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HISTORICAL BACKGROUND Straddling the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and stretching from the Gulf to the Anti-Taurus Mountains modern Iraq occupies roughly what was once ancient Mesopotamia one of the cradles of human civilisation In the Middle Ages Iraq was the centre of the Islamic Empire with Baghdad the cultural and political capital of an area extending from Morocco to the Indian subcontinent Mongol invasions in the 13th century saw its influence wane and it played a minor role in the region until independence from British control in 1932 Following the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958 and a coup in 1968 Iraq became one of the centres of Arab nationalism under the control of the ruling Bath Renaissance party Oil made the country rich and when Saddam Hussein became president in 1979 petroleum made up 95 of its foreign exchange earnings But the war with Iran from 1980 to 1988 and the Gulf War in 1991 following Iraqs invasion of Kuwait together with the subsequent imposition of international sanctions had a devastating effect on its economy and society In 1991 the UN said Iraq had been reduced to a pre-industrial state while later reports described living standards as being at subsistence level The Kurdish community has broken away and created a semi-autonomous region of its own in the north WHAT HAPPENED IN 1991 United States British and allied planes launched a massive campaign of bombing and missile strikes on targets across Iraq at 2330 GMT on 16 January 1991 It marked the end of five months of diplomacy and military build-up in response to Iraqs invasion of neighbouring Kuwait on 2 August 1990 Iraq had vowed to fight rather than pull out The United Nations deadline 15 January ticked by with no withdrawal The next day the full might of the 29-member UN-backed coalition was unleashed US British and Saudi Arabian aircraft set out to destroy hundreds of mainly
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