation for an assassination attempt against him.
Saddam was president of Iraq from July 16, 1979 until April 9, 2003, when he was deposed during the 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S.-led forces. After his capture in ad-Dawr near his hometown of Tikrit, Saddam was held in United States custody at Camp Cropper to face trial by the Iraqi Special Tribunal for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. On November 5, 2006, he was sentenced to death by hanging.

On December 30, 2006, Saddam was taken to Camp Justice to be executed. The Iraqi government released an official video of the execution, including Saddam being lead to the gallows and stopping after the noose was placed around his neck. Much controversy has arisen, however, due to the surfacing of a mobile phone recording of the hanging which included audio, and showed Saddam falling through the trap door in the gallows. The audio, which was not in the official video, revealed taunts between Saddam and the executioners, which raised much criticism over the environment of his execution.

On December 31, 2006, Saddam's body was flown to his birth place of Al-Awja to be buried near his family.

With the death by hanging of former President of Iraq Saddam Hussein, the country of Iraq moves into a new and uncertain period of its history

Sunday, April 22, 2007

General Geography of Iraq


The border with Iran has been a continuing source of conflict and was partially responsible for the outbreak in 1980 of the present war. The terms of a treaty negotiated in 1937 under British auspices provided that in one area of the Shatt al Arab the boundary would be at the low water mark on the Iranian side. Iran subsequently insisted that “British imperialist pressures imposed the 1937 treaty on it" and that the proper boundary throughout the Shatt was the thalweg. The matter came to a head in 1969 when Iraq, in effect, told the Iranian government that the Shatt was an integral part of Iraqi territory and that the waterway might be closed to Iranian shipping.

Through Algerian mediation, Iran and Iraq agreed in March 1975 to normalize their relations, and three months later they signed a treaty known as the Algiers Accord. The document defined the common border all along the Shatt estuary as the thalweg. To compensate Iraq for the loss of what formerly had been regarded as its territory; pockets of territory along the mountain border in the central sector of its common boundary with Iran were assigned to it. Nonetheless, in September 1980 Iraq went to war with Iran, citing among other complaints the fact that Iran had not turned over to it the land specified in the Algiers Accord. This problem has subsequently proved to be a stumbling block to a negotiated settlement of the ongoing conflict.

In 1988 the boundary with Kuwait was another outstanding problem. It was fixed in a 1913 treaty between the Ottoman Empire and British officials acting on behalf of Kuwait's ruling family, which in 1899 had ceded control over foreign affairs to Britain. The boundary was accepted by Iraq when it became independent in 1932, but in the 1960s and again in the mid-1970s, the Iraqi government advanced a claim to parts of Kuwait. Kuwait made several representations to the Iraqis during the war to fix the border once and for all but Baghdad has repeatedly demurred, claiming that the issue is a potentially divisive one that could enflame nationalist sentiment inside Iraq. Hence in 1988 it was likely that a solution would have to wait until the war ended.

In 1922 British officials concluded the Treaty of Mohammara with Abd al Aziz ibn Abd ar Rahman Al Saud, who in 1932 formed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The treaty provided the basic agreement for the boundary between the eventually independent nations. Also in 1922 the two parties agreed to the creation of the diamond-shaped Neutral Zone of approximately 7,500 square kilometers (2,900 mi²) adjacent to the western tip of Kuwait in which neither Iraq nor Saudi Arabia would build permanent dwellings or installations. Bedouins from either country could utilize the limited water and seasonal grazing resources of the zone. In April 1975, an agreement signed in Baghdad fixed the borders of the countries.

Detailed map of Iraq

Most geographers, including those of the Iraqi government, discuss the country's geography in terms of four main zones or regions: the desert in the west and southwest; the rolling upland between the upper Tigris and Euphrates rivers (in Arabic the Dijlis and Furat, respectively); the highlands in the north and northeast; and the alluvial plain through which the Tigris and Euphrates flow. Iraq's official statistical reports give the total land area as 438,446 square kilometers (169,285 sq. mi), whereas a United States Department of State publication gives the area as 434,934 square kilometers (167,929 sq. mi).

The desert zone, an area lying west and southwest of the Euphrates River, is a part of the Syrian Desert, which covers sections of Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The region, sparsely inhabited by pastoral nomads, consists of a wide, stony plain interspersed with rare sandy stretches. A widely ramified pattern of wadis--watercourses that are dry most of the year--runs from the border to the Euphrates. Some Wadis are over 400 kilometers (250 mi) long and carry brief but torrential floods during the winter rains.

The uplands region, between the Tigris north of Samarra and the Euphrates north of Hit, is known as Al Jazira (the island) and is part of a larger area that extends westward into Syria between the two rivers and into Turkey. Water in the area flows in deeply cut valleys, and irrigation is much more difficult than it is in the lower plain. Much of this zone may be classified as desert.

The northeastern highlands begin just south of a line drawn from Mosul to Kirkuk and extend to the borders with Turkey and Iran. High ground, separated by broad, undulating steppes, gives way to mountains ranging from 1,000 to nearly 4,000 meters (3,300 to 13,100 ft) near the Iranian and Turkish borders. Except for a few valleys, the mountain area proper is suitable only for grazing in the foothills and steppes; adequate soil and rainfall, however, make cultivation possible. Here, too, are the great oil fields near Mosul and Kirkuk. The northeast is the homeland of most Iraqi Kurds.

