Iraq is a country that is located in Western Asia. According to the website of the Encyclopedia Britannica, Its official name is the Republic of Iraq. It is surrounded by the countries of Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. Its capital is Baghdad, which is also its largest city (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2014). According to the website of the White House, the country, however, enjoys a narrow coastline of length on the northern section of the Persian Gulf, which is adjacent to the Mesopotamian Alluvial Plain, otherwise known as the Tigris-Euphrates River System, the home of the Fertile Crescent, which is said to be the cradle of civilization. The largest ethnic group in the country is the Arab group. The country has its origins in the ancient Akkadian city of Uruk. Until the final decades of the 20th century, very little was known about Iraq. Few people even knew where the country was on the global map, and almost nothing was known about its culture and political systems (CIA, 2014). The country gained some attention during its decade-long conflict with Iran in the 1980s, but since the 1990s, the country and its then leader, Saddam Hussein suddenly occupied center stage on the global front. Saddam Hussein became a familiar household name, and was consistently in the news (Spencer, 2000, 9-10).
Arabs make up most of the population of the country – almost three fourths of the nation’s population is of Arab origin while the rest are mostly Kurdish, Turkman and Assyrian in origin. The languages spoken in the country are Arabic, Turkman and Armenian. As for religions, almost all of the people in the country are Muslim (both Shia and Sunni), and a very small portion of the country consists of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists. The current population of the country is at 32,585,692, with almost 40% of the population in the 0-14 years age bracket. The country has a very young population indeed. The median age in fact, is 21.5 years. The population is growing at a rate of 2.23%, and one can expect to live until the age of 7.42 years in this country (CIA, 2014). Also, for every 10 literate men, there are only 8 literate women. This discrepancy is further emphasized in the fact that the youth male literacy rate is at 84.1% whereas the youth female literacy rate is at 84.1% (UNICEF, 2013). This is therefore a social dimension to statistics – that there are still certain differences between the ways that men and women live and are treated in this country.
As for the economy, as of 2013, the country’s GDP growth was at 4.2%. Total GDP was at USD 249.4 billion, and most of it is found in the industry sector. The unemployment rate is at 16%, and one fourth of the country’s population lives below the poverty line (CIA, 2104). About one-fourth of the population of children (below 18 years of age) are married by the time they reach the age of 18 (UNICEF, 2013).
Based on the statistics taken from the CIA and the UNICEF websites, it is clear that there are still several social issues that have to be threshed out in Iraq. There seems to be a preference for more males going to school and staying in school as compared to women. Also, child marriages still exist in this country, and there are also reports of honor killings of young women still being perpetrated as well.
As the country is known as the cradle of civilization, its history is quite lengthy and colorful. As early as 5000 B.C., there are records of Sumerian settlements in the Fertile Crescent or the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (Abdullah, 2013). An area near the ancient city of Ur is known to be the earliest human settlement in the country. The first prototype city was the city of Uruk, also known as the earliest city with fortifications and that was surrounded by a wall. The wall and fortifications have been dated 3500 B.C. Uruk society was more developed, and is characterized by the presence of social classes, with the priest-kings at the top of the structure and the farmer-peasants at the bottom. Handwriting in the form of cuneiform first existed during 3300 B.C, and clay tablets with funerary orations, private messages and personal letters have been excavated using cuneiform handwriting (Fattah, 2010). After Uruk, what followed was the Akkadian Empire, which had a superior army. Thereafter followed several more empires, and the Assyrian-Babylonian Empires up to about 1800 B.C. Just before the turn of the millennium, the Assyrians, led by King Nebuchadnezzar II, ruled the nation (Fattah. 2010).
In the 6th century, Baghdad was the center of the Abbasid Caliphate, as Muslims had invaded the land. Migration from the Arabian Peninsula continued and Iraq became Muslim country. By the 8th century, Baghdad was the center of culture, learning and the arts in the Asian world (Abdullah, 2013). By the end of the 1st millennium, Iraq had been conquered by the Ottomans and fell under its rule. Ottoman leadership would end by the 20th century after the First World War. The British captured Baghdad in 1917, and imposed a Hashemite monarchy on the people. Faisal I was proclaimed King of Iraq in 1921 (Niessen, 2009). The monarchial government would collapse in 1958 following the assassination of King Faisal II and his Prime Minister in 1958, after which a string of military leaders ruled the country, with Saddam Hussein assuming the top post of the country in 1979 (Niessen, 2009).
Iraqis follow two major Muslim belief systems: Sunni and Shia. As stated in the website of the Central Intelligence Agency, out of the 97% Muslim population, two thirds are Sunni Muslims and a third are Shia Muslims. Most of the Shia Muslims are from the southern section of the country, while the Sunnis occupy most of the north and also a part of central Iraq (CIA, 2014). According to the website of Global Security, Kurdish Muslims are mostly Sunni, and follow the Shafi’i School of Islam. During the reign of Saddam Hussein, his Ba’ath Party was critical of the Kurds in the north, and thus the government discriminated against the Kurds and other non-Arabs in the country (Global Security, 2014). In an article in the online version of The Guardian UK, it is mentioned that these groups were among the most marginalized groups of people in the country (Ramadani, 2014).
