History and Cultural Context
A History of Repression
Iraq’s recent history is was shaped by a repressive regime operating under President Saddam Hussein’s brutal rule from 1979 to 2003. In 1968, after revitalizing the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party to seize control of the country, Saddam Hussein helped lead a military coup that established Ba’athist control. After rising through the ranks, Hussein consolidated his power and formally assumed control of Iraq in 1979. Hussein’s policies focused on widespread repression to solve conflicts among social, ethnic, and economic divides. During his reign, he launched a destructive war against neighboring Iran in 1980 and invaded Kuwait in 1990 before being driven out by U.S. forces in 1991. Following the first gulf war, deep ethnic and religious differences in Iraq began to weaken the already unstable Hussein regime, who rebels viewed as socially repressive. Divisions between socio-economic and religious factions led to widespread unrest among the autonomous Kurds in the North, Shia Arabs in the south, and defective military units. Hussein responded with brutal force, killing tens of thousands of people to reclaim control and deflect further exploitation of the regime’s perceived vulnerability. A U.S.-led invasion ousted the Hussein regime in 2003, and initiated a long, difficult, and controversial process to facilitate the establishment of a democratic, civilian government in the region. The transition to stability has been challenged by a violent insurgency with continuing violence in the region today.
Iraq is a majority Shia, Arab nation with a minority of Sunni Arabs and Kurds to the North and Northeast. The Kurdish autonomous region in the Northeast region of Iraq is part of the larger geo-cultural region of Kurdistan and has maintained much of its own governance in the region for decades. Conflict is often observed in demographic pressures between Sunnis and Shia as well as Arabs and Kurds. Pressures between tribal chiefs and urban merchants as well as nomads and peasants are further economic and social indicators of relative instability in Iraq and neighboring regions.