The Alluvial Plain begins north of Baghdad and extends to the Persian Gulf. Here the Tigris and Euphrates rivers lie above the level of the plain in many places, and the whole area is a delta interlaced by the channels of the two rivers and by irrigation canals. Intermittent lakes, fed by the rivers in flood, also characterize southeastern Iraq. A fairly large area (15,000 km² or 5,800 mi²) just above the confluence of the two rivers at Al Qurnah and extending east of the Tigris beyond the Iranian border is marshland, known as Hawr al Hammar, the result of centuries of flooding and inadequate drainage. Much of it is permanent marsh, but some parts dry out in early winter, and other parts become marshland only in years of great flood.

Because the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates above their confluence are heavily silt laden, irrigation and fairly frequent flooding deposit large quantities of silty loam in much of the delta area. Windborne silt contributes to the total deposit of sediments. It has been estimated that the delta plains are built up at the rate of nearly twenty centimeters in a century. In some areas, major floods lead to the deposit in temporary lakes of as much as thirty centimeters of mud.

The Tigris and Euphrates also carry large quantities of salts. These, too, are spread on the land by sometimes excessive irrigation and flooding. A high water table and poor surface and subsurface drainage tend to concentrate the salts near the surface of the soil. In general, the salinity of the soil increases from Baghdad south to the Persian Gulf and severely limits productivity in the region south of Al Amarah. The salinity is reflected in the large lake in central Iraq, southwest of Baghdad, known as Bahr al Milh (Sea of Salt). There are two other major lakes in the country to the north of Bahr al Milh: Buhayrat ath Tharthar and Buhayrat al Habbaniyah.

The Euphrates originates in Turkey, is augmented by the Nahr al Khabur in Syria ("nahr" means river in Arabic), and enters Iraq in the northwest. Here only the wadis of the western desert feed it during the winter rains. It then winds through a gorge, which varies from two to sixteen kilometers in width, until it flows out on the plain at Ar Ramadi. Beyond there the Euphrates continues to the Hindiyah Barrage, which was constructed in 1914 to divert the river into the Hindiyah Channel; the present day Shatt Al Hillah had been the main channel of the Euphrates before 1914. Below Al Kifl, the river follows two channels to As Samawah, where it reappears as a single channel to join the Tigris at Al Qurnah.

The Tigris also rises in Turkey but is significantly augmented by several rivers in Iraq, the most important of which are the Khabur, the Great Zab, the Little Zab, and the Uzaym, all of which join the Tigris above Baghdad, and the Diyala, which joins it about thirty-six kilometers below the city. At the Kut Barrage much of the water is diverted into the Shatt al Gharraf, which was once the main channel of the Tigris. Water from the Tigris thus enters the Euphrates through the Shatt al Gharraf well above the confluence of the two main channels at Al Qurnah.

Both the Tigris and the Euphrates break into a number of channels in the marshland area, and the flow of the rivers is substantially reduced by the time they come together at Al Qurnah. Moreover, the swamps act as silt traps, and the Shatt al Arab is relatively silt free as it flows south. Below Basra, however, the Karun River enters the Shatt al Arab from Iran, carrying large quantities of silt that present a continuous dredging problem in maintaining a channel for ocean-going vessels to reach the port at Basra. This problem had been superseded by a greater obstacle to river traffic, however, namely the presence of several sunken hulks that had been rusting in the Shatt al Arab since early in the Iran-Iraq war.

The waters of the Tigris and Euphrates are essential to the life of the country, but they may also threaten it. The rivers are at their lowest level in September and October and at flood in March, April, and May when they may carry up to forty times more water as at low mark. Moreover, one season's flood may be ten or more times as great as that in another year. In 1954, for example, Baghdad was seriously threatened, and dikes protecting it were nearly topped by the flooding Tigris. Since Syria built a dam on the Euphrates, the flow of water has been considerably diminished and flooding was no longer a problem in the mid-1980s. In 1988 Turkey was also constructing a dam on the Euphrates that would further restrict the water flow.

Until the mid-twentieth century, most efforts to control the waters were primarily concerned with irrigation. Some attention was given to problems of flood control and drainage before the revolution of July 14 1958, but development plans in the 1960s and 1970s were increasingly devoted to these matters, as well as to irrigation projects on the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates and the tributaries of the Tigris in the northeast. During the war, government officials stressed to foreign visitors that, with the conclusion of a peace settlement, problems of irrigation and flooding would receive top priority from the government.

Settlement Patterns

In the rural areas of the alluvial plain and in the lower Diyala region, settlement almost invariably clusters near the rivers, streams, and irrigation canals. Robert McCormick Adams, director of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, has summarized the bases of the relationship between watercourse and settlement. He notes that the levees put down by streams and canals provide advantages for both settlement and agriculture. Surface water drains more easily on the levees' back slope, and the coarse soils of the levees are easier to cultivate and permit better subsurface drainage. The height of the levees gives some protection against floods and the frost that often affects low-lying areas and may kill winter crops. Above all, those living or cultivating on the crest of a levee have easy access to water for irrigation and household use in a dry, hot country.

