Located in the southwestern part of Asia, Iraq is a country known for terrorist attacks and a violent, long-ruling dictator. Despite these notorieties, Iraq (most of which was formerly Mesopotamia) goes down in history as the starting point of civilization.
1. Civilization started in Mesopotamia or Ancient Iraq.
Mesopotamia – the cradle of civilization – occupied part of the fertile crescent. Located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, it can be found at the banks of Southern Iraq.
Mesopotamia was one of the sites of the Neolithic Revolution, where hunters and gatherers transitioned into a life of agriculture and permanent settlement. It also became the home of the Sumerians, who established one of the first civilizations of the world.
Mesopotamia saw the development of the world’s first writing system – the Cuneiform. Because of this – and many other developments – Mesopotamia is recognized as the birthplace of agriculture, astronomy, mathematics, even cursive script.
2. Iraq takes its name from the Sumerian city of Uruk.
An interesting fact about Iraq is that its name is derived from the ancient city of Uruk, which can be found 19 miles from the Iraqi city of Samawah. Located east of the Euphrates River, Uruk was a walled city occupying only 2.32 square miles. Despite its small size, it played home to as much as 80,000 inhabitants during its heyday. Such made Uruk the world’s largest city during that time. The empire was governed by many kings, including Gilgamesh, the hero of the same-named Epic, in the 27th century BC.
3. The country was ruled by several dynasties during the Bronze Age.
In the 2600s BC, Eannatum created the first empire in history by establishing the Lagash dynasty. This was short-lived though, as Lugal-Zage-Si managed to overthrow Eannatum. It was during this time when the famed Epic of Gilgamesh took place.
The Akkadians entered the scene in the 2700s BC. Their culture married that of the Ancient Sumerians, resulting in the bilingual Sumero-Akkadian civilization of the 3000s BC. The Akkadian influence eventually became stronger until it collapsed in the 2100s BC.
Gutians ruled ancient Iraq until the rise of the Neo-Sumerian Empire. This ended with the Elamite invasion of 2004 BC. Then it was the time of the Assyrians, who occupied Iraq alongside Anatolia – which is modern-day Turkey.
By 1792 BC, King Hammurabi established the Babylonian Empire that crumbled immediately upon his death. After his reign, the Middle Assyrian Empire of 1365 BC grew to be the most powerful nation that time – right until the Bronze age collapse.
4. The Neo Assyrian Empire dominated Iraq during the Iron Age.
From 935-605 BC, the Neo Assyrians occupied much of Iraq. Under its influential rulers, the empire became one of the region’s largest. However, due to civil wars, the once-prosperous empire fell into the hands of their former subjects: the Babylonians, Persians, and Parthians, to name a few.
5. The nation was once ruled by Alexander the Great.
In the late 4th century, Alexander the Great conquered Iraq. It was one of the cities that he had vanquished to make one of the largest empires in the world. For more than 200 years, the country was under Hellenistic Seleucid command until the Parthians arrived.
6. Before Iraq became a Muslim country, it was a center for Christianity.
The arrival of the Romans led to the growth of the Christian sect in ancient Iraq, specifically in Assyria. Between the 1st and 3rd centuries, the ancient Assyrians traded their ancient Mesopotamian religion in favor of Syriac Christianity. Evidence of Iraq’s Christian roots can be seen in the Church of the East, which is now in ruins due to a 2014 ISIS attack.
7. The Arab Islamic Conquest of the 7th Century AD paved the way for Islam.
Iraq is a predominantly Muslim country, with 60% practicing Shia Islam, and another 37% observing Sunni Islam, an interesting fact about Iraq. The spread of the religion can be attributed to the Arab Islamic Conquest, which saw Ali, Muhammad’s cousin, becoming the Kaliph of Kufa.
8. Baghdad was once a center of culture and influence – until the Mongols came.
In the 8th century, the Abbasid Caliphate built the city of Baghdad to serve at its capital. Located by the Tigris River, Baghdad became the foremost city for devout Muslims. It also served as a learning hub during the Islamic Golden Age.
Unfortunately, the city was battered and left in ruins during the Siege of Baghdad. The Mongols destroyed the majestic House of Wisdom as well as the irrigation path that has sustained Mesopotamia for several centuries. Historical documents show that the Mongols may have killed as much as 1,000,000 inhabitants during the siege.
9. The British once ruled Iraq.
Iraq went to the British following the partition of the Ottoman Empire. Under its rule, Britain combined the three provinces and named them the collective “State of Iraq.” Faisal I was installed as King while elite Sunni Muslims took several administrative posts. Upon the urging of the King, the British finally granted Iraq its independence in 1932.
A few years later, Rashid Ali al-Gaylani staged a coup d’etat. This resulted in the Anglo-Iraqi war of 1941. British forces lingered in the country for six more years before leaving for good, an interesting Iraq fact.
10. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq endured several wars.
In 1979, Hussein became Prime Minister. He remained as de facto head for several centuries. Under his rule, Iraq invaded its neighboring country to start the Iran-Iraq War. It ended on a stalemate in 1988, but it resulted in the deaths of as much as 1.5 million people.
Two years after, Saddam set his sights on Kuwait, which he annexed for 7 months. This prodded the United States to declare war against the Iraqis – this eventually became the First Gulf War.
In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq under the pretense that the latter continued with its weapons of mass destruction program. That same year, Hussein was accused of crimes against humanity. This was due to the Dujail Massacre, where 148 Shia Muslims were killed. He was found guilty of the said offense and was subsequently hanged on December 30, 2006.
Iraq has a rich history that goes back to 10,000 BC. It was the cradle of civilization – where the first men learned how to write and map stars. Although it continues to be embroiled in armed conflict, its heritage serves as a testament to the nation’s thriving culture.
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