Iraq Table of Contents
The golden helmet of Maskalam-dug, king of Ur, ca. 2450 B.C.
SOCIAL UPHEAVALS HAVE PLAYED a major role in Iraq's perception of its national security. Internal political instability, coupled with recurrent revolts by the Kurdish minority, mobilized the energies of successive regimes to crush opposition forces and to restore order. During the mid- and late 1970s, however, the Baath (Arab Socialist Resurrection) Party leaders succeeded in establishing a revolutionary government, which temporarily subdued the Kurdish revolt in northern Iraq and, using repressive measures, consolidated its power.
The higher prices of petroleum following the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War, and the Arab oil embargo, resulted in an accumulation of wealth that enabled Iraq to expand its armed forces in an attempt to match, in strength as well as in strategic importance, the capacity of its neighbor, Iran. Having signed a border treaty with Tehran in 1975, Baghdad assumed that its search for military parity would not result in conflict, in particular because the two states enjoyed economic prosperity; however, regional events, ranging from the Soviet Union's expulsion from Egypt in 1972 to Egypt's eventual expulsion from the League of Arab States (Arab League) in 1979, following the signing of the separate Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, strengthened Baghdad's resolve to make a bid for regional leadership. Armed with modern weapons and with sophisticated equipment from the Soviet Union and France, Iraq gained a sense of invincibility and, when the opportunity arose, implemented its resolve. Threatened by the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and by its potential influence on Iraq's majority Shia (see Glossary) population, Iraq attacked Iran on September 22, 1980.
For most of the 1980s, Iraq has been preoccupied with that war. In contrast to the first forty years of Iraqi independence, when the military participated in several coups, the Iraqi armed forces demonstrated growing professionalism in the 1980s by limiting their direct role in the country's political life. The armed forces' loyalty has also been assured by the Baath Party, however, which--after conducting purges against the military during the 1970s--continued to maintain a close eye on every aspect of military life and national security in the late 1980s.
Data as of May 1988