Although there are some isolated homesteads, most rural communities are nucleated settlements rather than dispersed farmstead; that is, the farmer leaves his village to cultivate the fields outside it. The pattern holds for farming communities in the Kurdish highlands of the northeast as well as for those in the alluvial plain. The size of the settlement varies, generally with the volume of water available for household use and with the amount of land accessible to village dwellers. Sometimes, particularly in the lower Tigris and Euphrates valleys, soil salinity restricts the area of arable land and limits the size of the community dependent on it, and it also usually results in large unsettled and uncultivated stretches between the villages.

Fragmentary information suggests that most farmers in the alluvial plain tend to live in villages of over 100 persons. For example, in the mid-1970s a substantial number of the residents of Baqubah, the administrative center and major city of Diyala Governorate, were employed in agriculture.

The Marsh Arabs (the Madan) of the south usually live in small clusters of two or three houses kept above water by rushes that are constantly being replenished. Such clusters often are close together, but access from one to another is possible only by small boat. Here and there a few natural islands permit slightly larger clusters. Some of these people are primarily water buffalo herders and lead a seminomadic life. In the winter, when the waters are at a low point, they build fairly large temporary villages. In the summer they move their herds out of the marshes to the riverbanks.

The war has had its effect on the lives of these denizens of the marshes. With much of the fighting concentrated in their areas, they have either migrated to settled communities away from the marshes or have been forced by government decree to relocate within the marshes. Also, in early 1988, the marshes had become the refuge of deserters from the Iraqi army who attempted to maintain life in the fastness of the overgrown, desolate areas while hiding out from the authorities. These deserters in many instances have formed into large gangs that raid the marsh communities; this also has induced many of the marsh dwellers to abandon their villages.

The war has also affected settlement patterns in the northern Kurdish areas. There, the persistence of a stubborn rebellion by Kurdish guerrillas has goaded the government into applying steadily escalating violence against the local communities. Starting in 1984, the government launched a scorched-earth campaign to drive a wedge between the villagers and the guerrillas in the remote areas of two provinces of Kurdistan in which Kurdish guerrillas were active. In the process whole villages were torched and subsequently bulldozed, which resulted in the Kurds flocking into the regional centers of Irbil and As Sulaymaniyah. Also as a military precaution, the government has cleared a broad strip of territory in the Kurdish region along the Iranian border of all its inhabitants, hoping in this way to interdict the movement of Kurdish guerrillas back and forth between Iran and Iraq. The majority of Kurdish villages, however, remained intact in early 1988.

In the arid areas of Iraq to the west and south, cities and large towns are almost invariably situated on watercourses, usually on the major rivers or their larger tributaries. In the south this dependence has had its disadvantages. Until the recent development of flood control, Baghdad and other cities were subject to the threat of inundation. Moreover, the dikes needed for protection have effectively prevented the expansion of the urban areas in some directions. Dikes on its eastern edge, for example, restricted the growth of Baghdad. The diversion of water to the Milhat ath Tharthar and the construction of a canal transferring water from the Tigris north of Baghdad to the Diyala River have permitted the irrigation of land outside the limits of the dikes and the expansion of settlement.


Dust storms in Iraq, September 2000

Roughly 90% of the annual rainfall occurs between November and April, most of it in the winter months from December through March. The remaining six months, particularly the hottest ones of June, July, and August, are dry.

Except in the north and northeast, mean annual rainfall ranges between 10 and 17 centimeters (4–6.7 in). Data available from stations in the foothills and steppes south and southwest of the mountains suggest mean annual rainfall between 32 and 57 centimeters (12.6–22.4 in) for that area. Rainfall in the mountains is more abundant and may reach 100 centimeters (39.4 in) a year in some places, but the terrain precludes extensive cultivation. Cultivation on non-irrigated land is limited essentially to the mountain valleys, foothills, and steppes, which have 30 centimeters (12 in) or more of rainfall annually. Even in this zone, however, only one crop a year can be grown, and shortages of rain have often led to crop failures.

Mean minimum temperatures in the winter range from near freezing (just before dawn) in the northern and northeastern foothills and the western desert to 2 to 3°C (36–37°F) and 4 to 5 °C (39 to 41°F) in the alluvial plains of southern Iraq. They rise to a mean maximum of about 16°C (60°F) in the western desert and the northeast, and 17°C (62°F) in the south. In the summer mean minimum temperatures range from about 22°C to about 29°C (72 to 84°F) and rise to maximums between roughly 38 and 43°C (100 to 110°F). Temperatures sometimes fall below freezing and have fallen as low as -14°C (6°F) at Ar Rutbah in the western desert. They are more likely; however, to go over 46°C (115°F) in the summer months, and several stations have records of over 48°C (118°F).

The summer months are marked by two kinds of wind phenomena. The southern and southeasterly sharqi, a dry, dusty wind with occasional gusts of 80 kilometers an hour (50 mph), occurs from April to early June and again from late September through November. It may last for a day at the beginning and end of the season but for several days at other times. This wind is often accompanied by violent duststorms that may rise to heights of several thousand meters and close airports for brief periods. From mid-June to mid-September the prevailing wind, called the shamal, is from the north and northwest. It is a steady wind, absent only occasionally during this period. The very dry air brought by this shamal permits intensive sun heating of the land surface, but the breeze has some cooling effect.

The combination of rain shortage and extreme heat makes much of Iraq a desert. Because of very high rates of evaporation, soil and plants rapidly lose the little moisture obtained from the rain, and vegetation could not survive without extensive irrigation. Some areas, however, although arid do have natural vegetation in contrast to the desert. For example, in the Zagros Mountains in northeastern Iraq there is permanent vegetation, such as oak trees, and date palms are found in the south.

