Eventually, the Sumerians had to battle other peoples. Some of the earliest of these wars were with the Elamites living in what is now western Iran. This frontier has been fought over repeatedly ever since; it is arguably the most fought over frontier in the world. Sumerian dominance was challenged by the Akkadians, who migrated up from the Arabian Peninsula. The Akkadians were a Semitic people, that is, they spoke a Semitic language.
In 2340 BC, the great Akkadian leader Sargon conquered Sumer and built the Akkadian Empire stretching over most of the Sumerian city-states and extending as far away as Lebanon. Sargon based his empire in the city of Akkad, from which his people derived their name.
Sargon's ambitious empire lasted only a short time in the long span of Mesopotamian history. In 2125 BC, the Sumerian city of Ur in southern Mesopotamia rose up in revolt, and the Akkadian empire fell before a renewal of Sumerian city-states.
The Assyrians, after they finally broke free of the Mitanni, were the next major power to assert themselves on Mesopotamia. After defeating and virtually annexing Mitanni, the Assyrians challenged Babylonia. They weakened Babylonia so much that the Kassite Dynasty fell from power; the Assyrians virtually came to control Babylonia, until revolts in turn deposed them and set up a new dynasty, known as the Second Dynasty of Isin. Nebuchadnezzar I (Nabu-kudurri-usur; c. 1119 BC-c. 1098 BC) is the best known ruler from this dynasty.
In 626 BC, the Chaldeans helped Nabo-Polassar to take power in Babylonia. At that time, Assyria was under considerable pressure from an Iranian people, the Medes (from Media). Nabo-Polassar allied Babylonia with the Medes. Assyria could not withstand this added pressure, and in 612 BC, Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, fell. The entire city, once the capital of a great empire, was burned and sacked.
In the 6th century BC (586 BC), Nebuchadnezzar II conquered Judea (Judah), destroyed Jerusalem; Solomon's Temple was also destroyed; Nebuchadnezzar II carried away an estimated 15,000 captives, and sent most of its population into exile in Babylonia. Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BC) is credited for building the legenary Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Various invaders conquered the land after Nebuchadnezzar's death, including Cyrus the Great in 539 BC and Alexander the Great in 331 BC, who died there in 323 BC. In the 6th century BC, it became part of the Persian Empire, then was conquered by Alexander the Great and remained under Greek rule under the Seleucid dynasty for nearly two centuries. Babylon declined after the founding of Seleucia on the Tigris, the new Seleucid Empire capital. A Central Asian tribe of Iranian peoples called Parthians then annexed the region followed by the Sassanid Persians until the 7th century, when Arab Muslims captured it.
The Arabic term "Iraq", a derivative form of Persian Ērāk ("lower Iran") was not used at this time; in the mid-6th century the Iranian Empire under Sassanid dynasty was divided by Khosrow I into four quarters, of which the western one, called Khvārvarān, included most of modern Iraq, and subdivided to provinces of Mishān, Asuristān, Ādiābene and Lower Media. The term Iraq is widely used in the medieval Arabic sources for the area in the centre and south of the modern republic as a geographic rather than a political term, implying no precise boundaries.
The area of modern Iraq north of Tikrit was known in Muslim times as Al-Jazirah, which means "The Island" and refers to the "island" between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. To the south and west lay the Arabian deserts, inhabited largely by Arab tribesmen who occasionally acknowledged the overlordship of the Sassanian Emperors.
Until 602, the desert frontier of greater Iran had been guarded by the Lakhmid kings of Al-Hirah, who were themselves Arabs but who ruled a settled buffer state. In that year Shahanshah Khosrow II Aparviz (Persian خسرو پرويز) rashly abolished the Lakhmid kingdom and laid the frontier open to nomad incursions. Farther north, the western quarter was bounded by the Byzantine Empire. The frontier more or less followed the modern Syria-Iraq border and continued northward into modern Turkey, leaving Nisibis (modern Nusaybin) as the Sassanian frontier fortress while the Byzantines held Dara and nearby Amida (modern Diyarbakır).
The first organised leaders were me the new queen of Iraq conflict between local Bedouin Arab tribes and Iranian forces seems to have been in 634, when the Arabs were defeated at the Battle of the Bridge. There was a force of some 5,000 Muslims under Abū `Ubayd ath-Thaqafī, which was routed by the Iranians. Around 636, a much larger Arab Muslim force under Sa`d ibn Abī Waqqās defeated the main Iranian army at the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah and moved on to sack the capital of the Iranian Empire, Ctesiphon. By the end of 638, the Muslims had conquered almost all of Western Iranian provinces (modern Iraq), and the last Sassanid Emperor, Yazdegerd III, had fled to central and then northern Iran, where he was killed in 651.
