Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Iraq Situation: a quick intro

Iraq is one of those black-box subjects. We don't really know the context or the history particularly well, because the news is, well, new. I looked into 20th-century Iraq, and also Iran 'cos that seems like the next big thing to worry about. Below are the fruits of my labour.

People have been beating up Iraq for thousands of years. Every time someone went conquering, it seemed that their path went right past Baghdad. Of course, it wasn't 'Iraq' before WW1; it was called Mesopotamia (though things were so spread out, it makes more sense to call it 'the area kind of close to Baghdad'). It gradually evolved its current shape under the British, who released it to govern itself in 1932, but then invaded in 1941 because the leader, Ali, was too chummy with Hitler. They left in 1947.
1958, 1963, 1966, 1968: four coups. The last brought Saddam Hussein into power, and he essentially became a dictator in 1979. All this time, America had been sending arms to Iraq to prevent Soviet Russia from marching 100 miles south and grabbing all the oil. Iraq tried to build a nuclear facility in 1977, but the Israeli Army blew it up. Iraq went to war with Iran from 1980-89 using all sorts of nasty chemical weapons. In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, but were pushed back by international forces (mainly America).
The current Iraq war began in March 2003 and has killed an estimated 3,800 American soldiers, 300 soldiers from other countries, and 1,100,000 Iraqis.

Iran is a little different. Historically it is more cohesive and has not been colonized, and established their own parliament in 1906. In 1921 a coup puts Reza Shah at the helm, and he gets busy modernizing Iran. During WW2 the Allies came in and bump him for his son. In 1953 a guy called Mossadegh is elected, but the CIA organized violent protests and put Reza Shah Jr. back in place.
Now it gets interesting. In 1979, the Shah got the feeling that fundamentalists were getting ready to take over, so he asked President Carter for help to kill quite a few people. Carter wasn't cool with that. Later that year, Ayatollah Khomeini coups his way into power and kills many, many people, and gets mad with America. In November 1979, a group of Iranians seize the US embassy in Iran, taking the staff hostage for 444 days. Carter bungles a rescue attempt and loses the next election. The Ayatollah is a fundamentalist and Saddam's looking for more power, so in 1980 this part of the world is looking pretty crappy.

No-one would care about any of this -- it would essentially be Africa II -- if the region weren't drowning in oil. The map below shows how much oil is below each nation (one oil derrick = America's total reserves). Notice also how close Russia and Israel are to the area.

(Double-click the image for a full-size view.)

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