Reptiles of Iraq

We have seen a variety of reptiles since being in country. Fortunately, the only venomous snake we've run into was run over by our vehicle and it was HUGE! Other than that, nothing really significant, which is good.

Rough Tailed Gecko

This little fellow below, who is known as either the Bent-toed gecko, the Keeled Rock Gecko, the Rough-scaled gecko, the Rough-tailed gecko (Gymnodactylus Scaber) or the Rough thin-toed gecko, depending upon the source one consults.

Geckos (Gekkonidae) are small to moderately large found in warm climates throughout the world. Geckos are unique among lizards in their vocalizations, making chirping sounds in social interactions with other geckos. Geckos are unusual in other respects as well.

Geckos have no eyelids and instead have a transparent membrane which they lick to clean. A few species have the ability to shoot an irritating liquid out of the end of its tail. They are also known to have the ability to change the color of their skins although they have not mastered it like the chameleons and can only go pale. Many species have specialized toe pads that enable them to climb smooth vertical surfaces and even cross indoor ceilings with ease.

These antics are well-known to people who live in warm regions of the world where several species of geckos make their home inside human habitations. These species (for example the House gecko) become part of the indoor menagerie and are seldom really discouraged because they feed on insect pests.

Caspian Turtle

Thye Caspian Turtle (Mauremys caspica)is a freshwater turtle of the genus Mauremys and are widely distributed in Asia and are also found in many areas bordering the Mediterranean. Mauremys encompasses four species, of which the best known are the Mediterranean species Mauremys caspica (the Caspian turtle) and Mauremys leprosa (the Spanish turtle).

Mauremys caspica and M. leprosa occur in a wide variety of habitats from fast flowing mountain streams to ponds and drainage ditches. In Spain, Greece and Turkey I have regularly found good populations of Mauremys in deep rock-pools adjacent to mountain streams. In Morocco and Tunisia the most common habitats include seasonal ponds, lakes, irrigation ditches and brackish coastal lagoons.

So, what is the difference between a turtle, a tortoise and a terrapin? A tortoise is a turtle, but not all turtles are tortoises, at least in current usage. Tortoises are generally turtles with high domed shells and elephantine legs. Totally terrestrial, they do not swim well and are likely to drown in deep water. Water turtles are turtles with generally flattened generally circular shells and webbed flipper-feet for swimming. Some water turtles never leave that element. Terrapins are generally water turtles that frequent swampy areas and estuaries.

The Sandfish (Scincus scincus) is a species of skink that burrows into the sand. It has stripes on its back. This is rarely seen in pet stores. It is called a sandfish because if its ability to move through sand very fast, as if it were swimming.

Scientists found out in 2000 that its skin has lower friction than polished steel, glass, or nylon, and are trying to find bionic applications for this Natural History: The sandfish is so named because of its ability to swim in soft desert sands. The skinks are typically buried, but surface to feed. They feel vibrations of insects and other small creatures walking on the surface, then ambush prey from below (much like the sand worms in the novel Dune). These lizards lie in very hot deserts and are active for limited periods in the sunlight.

Lebetine Viper

Lebetine viper (Vipera lebetina) is a large snake, with females reaching 214 cm in length and males growing to a similar size. However, sizes vary between different populations, with M. L. lebetina being somewhat smaller. The head is broad, triangular and distinct from the neck. The snout is rounded and blunt when viewed from above, which is why it is also called the blunt-nosed viper. The nasal and nasorostral scales are almost completely fused into a single plate, although some variation occurs.

The dorsal scales are strongly keeled, except for those bordering the ventrals. M. L. lebetina usually has 146-163 ventral scales. The anal scale is single.
The color pattern is less varied than one might expect from a species that is so widely distributed. The head is normally uniformly colored, although it can occasionally be marked with a dark V-shape. Dorsally, the ground color for the body can be gray, brown, beige, pinkish, olive or khaki. The pattern, if present, is darker, can be gray, bluish, rust or brown in color, and may consist of a mid dorsal row or double row of large spots. When two rows are present, the spots may alternate or oppose, which can produce anything from a saddled to a continuous zigzag pattern. The spots are usually brown, dark gray or black, but are sometimes red, brick, yellow or olive in color.

Lebetine viper

Saw-Scaled Viper

The Saw-Scaled Viper (Echis carinatus) is a venomous viper species found in parts of the Middle East and Central Asia, and especially the Indian subcontinent. It is the smallest of the Big Four dangerous snakes of India. Five subspecies are currently recognized, including the typical form described here.

Size ranges between 38 and 80 cm in length, but usually no more than 60 cm.
The color-pattern consists of a pale buff, grayish, reddish, olive or pale brown ground color, overlaid mid dorsally with a series of variably colored, but mostly whitish spots, edged with dark brown, and separated by lighter interblotch patches. A series of white bows run dorsolaterally. The top of the head has a whitish cruciform or trident pattern and there is a faint stripe running from the eye to the angle of the jaw. The belly is whitish to pinkish, uniform in color or with brown dots that are either faint or distinct.