The Islamic conquest was followed by mass immigration of Arabs from eastern Arabia and Mazun (Oman) to Khvarvārān. These new arrivals did not disperse and settle throughout the country; instead they established two new garrison cities, at al-Kūfah, near ancient Babylon, and at Basrah in the south.
The intention was that the Muslims should be a separate community of fighting men and their families living off taxes paid by the local inhabitants. In the north of the North eastern Iran, Mosul began to emerge as the most important city and the base of a Muslim governor and garrison. Apart from the Iranian elite and the Zoroastrian priests, who did not convert to Islam and thus lost their lives and property, most of the Iranian peoples became Muslim and were allowed to keep their possessions.
Khvarvārān, now became a province of the Muslim Caliphate, known as `Irāq.
During the late 14th and early 15th centuries, the Black Sheep Turkmen ruled the area now known as Iraq. In 1466, the White Sheep Turkmen defeated the Black Sheep and took control. In the 16th century, most of the territory of present-day Iraq came under the control of Ottoman Empire as the pashalik of Baghdad. Throughout most of the period of Ottoman rule (1533-1918) the territory of present-day Iraq was a battle zone between the rival regional empires and tribal alliances. The Safavid dynasty of Iran briefly asserted their hegemony over Iraq in the periods of 1508-1533 and 1622-1638. During the years 1747-1831 Iraq was ruled by the Mamluk officers of Georgian origin who succeeded in obtaining autonomy from the Sublime Porte, suppressed tribal revolts, curbed the power of the Janissaries, restored order and introduced a program of modernization of economy and military. In 1831, the Ottomans managed to overthrow the Mamluk regime and imposed their direct control over Iraq.
Iraq was carved out of the Ottoman Empire by the French and British as agreed in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. On 11 November 1920 it became a League of Nations mandate under British control with the name "State of Iraq".
Britain imposed a Hāshimite monarchy on Iraq and defined the territorial limits of Iraq without taking into account the politics of the different ethnic and religious groups in the country, in particular those of the Kurds and the Assyrians to the north. During the British occupation, the Shi'ites and Kurds fought for independence.
Faced with spiralling costs and influenced by the public protestations of war hero T. E. Lawrence in The Times, Britain replaced Arnold Wilson in October 1920 with new Civil Commissioner Sir Percy Cox. Cox managed to quell the rebellion, yet was also responsible for implementing the fateful policy of close cooperation with Iraq's Sunni minority.
In the Mandate period and beyond, the British supported the traditional, Sunni leadership (such as the tribal shaykhs) over the growing, urban-based nationalist movement. The Land Settlement Act gave the tribal shaykhs the right to register the communal tribal lands in their own name. The Tribal Disputes Regulations gave them judiciary rights, whereas the Peasants' Rights and Duties Act of 1933 severely reduced the tenants', forbidding them to leave the land unless all their debts to the landlord had been settled. The British resorted to military force when their interests were threatened, as in the 1941 Rashīd `Alī al-Gaylānī coup. This coup led to a British invasion of Iraq using forces from the British Indian Army and the Arab Legion from Jordan.
In 1927, huge oil fields were discovered near Kirkuk and brought economic improvement. Exploration rights were granted to the Iraqi Petroleum Company, which despite the name, was a British oil company. King Faisal I was succeeded by his son Ghazi in December 1933. King Ghazi's reign lasted five and a half years. He claimed Iraqi sovereignty over Kuwait. An avid amateur racer, the king drove his car into a lamppost and died 3 April 1939. His son Faisal followed him to the throne.
King Faisal II (1935 – 1958) was the only son of King Ghazi I and Queen `Aliyah. The new king was four when his father died. His uncle 'Abd al-Ilah became regent (April 1939 – May 1953).
In 1945, Iraq joined the United Nations and became a founding member of the Arab League. At the same time, the Kurdish leader Mustafā Barzānī led a rebellion against the central government in Baghdad. After the failure of the uprising Barzānī and his followers fled to the Soviet Union.