Today per the SITE, an online monitoring group on extremists and terrorists, there has emerged the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It is a self-proclaimed caliphate that is composed of Muslim extremists, and is known as the Iraqi Al-Qaeda. This group is part of the larger group of insurgent groups working against the coalition forces in Iraq (The Site, 2014). This group has been called by the United Nations as a terrorist group guilty of human rights abuses and genocide, mainly of non-Islamic civilians in the northern part of Iraq and in Syria. The ISIS is harassing and driving to death the minority Yazidi, non-Muslims living in the northern part of the country, per the website of the Business Insider (Colin, 2014). This group has been responsible for the kidnapping and beheading of several foreign journalists and aid workers in Iraq and Syria, among them the American news correspondent James Foley, as mentioned in the website of The New York Times (Callimachi, 2014). Therefore based on the above, it appears that despite the intervention of foreign powers during the move to unseat Saddam Hussein, there still is no religious freedom in the country, with Islamic fundamentalists harassing, kidnapping and murdering non-Muslims.
Education in Iraq is administered by the Iraqi Ministry of Education. It was reported by the Arabian Campus website that prior to the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq had one of the best educational systems in the area or region (Arabian Campus, 2014). The gross enrollment rate was at 100% and literacy levels were quite high. Since that time, the quality of education has suffered because of war and instability. Problems such as the lack of resources and the politicization of the educational system has led to its deterioration (UNESCO 2003). In the CIA World Factbook, it is also mentioned that the current literacy rate is at 78.5% (CIA, 2014).
The current educational system of the country has several tiers. Per the website of the Arabian Campus, the first is the primary level, which takes six years, then followed by the Intermediate Secondary School level, which takes three years (Arabian Campus, 2014). The follows the Preparatory Secondary School, which takes another three years. Instead of going through the Preparatory Secondary School, the student may opt to take the Vocational Secondary Course, which also takes three years to finish. Thereafter the child may opt to take tertiary education by entering into a university of his choice. In the website of the Central Intelligence Agency, it is stated that there is an observed disparity between the years in school of males and females. Males tend to stay in school for about 11 years, whereas females tend to stay in school for only 9 years (CIA, 2014). Finally, according to the UNESCO report, school attendance has declined since the 1990s because many children have entered the work force, and because the educational mandate is that education is compulsory for all children only for the duration of the Primary Level, meaning that if the child joins the work force after six years of primary schooling, this is not against any legal mandate (UNESCO, 2003).
According to the website of the USAID, there are gender disparities in the areas of the economy, in education and health. The female representation in the labor force is one of the lowest in the region (USAID, 2010). As shown earlier, adult literacy rates for women are lower than that of men, per the CIA website (CIA, 2014). Professional and political leadership is forbidden for women in the country. Women are largely unaware of their legal rights and if they need to seek redress, they are limited as they are only permitted to seek relief via family connections and other traditional channels. They are not allowed to seek relief or redress via any legal agency. In the website of In these Times, it is stated that women’s status in society since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 has taken a turn for the worse. Laws during Hussein’s rule did give women certain rights, but now, after the so-called “liberation”, there are laws that permitting a girl to get married at age 11 (Burns, 2012). Several women’s rights advocates were beaten and sexually molested by the police while protesting at a public place.
Women in general do not enjoy the same rights and status as men. There are instances of women dying during labor as their husbands would rather have them die than be touched by a male doctor or a male nurse (The White House, 2007). In the website of Fox News, it is mentioned that many women actually die because they are unable to go to a male doctor, and female doctors are very rare, as many women do not get an opportunity to go to medical school (Fox News, 2009). Many women refrain from taking up nursing or midwifery courses, as they are seen as “loose” women in cultural terms. In the IRIN Middle East website, it is mentioned that there is almost no woman representative in government in the country today. There is also the persistence of cases of domestic violence against women (IRIN, 2010). The same issue of domestic violence is likewise mentioned in the CIA website as a social issue that deserves more attention at the moment.
The government of Iraq is a parliamentary democracy with a legal system of mixed Civil and Islamic Law. In the CIA website, it is stated that there are three major branches of the federal government. The first is the Executive Branch, headed by the President along with the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister heads the cabinet and usually appoints the Cabinet Ministers. The Legislative branch of government consists of the unicameral Council of Representatives, with its 325 members each serving 4-year terms. The Federal Supreme Court made up of 9 judges is at the top of the Judiciary branch of government (CIA, 2014). In the website of Medea, it is mentioned that women have the right to vote in this country (Medea, 2014). The country has over 300 political parties makes the political scene indeed a controversial one, with in-fighting and bickering among parties more the norm than the exception (CIA, 2014).
In the CIA website, it is also mentioned that the President is supposedly elected by the people. There are problems with some Faili Kurds, who were either deported, or who had fled the country because of the government’s discrimination against them during the time of Saddam Hussein (CIA, 2104). Today, there are plenty of Faili Kurds who wish to return to Iraq but are unable to do so because they lack documentation and proof that they resided in Iraq prior to their deportation or flight (US Department of State, 2014). It is also apparent that a current problem of the federal government is how to resolve the terrorist activities of ISIS, now known globally as a terrorist group responsible for near-genocide acts against minority Iraqis. Iraq is seen to be one of the major bases of ISIS, despite the fact that the new government of Iraq is one that is closely allied with the United States of America. One of the biggest and most influential political parties in the country is the National Iraqi Alliance, a Shia-based group, as stated in the website of the Carnegie Foundation (Carnegie Foundation, 2014). The fact that there is still a classification of Muslims as Sunni or Shia in this country also reflects some potential problems that may arise out of this classification.
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