Cobras are locally common snakes that may otherwise be absent in nearby areas. They are found in all habitats, from sandy areas where they are principally nocturnal, to river edges and rocky valleys, where they may be active by day. Cobras feed on small mammals, lizards, and other snakes, including vipers. The venom is principally neurotoxic, and distress stems from respiratory and cardiac inhibition. Even the smallest cobras may deliver a potentially fatal bite.

Traits of cobras include smooth, shiny scales; round pupils; a cluster of large distinct scales on top of the head; head not triangular, and only slightly broader in the rear than the neck; and an extensible neck hood.

The cobras of central Iraq are as follows:

Desert Blacksnake

Desert blacksnake (Walterinnesia aegyptia): grows to 52 inches, but typically 3-4 feet. The body is uniformly black or dark brown with no pattern; the belly bluish-gray on the belly. Juveniles from Iran and Iraq are dark with pink cross bands. The effect of the venom on humans is not known, but presumed to be dangerous. This is the commonest and most widespread cobra in the Middle East.

Arabian cobra

Arabian cobra (Naja haje arabica): grows to 72 inches (6 feet), making it the largest venomous snake of the Middle East. This snake is considered to be a subspecies of the Egyptian cobra (Naja haje haje), whose antivenin should be administered in case of bite. Adults are brown, tan, coppery, or black, with a yellow belly. Though not native to Iraq, it is sometimes imported for snake fakir shows. Bites are always to be considered extremely dangerous.

Insects of Iraq

Camel Spider

At the top of the list is the infamous Camel Spider. These beasties can be found all over this country. There are also variations of this species in the Southwestern United States. How big do they get? As big as they want!

The order Solifugae is a group of arachnids, containing around 900 species. The name derives from Latin, and means those that flee from the sun. The order is also known by the names Solpugida. Their common names include camel spider, wind scorpion, sun spider and matevenados ("deer-killer" - a Mexican nickname).

Solifugae are not true spiders (which are from a different order, Araneae). Like scorpions and harvestmen, they belong to a distinct arachnid order.

Most Solifugae live in tropical or semitropical regions where they inhabit warm and arid habitats, but some species have been known to live in grassland or forest habitats. The most distinctive feature of Solifugae is their large chelicerae. Each of the two chelicerae is composed of two articles forming a powerful pincer; each article bears a variable number of teeth. Solifugae also have long pedipalps, which function as sense organs similar to insects' antennae and give the appearance of the two extra legs.

Solifugae are carnivorous or omnivorous, with most species feeding on termites, darkling beetles, and other small arthropods; however, solifugae have been videotaped consuming larger prey such as lizards. Prey is located with the pedipalps and killed and cut into pieces by the chelicerae. The prey is then liquefied and the liquid ingested through the pharynx.

As indicated by their name, Solifugae are mostly nocturnal, and seek shade during the day. It was this behavior which led coalition soldiers in the 2003 invasion of Iraq to think these arachnids were attacking them. In reality, they were merely moving toward the newly available shade provided by the soldiers' presence. The absence of shade sends them away.

Desert Mantis

I haven't personally run into any of these but I got the picture from a soldier that has them all over his hooch. He says they help keep the roaches away. Makes sense to me.

A desert mantid of the Eremiaphila species these small carnivore insects blend into the sand, and can dash an incredible speed. These insects are the most abundant, coming in all colors, sizes and flavors. The most abundant are the large black desert ants, that densely inhabit the akacia groves of Karkur Talh and the Gilf valleys, and incredulously butterflies, that seem to appear at any spot with the slightest green vegetation. In Wadi Hamra we did find a large spider that tried to make home in one of our cardboard boxes left out for the night, and encountered a fine example of the same species in Karkur Ibrahim.

Oriental Hornet

The bottom photo of this species was assassinated by one of our soldiers. It measured 1 3/4 inches long by 3/4 inches wide. No casualties reported so far from these nasty looking things.

The Oriental Hornet (Vespa orientalis) is a type of tropical species with both tropical and temperate distributions (such as the Asian giant hornet Vespa mandarinia), it is conceivable that the life cycle depends on latitude.

The genus Vespa comprises about 20 species, most of which are native to tropical Asia, but there is a species found across temperate Eurasia from Britain to Japan (V. crabro), and another (V. orientalis) that extends via southern and central Asia to the Arabian peninsula, up to northern and eastern Africa and the Mediterranean basin (including southern Italy and Sicily).

The European hornet V. crabro has been accidentally introduced to North America and is present in many eastern regions. In Vespa crabro, the nest is founded in spring by a fertilized female, known as the queen. She generally selects sheltered places like hollow tree trunks. She builds a first series of cells (up to 50) out of chewed tree bark. The cells are arranged in horizontal layers named combs, each cell being vertical and closed at the top. An egg is then laid in each cell. After 5-8 days it hatches, and in the next two weeks the larva undergoes its five stages. During this time the queen feeds it a protein-rich diet of insects. Then the larva spins a silk cap over the cell's opening, and during the next two weeks transforms into an adult, a process called metamorphosis. Then the adult eats her way through the silk cap. This first generation of workers, invariably females, will now gradually undertake all the tasks that were formerly carried out by the queen (foraging, nest building, taking care of the brood, etc) with one exception: egg-laying, which remains done exclusively by the queen.

Desert Ant

Like anywhere in the world, we have ants. They are very well adapted for living in the desert. The whole ant navigation thing actually works off of scents left by scouts. We test the theory by leading a trail into someone's hooch (they earned the practical joke).

