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Politics in Iraq: Background and Major Issues

A brief history of the modern Iraqi State

Iraqi state is located on the western part of the Asian continent. The kingdom of Iraq was incepted way back in 1932. The country was invaded in 2003 with the forceful occupation of the British and American troops following the claims made by the international community that the then President, Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction.

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Meanwhile, the modern system and ideals of governance in Iraq can be traced back to the era of Ottoman Empire which went on until the onset of the First World War in 1918. Due to the power struggles emanating from the alliance system in Europe, Iraq was set aside as was agreed by both French and British. Towards the end of the First World War, the League of Nations merged Baghdad and Basra as a single nation.

The 1941 coup de tat saw the ousting from power of Abd al-llah who was the president at that time. The military wing soon took over the custody of the country. The Hashemite monarchy which was brought back thereafter operated up and until 1958. Another ouster from power took place and the monarchy was sent packing by the Iraqi troops (Batatu1978). A series of forceful power take over followed later that is in 1966 and 1968.

The former president Saddam Hussein came to authority in 1978 when he killed his close ally as well as the leader of his party. Saddam ruled the country with an iron fist until he was forcefully removed from power and later hanged by the American and British forces.

Central government of Baghdad handling of Kurds

Iraq is made up of Kurdish people who care about one-fifth of the entire population. They are the majority group in the northern part of Iraq. They are mostly found in Kirkuk, Mosul and to a larger extent in Baghdad whereby they are about three hundred thousand in number (“Iraq and the Kurds” 2006).

The Kurds have engaged successive regimes into serious fighting in a bid to claim the freedom to rule as well as run their affairs independently. After some turmoil between the Kurds and the Baghdad government between 1960 and 1975, the latter attempted to implement a peace deal that would usher in the Kurdish autonomy. While the program was to be effected in a period of four years, the process of moving Arabs to the oil-rich Kirkuk region soon caught up with it and hence it did not succeed. Thereafter, constant aggressions followed in which the Kurdish people attacked subsequent regimes in a bid to secure their autonomy. When Iraq and Iran appended the Algiers Accord, the Kurds’ supplies were short-circuited, a situation that brought suffering and mayhem to the Kurdish population. Moreover, as the Arabization program was going on, the Kurds were continually moved to low-profile areas. An estimated two hundred thousand Kurds had been relocated by 1978.

The outbreak of the Iraq-Iran war in early 80s and which lasted for a decade left the Kurds in a state of hopelessness and suffering. As the two neighbors were fighting, the Iraqi government adopted and implemented policies that were against the Kurds, culminating in a civil war that claimed between 50,000 and 100,000 lives among the Kurds. This action by the Baghdad government was highly condemned by the international community although no action was taken.

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Oil-rich city of Kirkuk during Saddam’s era

The main bone of contention surrounding the city of Kirkuk began soon after the discovery of oil resources around this area in 1927. Later after this discovery, the Kirkuk oil field was officially launched for use by the Iraqi Petroleum Company. This was seven years late after the discovery. The northern Iraqi has boasted of being one of the large-scale oil-producing zones in the country. During the political era of the former president Saddam Hussein, the reservoir was poorly managed amid constant wrangles between the Iraqi soldiers and the militant groups from the Kurds. The oil fields were badly used during the Saddam era. In order to counteract this problem, the re-injection of about one and half billion barrels of oil took place. This strategic practice did not yield much fruit-bearing in mind that it led to the increase in resistance to the flow of oil making it difficult to tap the product from under the ground level. Furthermore, the numerous attacks on Kirkuk oil field during the Saddam Hussein years did not spare this oil deposit either. The several attacks launched on Iraqi’s oil infrastructure cost the country billions of dollars in an attempt to recover from the attacks (Eilers1983). Besides, the 1991 Gulf War also brought a myriad of realignments in the Kirkuk oil field. Immediately after the war, there was a massive humanitarian crisis that followed following the United Nations sanctions imposed against Iraq. As a result, an Oil-for-Food program was launched to help meet the food demand for the malnourished Iraqis. Therefore, oil pipelines from Kirkuk were constructed to connect Ceyhan via Turkey in a bid to transport oil which would later be exchanged for food. The United Nations imposed this condition by asserting that at least half of the oil exports from Iraq pass Turkey. Two oil pipelines had been built by 1987.

In a bid to take full control of the Kirkuk oil field, the Saddam Hussein regime worked on a systematic plan to eject approximately one hundred and twenty thousand Kurds and Turkmens alongside other Assyrians who resided in regions endowed with oil resources.

