The Iraq War: What You Need to Know

ABC News spoke with experts in an attempt to get a better understanding of the war in Iraq, and what could be done by the United States to achieve peace in the region. The result is a comprehensive collection of frequently asked questions about the war in Iraq, definitions, and Iraq's past, present and future.

Who was in charge in Iraq before the war began? What type of government was Iraq then and what is it now?

Before the U.S.-led coalition's invasion of Iraq -- which began on March 18, 2003 -- the Iraqi government was a dictatorship led by Saddam Hussein. After he was overthrown, Hussein went into hiding and was captured by coalition forces on Dec. 13, 2003. A temporary "caretaker" government was established until June 2004.

On Dec. 15, 2004, elections for a new democratic Iraqi National Assembly were held. The seats were chosen through proportional representation, giving representation roughly commiserate to the percentages of votes. The representation was largely split between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

On Jan. 31, 2005, an election for an assembly to draft a constitution took place. Jalal Talabani was later established as president (head of state) and Nouri Kamel al-Maliki was established as the prime minister (head of government). The two men are currently struggling to maintain control in Iraq as they have yet to establish security forces and are constantly challenged by insurgents and terrorist forces.

Who are the main religious groups in the region? Who are the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, and what are their differences?

The major religious groups in the region are various denominations of Islam -- the Sunnis and Shiites, who are also known as Shias. The Sunnis are the largest denomination of Islam, composing the majority of the faith, while Shiites are an estimated 14 percent of the Muslim religion.

In Iraq, however, more than sixty percent of the population are Shiite Muslims. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni Muslim and his government kept Shiites from practicing their religion freely.

Kurds are not by definition a religious group, but rather an indigenous ethnic group in the Middle East and Iraq that comes from a region formerly known as Kurdistan, which comprises various areas of Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. The majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslim, but there are some Shiite Muslims as well. Most Kurds live in northern Iraq, and were also severly subjugated under Saddam Hussein.

Shiite and Sunni relations are historically tense and often violent as the two groups both strive for political and diplomatic power. This has been played out in Iraq in elections, militant groups and terrorist groups.

Where do the loyalties of the Iraqi people lie? Is it to the government, religion or family?

The situation in Iraq is about as complicated as anything the Bush administration has been involved with in its history, retired Gen. Jack Kean says. The hierarchy of individual loyalty in Iraq, while not set in stone, is based first on family loyalty, then clans (clans are groups of families -- think of them like the American version of the Hatfields and McCoys), then tribes (various indigenous people like Kurds), then religious sects (like Shiite and Sunni), and finally the nation state (Iraq).

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