Desert ants have an internal system -like a pedometer - that keeps track of how many steps they take, according to a new study. The insects seem to rely on this system to find their way back to the nest after foraging. Other insects may also possess this pedometer-like system.

Some types of ant appear to use visual cues or leave scent trails to find their way home. But desert ants have a remarkable ability to retrace their steps from their nesting site even though they travel on flat terrain that is devoid of landmarks, and any odors quickly fade in the hot temperatures.

Sand Spider

Haven't seen any of these in person either.

The six-eyed sand spider (Sicarius hahnii) is a medium-sized spider of deserts and other sandy places in southern Africa. It is a member of the Sicariidae family; close relatives may be found in both Africa and in South America, and it’s near cousins, the recluses (Loxosceles) are found worldwide. Due to its flattened stance and later grade legs, it is also known as the six-eyed crab spider. Assays of its venom have led some to recognize this spider's bite as the most dangerous on record.

This spider buries itself in the sand and strikes from ambush at prey that wanders too closely. Sand particles adhere to cuticles on its abdomen, thus acting as a natural camouflage if uncovered. If disturbed, it will run a short distance and bury itself again.

There is some question as to the danger posed by this spider. It is very shy and unlikely to bite humans, and there are few (if any) recorded human envenomations by Sicarius. However, toxicology studies have demonstrated that the venom is particularly potent, with a powerful hemolytic/necrotoxic effect, causing blood vessel leakage and tissue destruction. Envenomations of laboratory animals have yielded devastating results, with many of the test subjects developing multiorgan breakdowns. Unlike the dangerous neurotoxic spiders (the widow spiders, the Australasian funnel-web spider, and the Brazilian wandering spiders), no antivenom currently exists for Sicarius, leading many authorities to suspect that a bite by this spider is likely to produce a fatality.

Fog Drinking Beetle

Learned a lot from this particular insect about collecting water. Using a poncho and a few sticks, it can be done in the same technique that the beetle uses.

Fog-drinking Beetle (Onymacris unguicalaris) Follow the southwestern coast of Africa north from Cape of Good Hope toward Namibia's gemstone-rich Skeleton Coast, and you come to the Namib Desert. Home to the world's highest sand dunes, the Namib is also a cornucopia of biomechanical marvels: a spider that rolls like a wheel; a gecko that dances on the hot sand; and the bizarre, two-leafed Welwitschia mirabilis, which looks like a wrecked airplane planted in the sand and can live more than a thousand years, The environment is a harsh one. Annual rainfall in the Namib typically measures less than an inch, and on most days the only source of moisture is the early morning fog that rolls off the chilly Atlantic, tantalizing the denizens of the parched sands.

In the salty light of one such foggy dawn, a long-legged Namib beetle (genus Stenocara) stands on a small ridge of sand. Its head faces upwind, and its stiff, bumpy outer wings are spread against the damp breeze. Minute water droplets from the fog gather on its wings; there the droplets coalesce, until they finally grow big enough to release their electrostatic grip on the wing surfaces and roll down to the beetle's mouth parts, giving the animal an early morning drink. In such an arid environment that drink is vital, for once the Sun burns off the fog, there is little the insect can soak up except blistering heat. Besides being helpful to the beetle, the water-gathering mechanism-only recently understood by investigators-might someday become the basis for large-scale, artificial schemes to gather water from.

Desert Hairy Scorpion

I got this close up picture of this fattie at the bottom while it was sneaking up on me in a hide site out in sector. The other one was in my boot and I set him free to go kill someone else. Life is good here!

Nocturnal animals, scorpions are amongst the most ancient of land-dwelling organisms. They are efficient predators of insects and other small invertebrates. Desert hairy scorpions utilize their claws to hold a potential prey item while they swing their telson up and over their backs to inject venom into the other animal.

Their venom is not known to be deadly to humans, but a sting from one of these scorpions is likely to be painful, at least for the first few minutes after the sting. The stinger itself often becomes dull after some time in captivity, but the sharpness returns after this arachnid molts. All scorpions are live-bearers, with parental care manifesting itself in the form of the mother carrying the young scorpions, or nymphs, on her back.

Food in the wild includes any invertebrate that these scorpions can overpower. We have observed on individual feeding on a wild cricket. They sometimes will also overpower and feed on small vertebrates such as baby lizards.

Mammals of Iraq

Rueppell’s Desert Fox

Rueppell’s foxes (Vulpes ruepellii) are widespread. They are found in desert regions of North Africa and the Arabian peninsula, from as far east as Pakistan, to as far northwest as Israel and Jordan. Subspecies are often named based on their geographical distribution.

Rueppell’s foxes are highly adapted to their desert habitats. They inhabit a wide range of substrates, but are most common in areas with sandy or dry, stony desert substrate. Due to competition with red foxes, Rueppell’s foxes have been pushed to more extreme habitats that red foxes do not dominate.

Rueppell’s foxes are small foxes with a predominately sandy-colored coat. A gray color morph also occurs, apparently an adaptation for living in rockier areas. Much of this species' body plan reflects its adaptation to the harsh climate. Like many desert dwelling foxes, Rueppell’s foxes have large, broad ears, and feet with furred pads that protect them from the heated sand.