Current Iraqi politics

The Iraqi politics thrives in a federal system of government whereby there are representatives for the people who run the political and law-making affairs in parliament. The political ideology is that of democracy where the rule of the majority is embraced through democratic elections. Moreover, there is more than one political party hence the constitution allows the existence of multiparty democracy. Under this system, the head of government is the executive Prime Minister. However, the law-making authority is vested upon the federal government and representatives who form part of a legally recognized council (Waideh 2006).

The Ba’ath Party had been ruling Iraq for a considerable length of time before the decline of Saddam Hussein. Nevertheless, the 15th October 2005 opinion poll led to a permanent constitution that took over from the conventional jurisdiction law. Consequently, a lifelong two hundred and seventy-five members who would belong to a Council of Representatives came into force before the close of 2005 through an electoral process. This council facilitated the formation of the modern Iraqi government. The January 2010 elections were the most recent carried out in Iraq.

The appointment of ministers who then constitute a council is done by the executive authority of the Prime Minister. The president, unlike the Prime Minister, is more of a ceremonial figure with less executive authority. Two vice presidents are constitutional officeholders. Moreover, the current system of government which is purely federal is made up of the executive, legislature and judiciary. In addition, there is a myriad of top commissions which run their affairs in a more independent manner (McDowell 2004).

Aside from the supreme federal government, there exists devolution system in form of local governments which are primarily smaller subdivisions of the country into smaller administrative units.

As a multiparty democracy, the constitutional dispensation of Iraq allows many political parties to pursue their political ideologies. Some parties consist of alliances. For instance, the National Iraqi Alliance is an umbrella party comprising of six smaller parties like Islamic Dawa Party which is under the leadership of Nouri al-Maliki.

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Significance of the city of Kirkuk in deciding the political future of Iraq

The city of Kirkuk is located to the north of the country’s capital city Baghdad. It has been under constant conflict with the Turkmen and Kurds each asserting that it is their historical center of civilization.

Iraq was invaded in 2003 by the British and American troops which consequently ousted President Saddam Hussein from power. Soon after this political turmoil, a transitional government was instituted up until a democratic one was set up. Scores of internally displaced people who were mainly Kurds and Turkmen have made they’re come back into Kirkuk to claim their former settlements which they fled during the political hardship times. The main reason why Kirkuk has been a center of controversy is that it is rich in oil resources (Glass 2000).

A secret ballot process that took place on 30th June 2005 saw the election of a provincial council which has so far been authenticated by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq. The Kurdistan Regional Government Prime minister has often reiterated that Kirkuk was initially owned by Kurds contrary to the popular belief that it belonged to the Iraqi federal government. For this reason, the Kurdish Prime Minister says that they have to vehemently claim the city due to its cultural attachment to Kurds. Furthermore, the prime minister warns that this may be a recipe for conflicts in future if the stalemate is not addressed now. An opinion poll was supposed to be held way back in 2007 to determine whether Kirkuk should belong to the government or Kurds. This political plan has not materialized to date (Kirisci & Winrow 1997). The Kurds further argue that those who triumphed over Kurdistan have attempted to demolish the many Kurdish emirates. The Kurds also invoke the constitutional provision as stated in article fifty-eight. A section of article fifty-eight states that the interim Iraqi government shall take prompt remedial measures towards the injustice practices perpetuated by the former government in terms of population characteristics of certain regions like Kirkuk which resulted in their expulsion from residential areas thereby necessitating migration from that place. Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State made an official visit to Kirkuk towards the end of 2007. During her visit, she urged the Iraqi leaders to expeditiously execute a reconciliation plan for the nation (Tripp 2000). The city of Kirkuk is therefore a center of political interest between the government and the Kurds and a lot is at stake regarding the future politics of Iraq.


Batatu H (1978). The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Eilers W (1983), “Iran and Mesopotamia” in E. Yarshater, the Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 3, and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Glass C (2000). The Northern Front: A Wartime Diary. London: Saqi Books.

Iraq and the Kurds (2006). The Brewing Battle over Kirkuk. Middle East Report No.56.

Kirisci K and Winrow M G (1997). The Kurdish Question and Turkey. New York: Routledge.

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McDowell D (2004). A Modern History of the Kurds. Tauris & Co.

Tripp C (2000). A History of Iraq. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Waideh J (2006). The Kurdish national movement: its origins and development, London: Syracuse University Press.

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StudyCorgi. "Politics in Iraq: Background and Major Issues." December 15, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Politics in Iraq: Background and Major Issues." December 15, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Politics in Iraq: Background and Major Issues'. 15 December.

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