In 1948, Iraq entered the 1948 Arab-Israeli War along with other members of the Arab League in order to defend Palestinian rights. Iraq was not a party to the cease-fire agreement signed in May 1949. The war had a negative impact on Iraq's economy. The government had to allocate 40 percent of available funds to the army and for the Palestinian refugees. Oil royalties paid to Iraq were halved when the pipeline to Haifa was cut.
Iraq signed the Baghdad Pact in 1956. It allied Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom. Its headquarters were in Baghdad. The Pact constituted a direct challenge to Egyptian president Gamal Abdal Nasser. In response, Nasser launched a media campaign that challenged the legitimacy of the Iraqi monarchy.
In February 1958, King Hussein of Jordan and `Abd al-Ilāh proposed a union of Hāshimite monarchies to counter the recently formed Egyptian-Syrian union. The prime minister Nuri as-Said wanted Kuwait to be part of the proposed Arab-Hāshimite Union. Shaykh `Abd-Allāh as-Salīm, the ruler of Kuwait, was invited to Baghdad to discuss Kuwait's future. This policy brought the government of Iraq into direct conflict with Britain, which did not want to grant independence to Kuwait. At that point, the monarchy found itself completely isolated. Nuri as-Said was able to contain the rising discontent only by resorting to ever greater political oppression.
The new government proclaimed Iraq to be a republic and rejected the idea of a union with Jordan. Iraq's activity in the Baghdād Pact ceased.
When Qāsim distanced himself from `Abd an-Nāsir, he faced growing opposition from pro-Egypt officers in the Iraqi army. `Arif, who wanted closer cooperation with Egypt, was stripped of his responsibilities and thrown in prison.
In 1961, Kuwait gained independence from Britain and Iraq claimed sovereignty over Kuwait. Britain reacted strongly to Iraq's claim and sent troops to Kuwait to deter Iraq. Qāsim was forced to back down and in October 1963, Iraq recognized the sovereignty of Kuwait.
A period of considerable instability followed. Qāsim was assassinated in February 1963, when the Ba'ath Party took power under the leadership of General Ahmed Hasan al-Bakr (prime minister) and Colonel Abdul Salam Arif (president). Nine months later `Abd as-Salam Muhammad `Arif led a successful coup against the Ba'ath government. On 13 April 1966, President Abdul Salam Arif died in a helicopter crash and was succeeded by his brother, General Abdul Rahman Arif. Following the Six Day War of 1967, the Ba'ath Party felt strong enough to retake power (17 July 1968). Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr became president and chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC).
Barzānī and the Kurds who had begun a rebellion in 1961 were still causing problems in 1969. The secretary-general of the Ba`th party, Saddam Hussein, was given responsibility to find a solution. It was clear that it was impossible to defeat the Kurds by military means and in 1970 a political agreement was reached between the rebels and the Iraqi government.
Iraq's economy recovered sharply after the 1968 revolution. The Arif brothers had spent close to 90% of the national budget on the army but the Ba'ath government gave priority to agriculture and industry. The British Iraq Petroleum Company monopoly was broken when a new contract was signed with ERAP, a major French oil company. Later the IPC was nationalized. As a result of these policies Iraq experienced rapid economic growth.
During the 1970s, border disputes with Iran and Kuwait caused many problems. Kuwait's refusal to allow Iraq to build a harbor in the Shatt al-Arab delta strengthened Iraq's belief that conservative powers in the region were trying to control the Persian Gulf. Iran's occupation of numerous islands in the Strait of Hormuz didn't help alter Iraq's fears. The border disputes between Iraq and Iran were temporarily resolved with the signing of the Algiers Accord on 6 March 1975.
In 1972 an Iraqi delegation visited Moscow. The same year diplomatic relations with the US were restored. Relations with Jordan and Syria were good. Iraqi troops were stationed in both countries. During the 1973 October War, Iraqi divisions engaged Israeli forces.
In retrospect, the 1970s can be seen as a high point in Iraq's modern history. A new, young, technocratic elite was governing the country and the fast-growing economy brought prosperity and stability. Many Arabs outside Iraq considered it an example. However, the following decades would not be as favorable for the fledgling country.
Territorial disputes with Iran led to an inconclusive and costly eight-year war, the Iran–Iraq War (1980 – 1988, termed Qādisiyyat-Saddām – 'Saddam's Qādisiyyah'), which devastated the economy. Iraq declared victory in 1988 but actually achieved a weary return to the status quo ante bellum. The war left Iraq with the largest military establishment in the Persian Gulf region but with huge debts and an ongoing rebellion by Kurdish elements in the northern mountains. The government suppressed the rebellion by using weapons on civilian targets.