A camel is either of the two species of Camelid living in the Serengeti. The camel is an even-toed ungulate in the genus 'Camelus', the Dromedary (single hump) and the Bactrian camel (double hump). Both are native to the dry and desert areas of Asia and northern Africa. The average life expectancy of a camel is 30 to 50 years. The term camel is also used more broadly, to describe any of the six camel-like creatures in the family Camelidae: the two true camels, and the four South American camelids: Llama, Alpaca, Guanaco and Vicuña.The name camel comes via the Greek κάμηλος (kámēlos) from the Arabic (jamal) or the Hebrew גמל (gahmal), all meaning "camel".

Bactrian camels have two coats: the warm inner coat of down and a rough outer coat which is long and hairy. They shed their fiber in clumps consisting of both coats and is normally gathered. They produce about 15 pounds (2 kg) of fiber annually. The fiber structure is similar to cashmere wool. The down is usually 1-3 inches (2 to 8 cm) long. Camel down does not felt easily. The down is spun into yarn for knitting.

Humans first domesticated camels approximately 5,000 years ago. The Dromedary and the Bactrian camel are both still used for milk (which is more nutritious than cow's milk), meat, and as beasts of burden—the Dromedary in western Asia; the Bactrian camel further to the north and east in central Asia.

I’ve had enough run ins and incidents with camels to let you know that I hate them. They are nasty, tempermental creatures. They have been know to spit, bite and kill people. Yes, this “cute” mammal is sometimes lethal. Here’s how it works; they have an excellent memory to go with their longevity so if they are abused as youngsters, and you happen to look like the abuser, they will try to spit, bite or kill you. They kill pretty effectively as well, they will knock you down, stomp you to oblivion, and (just to make sure) they will lay down on top of you to smother you for good measure. This tour, I have punched and smaked a good number of them because of their unprovoked attacks. I have drawn down on one (that means I pulled my pistol out and prepared to send it to its maker) because it tried to bite me and it got the body armor, so then it started to charge me. The only thing that stopped me is the fact I would have to pay out of pocket to replace it and it would also have a very negative effect on building friendly relationships with the locals.

Miscellanious Mammals

Other miscellanious mammals do exist in Iraq but not many native to the region. There are donkeys and horses that have been introduced throughout their history into the country but are not native to it. There are also ferrell dogs and cats. Those are domestic animals that have either been abandonned, lost, or born in the wild. The thing that makes them especially dangerous is that they don’t fear man. Therefore, we are part of the food chain for them.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Birds of Iraq

This is the first, of many, postings on the wildlife we've come across here. This place is a plethera (big word of today) of animals that most of us have seen either in National Geographic documentaries, read about in high school and college biology, or had first-hand experience dealing with. We'll be starting with the avian species of Iraq.

Barn Owl
The Barn Owl (Tyto Alba) is an owl in the barn owl family Tytonidae. This is one of the two groups of owls, the other being the typical owls Strigidae. Any member of the family Tytonidae is sometimes referred to as a Barn Owl)
These are pale, long-winged, long-legged owls, 33-39 cm in length with an 80-95 cm wingspan. They have an effortless wavering flight as they quarter pastures or similar hunting grounds. All races have grey and ochre upperparts. These are birds of open country such as farmland, preferentially hunting along the edges of woods. They are fairly sedentary and nocturnal or crepuscular. Barn Owls occur worldwide, on every continent except Antarctica. Sometimes they are called monkey-faced owls because of their appearance. Other common names are church owl, golden owl, rat owl, and stone owl.

Barn Owls feed on voles, frogs and insects, but are economically valuable birds as they also prey on animal pests like rats, shrews, moles and mice. Other than human persecution, they have few predators, although large owls such as the Eurasian Eagle Owl and the Great Horned Owl will kill smaller species if the opportunity arises. Farmers often encourage Barn Owl habitations for rodent control by providing nest sites such a wooden nest box or a large drum installed sideways in a barn. An adult Barn Owl will eat approximately 3 mice per day. A pair raising 3-5 owlets will consume many more rodents

Eurasian Collared Dove
The Eurasian Collared Dove, (Streptopelia decaocto) also called the Eurasian Collared-Dove or simply the Collared Dove, is one of the great colonizers of the avian world. Its original range was warmer temperate regions from southeastern Europe to Japan. However, in the twentieth century it expanded across the rest of Europe, reaching as far west as Great Britain by 1953, and Ireland soon after. It also now breeds north of the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia. It is not migratory.

It was accidentally introduced into the Bahamas in the 1970s and spread to Florida by 1982. Its stronghold in North America is still the Gulf Coast, but it is now easily found as far south as Veracruz, as far west as California, and as far north as British Columbia and the great lakes. Its impact on native species is as of yet unknown; it appears to occupy an ecological niche between that of the Mourning dove and Rock pigeon; some have suggested that its spread represents exploitation of a niche made available by the extinction of the Passenger pigeon. It breeds wherever there are trees for nesting, laying two white eggs in a stick nest. Incubation lasts 14-18 days, and young fledge after 15-19 days. It is not wary and is often found around human habitation.

This is a small dove, buff grey with a darker back and a blue-grey wing patch. The tail feathers are tipped white. It has a black half-collar on its nape from which it gets its name. The short legs are red and the bill is black. The eye is reddish/brown. From a distance the eyes appear to be black, as the pupil is relatively large and only a narrow rim of reddish-brown eye color can be seen around the black pupil.

