On April 9, 2003, the US-led coalition overthrew Saddam Hussein. Fifteen years after the invasion, life in Iraq has been transformed.
Here is an overview of what has changed in Iraq’s economy, politics, diplomacy, demographics and the Kurdish question.
The fall of Saddam’s regime effectively ended a 12-year embargo imposed by the United Nations on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Iraq’s 34 million people are back in the international trade arena, although nearly eight million residents still live on less than $2.2 (1.8 euro) a day, according to the UN.
With 153 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, Iraq is the second largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
And with a barrel of oil now valued at triple its price in 2003, Iraq’s GDP has increased from $29 billion in 2001 to $171 billion in 2016.
But the country has failed to diversify its economy, and the government still draws 99 percent of its revenue from the oil sector.
Since 2003, the oil sector has generated more than $800 billion in revenue, but corruption has cost the country $312 billion, according to the Injah Centre for Economic Development.
The Baath Party – single, omnipresent and all-powerful – has disappeared.
In elections over the past 15 years, Saddam’s secular party has given way to a myriad of political forces, many dominated by religious or tribal leaders.
A tacit system of proportional representation reserves top government posts for Iraq’s different communities, with Shia – two thirds of the population – previously overshadowed by Saddam’s Sunni minority, now dominating political and military institutions.
Saddam fought Iran for eight years. But today, Iraq’s powerful neighbour to the east is allied with many of Iraq’s political parties and supports a host of armed factions.
Saudi Arabia, a majority Sunni country and Iran’s biggest rival, is attempting to return to Iraq after a decades-old quarrel that began with Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.
Relations between Baghdad and Riyadh have warmed recently with several official visits.
Caught between Saudi and Iran, and neighbours with Turkey and war-torn Syria, Iraq has regularly pleaded not to be used as a battleground in any proxy war.
Relations with the United States have also evolved over the past 15 years. The Americans have alternately been seen as liberators, occupiers, enemies or allies.
Anti-militant coalition troops led by the US have worked in cooperation with Iraqi forces against the Islamic State (IS) group since 2014.
Once estimated at one million people, including 600,000 in Baghdad, Iraq’s Christian community – which includes Chaldeans, Assyrians, Armenians and Syriacs (Catholics and Orthodox) – now has only 350,000 members.
Long denied freedom of movement at their holy sites, Shiites – from Iraq and around the world – now converge every year for massive holiday gatherings at shrines in Karbala, Najaf, Samarra and Baghdad.
The opinions of the country’s highest Shiite authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, carry great weight.
It was Sistani who mobilised tens of thousands of men to join paramilitary units of the Hashed al-Shaabi, which played a crucial role in defeating IS.
Heavily repressed during Saddam’s rule, the Kurds ensured that the constitution drafted in the wake of the US invasion expanded their autonomy in the country’s north.
They have since gained territory and prerogatives.
But the 2005 constitution left many questions unanswered and negotiations that followed never came to fruition.
In September 2017, Arbil, the autonomous region’s capital, held an independence referendum, despite strong objections from the central government.
The ‘yes’ vote overwhelmingly won, but the fallout split the Kurdish camp and triggered a stern response from Baghdad, which deployed troops and retook disputed areas.
Baghdad nipped the autonomous region’s project of a viable economic state in the bud, retaking oil fields that had been seized by Kurdish fighters in battles against IS.
Source: The Express Tribune, April 6, 2018