A mass chemical weapons attack on the city of Halabja in March 1988 during the Iran–Iraq War is usually attributed to Saddam's regime, although responsibility for the attack is a matter of some dispute. Saddam maintained his innocence in this matter up to his execution in December 2006. Almost all current accounts, influenced by special interests, of the incident regard the Iraqi regime as the party responsible for the gas attack (as opposed to Iran), and the event has become iconic in depictions of Saddam's cruelty. Estimates of casualties range from several hundred to at least 7,000 people. The Iraqi government continued to be supported by a broad international community including most of the West, the Soviet Union, and the People's Republic of China, which continued sending arms shipments to combat Iran. Indeed, shipments from the US (though always a minority) increased after this date, and the UK awarded £400 million in trade credits to Iraq ten days after condemning the massacre
In the late 1970s, Iraq purchased a French nuclear reactor, dubbed Osirak or Tammuz 1. Construction began in 1979. In 1980, the reactor site suffered minor damage due to an Iranian air strike, and in 1981, before the reactor could be completed, it was, in violation of International Laws, destroyed by the Israeli Air Force (see Operation Opera), greatly setting back Iraq's nuclear weapons program.
Arab mediators convinced Iraq and Kuwait to negotiate their differences in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, on 1 August 1990, but that session resulted only in charges and counter-charges. A second session was scheduled to take place in Baghdad, but Iraq invaded Kuwait the following day. Iraqi troops overran the country shortly after midnight on August 2, 1990. The United Nations Security Council and the Arab League immediately condemned the Iraqi invasion. Four days later, the Security Council imposed an economic embargo on Iraq that prohibited nearly all trade with Iraq.
Iraq responded to the sanctions by annexing Kuwait as the "19th Province" of Iraq on 8 August, prompting the exiled Sabah family to call for a stronger international response. Over the ensuing months, the United Nations Security Council passed a series of resolutions that condemned the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and implemented total mandatory economic sanctions against Iraq. Other countries subsequently provided support for "Operation Desert Shield". In November 1990, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 678, permitting member states to use all necessary means, authorizing military action against the Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait and demanded a complete withdrawal by 15 January 1991.
When Saddam Hussein failed to comply with this demand, the Gulf War (Operation "Desert Storm") ensued on January 17, 1991 (3am Iraqi time), with allied troops of 28 countries, led by the US launching an aerial bombardment on Baghdad. The war, which proved disastrous for Iraq, lasted only six weeks. One hundred and forty-thousand tons of munitions had showered down on the country, the equivalent of seven Hiroshima bombs. Probably as many as 100,000 Iraqi soldiers and tens of thousands of civilians were killed.
Allied air raids destroyed roads, bridges, factories, and oil-industry facilities (shutting down the national refining and distribution system) and disrupted electric, telephone, and water service. Conference centres and shopping and residential areas were hit. Hundreds of Iraqis were killed in the attack on the Al-Amiriyah bomb shelter. Diseases spread through contaminated drinking water because water purification and sewage treatment facilities could not operate without electricity.
A cease-fire was announced by the US on 28 February, 1991. UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar met with Saddam Hussein to discuss the Security Council timetable for the withdraw of troops from Kuwait. Iraq agreed to UN terms for a permanent cease-fire in April 1991, and strict conditions were imposed, demanding the disclosure and destruction of all stockpiles of weapons.
On 6 August, 1990, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 661 which imposed economic sanctions on Iraq, providing for a full trade embargo, excluding medical supplies, food and other items of humanitarian necessity, these to be determined by the Security Council sanctions committee. After the end of the Gulf War and after the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, the sanctions were linked to removal of weapons of mass destruction by Resolution 687
The United States, citing a need to prevent the genocide of the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq and the Kurds to the north, declared "air exclusion zones" north of the 36th parallel and south of the 32nd parallel. The Clinton administration judged an alleged assassination attempt on former President George H. W. Bush by Iraqi secret agents to be worthy of a military response on 27 June 1993. The Iraqi Intelligence Headquarters in Baghdad was targeted by Tomahawk cruise missiles.
