AFP – Basic facts about Iraq, where the first parliamentary election since 2010 will be held on Wednesday amid the country’s worst violence in years.
Geography: Bordered by Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Kuwait, Iraq has a narrow outlet to the sea on the Gulf, and a surface area of 438,317 square kilometres (169,235 square miles).
Population: 34.8 million, of whom about 75%-80% are Arabs and 15%-20% Kurds, mainly living in the autonomous north.
Religion: 97% of the population is Muslim, with the remainder made up mostly of Christians but also small sects including Yazidis, Shabaks and Sabeans. Of the Muslim population, 60%-65% are Shi’a, and the remainder Sunni. The Christian population has more than halved since the 2003 US-led invasion.
Economy: Iraq depends heavily on oil exports, which touched 2.8 million barrels per day in early 2014. Its proven deposits of oil and gas are among the world’s highest. Crude exports account for over 70% of GDP, and more than 95% of government revenue. In March 2013, the International Monetary Fund said Iraq still suffers “severe structural weaknesses”, including high unemployment and a limited non-oil sector.
GDP per capita: $6,377 (World Bank)
Recent History: Today’s Iraq covers much of ancient Mesopotamia, one of the cradles of civilisation. In the early modern era it became part of the Ottoman Empire.
British-ruled in the early 20th century, Iraq became formally independent in 1932. The monarchy was abolished in 1958 after a coup and a republic was established.
Saddam Hussein became president in 1979, 11 years after his Baath party took control.
Several wars have shaken the country – the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war, the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait and the US-led invasion in March 2003 which ousted Saddam, who was later executed.
After the departure of American soldiers in late 2011, Iraq was plunged into crisis and violence has surged to its worst since a Sunni-Shi’a sectarian war in 2006-07. Since March 2003, at least 122,977 civilians have been killed in violence, according to Britain-based Iraq Body Count.
Political institutions: Iraq is a federal republic, and voters on 30 April will choose a 328-member parliament which in turn will chose the president. Typically, the president is a Kurd, the prime minister a Shi’a and the parliament speaker a Sunni, though this is not codified.
Military: 271,400 active duty military personnel and 531,000 interior ministry personnel (International Institute of Strategic Studies).