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The current government in Iraq
Posted: Friday, April 4, 2003

Al Jazeera

The government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is at a historic turn, its survival threatened by foreign and domestic forces supported by the United States and other international powers which consider Baghdad a threat to their security.

President Saddam Hussein heads the government in Iraq. He was born in 1937 and assumed power in 1979, after forcing his predecessor Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr to step down.

The strength of the current Iraqi government lies primarily in the state security apparatus. Members of the inner circle of the ruling Baath party, such as family and tribal members, hold key and sensitive posts in the country.

They, in turn, are under the control of other security bodies in charge of guarding against any attempted deviation from the regime, such as the case of Hussein Kamel, President Saddam's son-in-law.

Then come the personal bodyguards of President Saddam Hussain who are known for their blind loyalty to Saddam.

The Republican Guards are the core of Iraq's Army. Privileged and well trained, their duty is to protect the regime from any military or popular disobedience.

Members of the Ba'ath party are deployed in most of Iraqi villages and cities. Their duties are to ensure security and to strengthen the authority of the regime.

There is no real domestic threat in Iraq. Kurds are divided among themselves in the north and Shiites are isolated in the South. Both Kurds and Shiites do not enjoy the sympathy of the Sunnis in central Iraq.

Notwithstanding its repressive nature, during 23 years in power, Saddam Hussein's government has accomplished much.

It has modernised the country, taking advantage of its natural resources to make Iraq one of the leading regional powers in the Middle East. Before the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq was the world's second-largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia. But unlike other neighbouring countries, Iraq did not depend solely on oil.

Moreover, the Iraqi military was well advanced in the manufacture of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. These achievements made the Iraqi army one of the strongest in the region before the 1991 Gulf War.

Major events:

Iraq has witnessed important political events in recent times. The First Gulf War began one year after Saddam assumed power. Iraq launched a fierce war against its neighbour Iran over a territorial dispute concerning the Shatt al-'Arab waterway. Each side also accused the other of fomenting opposition in their own countries.

The Iraqi-Iranian war officially broke out on September 22, 1980 with an armed attack by Iraqi air and land forces on Iran's western border, though the two sides had been engaged in artillery attacks since September 4th. The war, which lasted for eight years saw the use of chemical weapons and quickly spread to cover populated areas.

Iraq enjoyed much wider military and financial support than Iran, both among Arab and Western nations. Its backers included the Gulf States, the United States, North Korea, China, and the former Soviet Union.

In July 1988, Iran was forced to accept the United Nations mandated cease-fire. The war, which cost billions of dollars, left up to 1.5 million people dead.

The Second Gulf War

Still recovering from the First Gulf War, the region witnessed the eruption of another violent war. This time between Iraq and its neighbour Kuwait.

The crisis began with the exchange of accusations between the two countries over the manipulation of oil prices. Iraq also accused Kuwait of illegally pumping oil from Iraq's Rumaila oil field. Iraq invaded Kuwait, which it had long claimed, on August 2, 1990. After annexing it, Iraq declared Kuwait its 19th province and appointed an Iraqi governor there to replace the Kuwaiti ruling family that had fled the country.

On August 7th, Saudi Arabia sought US protection from Iraqi threats. Under the umbrella of the United Nations, the United States began mobilizing forces from 32 countries, known as an international coalition force, to attack the Iraqi army and force it to withdraw from Kuwait.

On November 29, 1990, the United Nations set January 15, 1991, as the deadline for a peaceful withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait. When Saddam Hussein refused to comply, Operation Desert Storm was launched three days later under the leadership of U.S. general Norman Schwarzkopf. The US-led coalition began a massive air war to destroy Iraq's forces and its military and civil infrastructure. Iraq retaliated by launching Scud missiles against Saudi Arabia and Israel in an attempt to break up the international coalition.

When US President George Bush senior declared a ceasefire on February 28, 1991, most of the Iraqi forces in Kuwait had either surrendered or fled. Kuwait's government was restored.

Repression of Shiite and Kurdish mutiny

Shiites in the South and Kurds in the north tried to seize on Iraq's crushing defeat in the 1991 Gulf War to rebel against the regime which they accused of maintaining a repressing their aspirations for expanded self-rule. They were also seeking to improve their living conditions and to seek a just representation in the government. Iraq however, succeeded in suppressing the mutiny in 1991.

Following the Gulf War, the United States set up unilateral no-fly zones north of the 36th parallel, ostensibly to protect Iraq's Kurdish population and, later, south of the 32nd parallel for the country's Shiite Muslims. Iraq considered the no-fly zones as illegal because they had not been authorized by the United Nations. Iraq, however, could not violate the embargo because its air defences had been destroyed during Operation Desert Storm.

Economic sanctions on Iraq

The economic sanctions, which the United States has imposed on Iraq since 1991, have impacted severely on the living conditions of the Iraqi people. The allies' destruction of infrastructure crippled Iraqi life. The Iraqi dinar collapsed and necessary foodstuff and medicines became scarce in Iraq. In an attempt to ease the suffering of the Iraqi people, the United Nations signed the "Oil-for-Food Program", but the humanitarian crisis continued.

International weapons inspections

Under the terms of the armistice which ended the war over Kuwait, the United Nations issued a resolution forcing Iraq to give up its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and restricting its imports of arms. To implement this resolution, an inspections team was set up to search for and destroy suspected weapons of mass destruction. The team began its duties in1993. Iraq, however, complained about the selection of the team that was mostly made up of Americans and accused them of spying. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and Scott Ritter, a member of the inspection team, confirmed them to be true. The work of the inspectors proceeded until 1998, when the United States decided to launch new military strikes against Iraq and ordered the international inspectors to leave Baghdad.

The United States tried to get the inspectors back into Iraq following a four-day air strike, but Iraq refused to comply unless all its outstanding issues with the United Nations were settled in accordance with a specific timetable. However, Iraq was warned of military retaliation if it failed to comply and given a unilateral 48-hour deadline by the United States' president George Bush. In the morning of 20 March 2003 (GMT) the US initiated a new war against Iraq.

Al Jazeera

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