European Bee-eater
The European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) is a near passerine bird in the bee-eater family Meropidae. It breeds in southern Europe and in parts of north Africa and western Asia. It is strongly migratory, wintering in tropical Africa (or to North-Western India, southern India and Sri Lanka in the case of Asian birds). This species occurs as a spring overshoot north of its range, with occasional breeding in northwest Europe.

This species, like other bee-eaters, is a richly-colored, slender bird. It has brown and yellow upper parts, whilst the wings are green and the beak is black. It can reach a length of 27-29 cm, including the two elongated central tail feathers. Sexes are alike.

This is a bird which breeds in open country in warmer climates. Just as the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps and hornets, which are caught in the air by sorties from an open perch. Before eating its meal, a European Bee-eater removes the sting by repeatedly hitting the insect on a hard surface. It eats some 250 bees daily.

These bee-eaters are gregarious, nesting colonially in sandy banks, preferably near river shores, usually at the beginning of May. They make a relatively long tunnel in which the 5 to 8, spherical white eggs are laid around the beginning of June. Both the male and the female take care of the eggs, which are brooded for about 3 weeks. These birds also feed and roost communally.

Steppe Eagle
The Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) is a large bird of prey. It is about 62-74 cm in length and has a wingspan of 165-190cm. Like all eagles, it belongs to the family Accipitridae. It was once considered to be closely related to the non-migratory Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax) and the two forms have previously been treated as conspecific. However, DNA studies have shown that these birds are not even each other's nearest relatives.

The Steppe Eagle breeds from Romania east through the south Russian and Central Asian steppes to Mongolia. The European and Central Asian birds winter in Africa, and the eastern birds in India. It lays 1-3 eggs in a stick nest in a tree. Throughout its range it favors open dry habitats, such as desert, semi-desert, steppes, or savannah.

This is a large eagle with brown upperparts and blackish flight feathers and tail. This species is larger and darker than the Tawny Eagle, and it has a pale throat which is lacking in that species.

The Steppe Eagle's diet is largely fresh carrion of all kinds, but it will kill rodents and other small mammals up to the size of a rabbit, and birds up to the size of partridges. It will also steal food from other raptors.

The name kestrel is given to several different members of the falcon genus, (Falco). Kestrels are most easily distinguished by their typical hunting behavior which is to hover at a height of around 10–20 m over open country and swoop down on prey, usually small mammals, lizards or large insects. Other falcons are more adapted to active hunting on the wing.

Kestrels require a slight headwind in order to hover, hence a local name of wind hover for Common Kestrel. Their ability to spot prey is enhanced by being able to see ultraviolet which is strongly reflected by vole urine.

Plumage typically differs between male and female, and (as is usual with monogamous raptors) the female is slightly larger than the male. This allows a pair to fill different feeding niches over their home range. Kestrels are bold and have adapted well to human encroachment, nesting in buildings and hunting by major roads.

Kestrels do not build their own nests, but use nests built by other species.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
The Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (Merops persicus) is a near passerine bird in the bee-eater family, Meropidae. It breeds in Morocco, Algeria, and subtropical Asia from eastern Turkey to Kazakhstan. It is strongly migratory, wintering in tropical Africa. This species occurs as a rare vagrant north of its breeding range.

This species, like other bee-eaters, is a richly-colored, slender bird. It is predominantly green; its face has blue sides with a black eye stripe, and a yellow and brown throat; the beak is black. It can reach a length of 24-26 cm, including the two elongated central tail feathers.

This is a bird which breeds in sub-tropical semi-desert with a few trees, such as acacia. It winters in open woodland or grassland. As the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps and hornets, which are caught in the air by sorties from an open perch. However, this species probably takes more dragonflies than any other food item. Its preferred hunting perch is telephone wires if available.

These bee-eaters are gregarious, nesting colonially in sandy banks. They make a relatively long tunnel in which the 4 to 8, spherical white eggs are laid. Both the male and the female take care of the eggs. These birds also feed and roost communally.

Hooded Crow
The Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix), sometimes called the Hoodiecrow, is an Eurasian bird species in the crow genus. It is so similar in structure and habits to the Carrion Crow that some authorities consider them to be merely geographical races of one species, however since 2002 the Hooded Crow has been elevated to full species status. It breeds in northern and Eastern Europe, and closely allied forms inhabit southern Europe and western Asia.

The Hooded Crow, with its contrasted grays and blacks, cannot be confused with either the Carrion Crow or Rook, but the "kraa" call notes of the two are almost indistinguishable. The flight is slow and heavy and usually straight. The length varies from 48 to 52 cm.

The bulky stick nest normally placed in a tall tree, but cliff ledges, old buildings and pylons may be used. Nests are occasionally placed on or near the ground. The nest resembles that of the Carrion Crow, but on the coast seaweed is often interwoven in the structure. The four to six brown-speckled blue or eggs are incubated for 17-19 days by the female alone, who is fed by the male. In Israel this species is parasitized by the Great Spotted Cuckoo, whose normal host, the European Magpie is absent from that country.

Except for the head, throat, wings, tail and thigh feathers, which are black and mostly glossy, the plumage is ash-grey, the dark shafts giving it a streaky appearance. The bill and legs are black. There is only one molt in autumn, as in other crows. The male is the larger bird, otherwise the sexes are alike. When first hatched the young are much blacker than the parents.