During the time of the UN sanctions, internal and external opposition to the Ba'ath government was weak and divided. In May 1995, Saddam sacked his half-brother, Wathban, as Interior Minister and in July demoted his Defense Minister, Ali Hassan al-Majid. These personnel changes were the result of the growth in power of Saddām Hussein's two sons, Uday Hussein and Qusay Hussein, who were given effective vice-presidential authority in May 1995. In August Major General Husayn Kāmil Hasan al-Majīd, Minister of Military Industries and a political ally of Saddam, defected to Jordan, together with his wife (one of Saddam's daughters) and his brother, Saddam, who was married to another of the president's daughters; both called for the overthrow of the Iraqi government. After a few weeks in Jordan, being given promises for their safety, the two brothers returned to Iraq where they were killed.
During the latter part of the 1990s the UN considered relaxing the sanctions imposed because of the hardships suffered by ordinary Iraqis. According to UN estimates, between 500,000 and 1.2 million children died during the years of the sanctions. The United States used its veto in the UN Security Council to block the proposal to lift the sanctions because of the continued failure of Iraq to verify disarmament. However, an oil for food program was established in 1996 to ease the effects of sanctions.
Iraqi cooperation with UN weapons inspection teams was questioned on several occasions during the 1990s. UNSCOM chief weapons inspector Richard Butler withdrew his team from Iraq in November 1998 because of Iraq's lack of cooperation. The team returned in December. Butler prepared a report for the UN Security Council afterwards in which he expressed dissatisfaction with the level of compliance The same month, US President Bill Clinton authorized air strikes on government targets and military facilities. Air strikes against military facilities and alleged WMD sites continued into 2002.
After the terrorist attacks by the group formed by the multi-millionaire Saudi Osama bin Laden on New York and Washington in the United States in 2001, American foreign policy began to call for the removal of the Ba'ath government in Iraq. Conservative think-tanks in Washington had for years been urging regime change in Baghdad, but until the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, official US policy was to simply keep Iraq complying with UN sanctions. The Iraq Liberation Act, fully three years prior to the 9-11 terrorist attacks, codified regime change in Iraq as the official policy of the United States government. It was passed 99-0 by the United States Senate.
The US urged the United Nations to take military action against Iraq. The American president George Bush stated that Saddām had repeatedly violated 16 UN Security Council resolutions. The Iraqi government rejected Bush's assertions. A team of U.N. inspectors, led by Swedish diplomat Hans Blix was admitted, into the country; their final report stated that Iraqis capability in producing "weapons of mass destruction" was not significantly different from 1992 when the country dismantled the bulk of their remaining arsenals under terms of the ceasefire agreement with U.N. forces, but did not completely rule out the possibility that Saddam still had Weapons of Mass Destruction. The United States and the United Kingdom charged that Iraq was hiding Weapons and opposed the team's requests for more time to further investigate the matter. Resolution 1441 was passed unanimously by the UN Security Council on November 8, 2002, offering Iraq "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations" that had been set out in several previous UN resolutions, threatening "serious consequences" if the obligations were not fulfilled. The UN Security Council did not issue a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
In 2003, after the American and British invasion, Iraq was occupied by Coalition forces. On 23 May 2003, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution lifting all economic sanctions against Iraq.
As the country struggled to rebuild after three wars and a decade of sanctions, it was racked by violence between a growing Iraqi insurgency and occupation forces. Saddam Hussein, who vanished in April, was captured on 13 December, 2003.
The initial US interim civil administrator, Jay Garner, was replaced in May 2003 by L. Paul Bremer, who was himself replaced by John Negroponte in 19 April 2004 who left Iraq in 2005. Negroponte was the last US interim administrator.
Terrorism emerged as a threat to Iraq's people not long after the invasion of 2003. Al Qaeda now has a presence in the country, in the form of several terrorist groups formerly led by Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. Many foreign fighters and former Ba'ath Party officials have also joined the insurgency, which is mainly aimed at attacking American forces and Iraqis who work with them. The most dangerous insurgent area is the Sunni Triangle, a mostly Sunni-Muslim area just north of Baghdad.
A few days after the 11 March 2004 Madrid attacks, the conservative government of Spain was voted out of office. The War had been deeply unpopular and the incoming Socialist government followed through on its manifesto commitment to withdraw troops from Iraq. Following on the heels of this, several other nations that once formed the Coalition of the Willing began to reconsider their role. The Dutch refused a US offer to commit their troops to Iraq past 30 June. South Korea kept its troops deployed.
