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Iraq and other "Persian Gulf" countries were created following World War I as protectorates of Great Britain. They were carved out of Mesopotamia, formerly part of the Turkish Empire. Iraq itself includes three major groups: Sunni Muslims in the center surrounding the capital of Baghdad, Kurds in the north and Shi'a Muslims in the south. About 15% of the population is Kurdish, 80% Arab. Some 60% are Shi'ite Arab Muslims like their neighbors in Iran, but they are Arabs, not Persians. There are also significant Assyrian and Turkomen minorities in the north. None of of these groups were given any national rights in the League of nations settlement. National and tribal disputes, as well as friction with Western powers trying to control Iraqi oil, have played a gr
eat part in Iraqi history.
British and US interests were fixed on Iraq after early discoveries of petroleum there, and the US succeeded in pressuring Great Britain to share petroleum rights in Iraq. In 1931, Iraq became independent with a pro-British regime under King Feisal and Nuri-as-Said. A pro-Axis coup in 1941 was reversed by British intervention. After World War II, the US, worried about Soviet influence, tried to make Iraq the anchor of a NATO-like pro-Western alliance, the Baghdad pact. In 1958, the pro-West government was overthrown by ‘Abd al-Karim Qasim. Qasim survived a Ba'athist coup that included participation of Saddam Hussein in 1959. Kuwait and other neighboring protectorates became independent of Britain beginning in 1961, and Iraq laid claims on them owing to oil resources and the need for outlets to the sea. Qasim was overthrown in 1963 by Abd al-Salam ‘Arif. Arif's government was overthrown by a Baathist coup in 1968. By 1979, Saddam Hussein had become Prime Minister and began consolidating a dictatorial regime. Saddam appointed most high officials from among members of his family and natives of his home town village of Tikriti.
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