Cost of the War in Iraq
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10/20/05

How Iraq Got Stuck with Saddam

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The trial of Saddam Hussein began on Wednesday in Baghdad. He pled not guilty to charges that he killed some 150 Iraqis after an attempt on his life in 1982. He also said, "I do not respond to this so-called court. . . . I retain my constitutional right as the president of Iraq."

The trial is now in recess till November 28, to give Saddam more time to prepare his defense. He faces hanging if convicted--a long fall for the man who once ruled Iraq. How did Iraq get stuck with Saddam to begin with? Here's our look at those crucial events--the ones that shaped the country, and that challenge its new leaders now.

1917 - With the Ottoman Empire crumbling in World War I, western powers begin carving the Middle East into spheres of colonial influence. British forces enter Baghdad and replace the Ottoman provincial government with a British imperial one. The Ottomans had ruled the region since the 16th century, yet prior to Britain's arrival, "Iraq" was not a single political unit. The term had been used since the Middle Ages to refer to the area, but the Ottomans ruled the land as five provinces approximating its religious and ethnic divisions.

1920 - The emir Faysal I establishes an Arab government in Syria and is proclaimed king. Nationalists in Iraq instigate a revolt and proclaim Faysal's older brother, Abdullah, their king. The French expel Faysal from Syria, while the British suppress the revolt in Iraq.

1921 - Britain offers to make Faysal the Iraqi king. Faysal accepts, provided the Iraqi people agree. A plebiscite says they do, and Faysal takes the throne.

1922 - Britain and Iraq sign a treaty of alliance. The treaty satisfies neither the Iraqis--who notice that the British still have considerable say in their affairs--nor the British public, which opposes spending money on Iraq.

1925 - King Faysal signs the "Organic Law," establishing a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government. Yet neither monarchy nor parliament is organic to the region. Both will survive for only 33 years.

1932 - The League of Nations formally admits Iraq as an independent state. With independence achieved, Iraq's numerous political parties turn on each other.

1933 - Several hundred members of a small Christian community are killed in clashes with Iraqi troops. An ailing King Faysal counsels moderation but cannot control the situation. The king dies in Switzerland and is succeeded by his young and inexperienced son, King Ghazi.

1934-35 - Tribal insurrections, spurred by opposition leaders, lead to the fall of three governments in two years. The insurrections reflect two critical problems: the questionable legitimacy of a political system largely imposed from outside and the country's ethnic and religious diversity.

1939 - King Ghazi is killed in a car accident and is succeeded by his 4-year-old son, Faysal II. His uncle, Emir Abdullah, serves as regent. World War II breaks out in Europe. Despite paying lip service to the Anglo-Iraqi alliance, Iraq's prime minister, General Nuri, declares Iraq "nonbelligerent." The army dominates Iraqi politics.

1940 - Iraq sides with pan-Arab leaders who oppose British power and who are secretly negotiating with the Nazis.

1941 - British forces rout the Iraqi army and make Iraqi leaders and their pan-Arab supporters flee the country. Under duress from the British, Iraq declares war on Germany and the Axis powers and helps the Allies.

1945 - World War II ends. The regent, Abdullah, calls for reforms that would make Iraq more genuinely democratic. His call is embraced by a generation of young reformers, yet vested interests block any change.

1948 - Salih Jabr, Iraq's first Shi'ite prime minister, negotiates a new and more equal treaty with the British. Yet popular protests promptly compel repudiation of the treaty and, ultimately, Jabr's resignation. Iraq participates with other Arab nations in the First Arab-Israeli War, which ends in bitter humiliation for the Arab states.

1952 - Opposition leaders, students, and extremists spur a popular uprising that spins out of control. The regent calls in the army, and the country falls under martial law. The government signs a profit-sharing agreement with the Iraq Petroleum Company, despite protests from opposition groups that want to nationalize the oil industry.

1958 - The "Free Officers," a group of young military officers operating in secret cells, stages a coup, overthrows the monarchy, and proclaims a republic. The king, the crown prince, and many members of the royal family are executed. Abd-al-Karim Qasim, leader of the Free Officers, assumes control of the government. It soon becomes apparent that Iraq is a republic in name only.

1961 - In an apparent attempt to divert attention from problems at home, Qasim advances a claim to Iraqi sovereignty over Kuwait. The claim has little historical basis and serves primarily to anger Britain, Kuwait, and other Arab nations. Qasim nationalizes the oil industry.

1963 - A faction of the army cooperates with the Iraqi branch of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath ("Renaissance") Party in a revolt against Qasim's regime. Qasim is executed, and a National Council for Revolutionary Command is created under Colonel Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr. Ba'ath leaders install Abd-al-Salam Arif as president. Arif promptly rallies the military, has Ba'ath leaders arrested, and consolidates his power. Forced underground, the Ba'ath party reorganizes under al-Bakr, helped by a young Saddam Hussein.