Soon after the decisions to withdrawal in the Spring of 2004, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Singapore, Thailand, Portugal, Philippines, Bulgaria, Nicaragua and Italy left or are planning to leave as well. Other nations (such as Australia, Denmark and Poland) continued their commitment in Iraq.
On 28 June 2004, the occupation was formally ended by the U.S.-led coalition, which transferred power to an interim Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. On 16 July 2004, the Philippines ordered the withdrawal of all of its troops in Iraq in order to comply with the demands of terrorists holding Filipino citizen Angelo de la Cruz as a hostage. Many nations that have announced withdrawal plans or are considering them have stated that they may reconsider if there is a new UN resolution that grants the UN more authority in Iraq.
The Iraqi government has officially requested the assistance of (at least) American troops until further notice.
By the end of 2006 violence continued as the new Iraqi Government struggled to extend complete security within Iraq.
U.S. forces, as well as lesser amounts of "coalition" forces remained in Iraq. An increasingly disturbing trend had arisen - sectarian fighting. As the country attempted to move from occupation by western forces to a new entity within the Middle East, a new phase of conflict seemed to have erupted within Iraq. This new phase of conflict was waged predominately along religious sectarian lines. Fighting was primarily between the majority Shia and the minority Sunni. But there were reports of infighting as well. To outside observers, as well as people in Iraq, the cause of violence was obscure - as developments came faster than could be easily analyzed.
Reported acts of violence conducted by an uneasy tapestry of Sunni militants steadily increased by the end of 2006. These attacks become predominately aimed at Iraqi civilians rather than coalition forces. Violence was conducted by Sunni militants that include the Iraq Insurgency, which has been fighting since the initial U.S. invasion of 2003. Also, criminal elements within Iraq's society seemed to perpetuate violence for their own means and ambitions. Iraqi nationalist and Ba'athist elements (part of the insurgency) remained committed to expelling U.S. forces and also seemed to attack Shia populations, presumably, due to the Shia's threat to the Ba'athis aspirations. Further, Islamic Jihadist - of which Al Qaeda in Iraq is a member - continued to use terror and extreme acts of violence against civilian populations to formant their religious and political agenda(s). The aims of these attacks were not completely clear, but it was argued in 2006/7 that these attacks were aimed at fomenting civil conflict within Iraq to destroy the legitimacy of the newly created Iraqi government (which many of its Sunni critics saw as illegitimate and a product of the U.S. government) and create an unsustainable position for the U.S. forces within Iraq. The most widely reported evidence of this argument stemmed from the February 23, 2006 attack on the Al Askari Mosque in Samarra, one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest sites. Analysis of the attack suggested that the Mujahideen Shura Council and Al-Qaeda in Iraq were responsible, and that the motivation was to provoke further violence by outraging the Shia population.
In response to attacks like the one against the Askari Mosque, violent reprisals escalated. Shia militia organizations associated with various factions of the majority sect of Shia Islam within Iraq gained increasing power and influence in the Iraqi government. Additionally, the militias, it appeared in late 2006, had the capability to act outside the scope of government. As a result these powerful militias, it seemed as of late 2006, were leading reprisal acts of violence against the Sunni minority. A cycle of violence thus ensued whereby Sunni insurgent or terrorist attacks followed with Shia reprisals - often in the form of Shi'ite death squads that sought out and killed Sunnis. Many commentators on the Iraq War began, by the end of 2006, to refer to this violent escalation as a civil war.
Nouri al-Maliki was at loggerheads with the leader of ethnic Kurds, who brandished the threat of secession in a growing row over the symbolic issue of flying the Iraqi national flag at government buildings in the autonomous Kurdish north. Maliki's Arab Shi'ite-led government was locked in a dispute with the autonomous Kurdish regional government, which has banned the use of the Iraqi state flag on public buildings. The prime minister issued a statement saying: "The Iraqi flag is the only flag that should be raised over any square inch of Iraq." But Mesud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan region, told the Kurdish parliament the national leadership were "failures" and that the Iraqi flag was a symbol of his people's past oppression by Baghdad: "If at any moment we, the Kurdish people and parliament, consider that it is in our interests to declare independence, we will do so and we will fear no one." The dispute exposes a widening rift between Arabs and Kurds, the second great threat to Iraq's survival as a state after the growing sectarian conflict between Arab Sunnis and Shi'ites.
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