1966 - President Arif dies in a helicopter accident and is succeeded by his older brother, Abd-al-Rahman Arif, who ignores calls from Ba'ath and other opposition leaders for elections and for getting the army out of politics.

1968 - A faction of the army and Ba'ath leaders overthrow the government again. President Arif surrenders and leaves the country. The new regime forms the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), which makes al-Bakr president. Al-Bakr gives considerable power to Saddam Hussein and consolidates his own by forcing military leaders to flee. A Kurdish uprising begins but is quickly suppressed. The Ba'ath party becomes the central force in Iraqi politics.

1970 - Ba'ath party leaders meet with leaders of the Kurds. The government promises that by 1974 it will recognize the Kurds as a national group entitled to self-rule.

1974 - The promises of 1970 go unkept, and the Kurds revolt. The shah of Iran supports the Kurds, primarily because he wants to pressure the Iraqi government into renegotiating a 1937 treaty that gives Iraq control over the valuable Shatt al-Arab shipping channel.

1975 - Saddam Hussein meets with the shah of Iran, and the two quickly come to an agreement: Iraq will share control of the Shatt al-Arab, and Iran will stop supporting the Kurds. The agreement puts an end to the Kurdish war.

1978 - Pursuing the Ba'ath goal of Arab unity, Iraq and Syria sign a "charter for joint national action." The charter says the two nations will merge their military forces and suggests they'll eventually form one political entity. Negotiations on forming the union stall, however, as leaders on both sides work to remain on top. The quick engagement-turned-annulment leads to bad feelings all around.

1979 - Al-Bakr resigns, and Saddam Hussein, who has assumed increasing control, succeeds him. Not two weeks later, the government announces that it has uncovered a conspiracy to overthrow Saddam's new regime. Several members of the RCC are arrested, a special court is set up, and 22 people are executed. In Iran, a Shi'ite Islamic movement led by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overthrows the shah and proclaims a policy of "exporting the revolution." Clashes along the Iran-Iraq border become frequent.

1980 - Iraqi forces invade Iran, setting off a war between the two that will last eight years and create an Iraqi debt of $80 billion, with about half owed to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. After some initial Iraqi successes, a stalemate ensues.

1983 - Iranian forces penetrate Iraq. Kurds in the northeastern provinces cooperate with them. In response, Iraq deploys chemical weapons and bombs Iranian oil holdings in the Persian Gulf.

1987 - Iraq regains the upper hand in the war, partly by acquiring arms from France and the Soviet Union. Iraq also enjoys diplomatic and military support from the United States, which bombs Iranian ships and oil platforms and provides information about Iranian troop movements.

1988 - The Iran-Iraq War ends. Ultimately, the two sides make peace by reverting to agreements made in 1975. Saddam begins to rebuild the Iraqi military. He also begins chemical weapons attacks against the Kurds, massacring between 50,000 and 100,000 people in northern Iraq.

1990 - Angered by Kuwaiti and Saudi refusals to forgive Iraq's war debt, Saddam resurrects Iraq's claim to sovereignty over Kuwait. Iraqi forces invade. The U.N. Security Council imposes economic sanctions against Iraq, and U.S. troops arrive in Saudi Arabia. Saddam declares Kuwait an Iraqi province.

1991 - A multinational coalition led by the United States launches "Operation Desert Storm." The attack begins with an air campaign, but ground forces soon follow. Iraq withdraws from Kuwait and accepts a cease-fire dictated by the U.N. Almost immediately, Saddam flouts the cease-fire's terms, and economic sanctions remain in place. Kurds in the north and Shi'ites in the south rebel, but are put down with brutal force. In an attempt to protect the Kurds, the United States creates a "no-fly" zone in northern Iraq. U.S. forces establish a southern "no-fly" zone the next year.

1996 - Because of a growing humanitarian crisis stemming from the ongoing sanctions, the U.N. allows Iraq to sell $1 billion worth of oil every 90 days, on the condition that the money be used for humanitarian relief.

1997 - The U.N. disarmament commission determines that Iraq continues to hide information about its development of chemical and biological weapons.

1998 - Iraq ends all cooperation with the U.N. weapons inspection program. To force compliance and destroy weapons facilities, U.S. and British forces bomb Iraqi military targets and oil refineries.

1999 - The U.N. Security Council proposes a new arms inspection plan that could lead to the suspension of economic sanctions. Iraq rejects the plan.

2003 - The United States and Great Britain argue that Iraq continues to hide prohibited weapons. U.S. and British forces invade and topple Saddam Hussein's government. Eight months after Baghdad's fall, U.S. forces capture Saddam Hussein. No weapons of mass destruction are found.

Steve Sampson
October 19, 2005

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