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Iraq

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Iraq country brief

Overview

Following the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Iraq was established as a British Protectorate in 1920 by the League of Nations. A monarchy was established in 1921, with Iraq gaining its independence in 1932. In 1958, the monarchy was overthrown in a military coup d'état and the Republic of Iraq was created. It came under the control of the Ba'ath Party in 1968, with General Saddam Hussein gradually assuming control and formally acceding to the Presidency in 1979. He ruled until the collapse of his regime, following US-led coalition military action launched in March 2003 over Iraq's failure to cooperate in relation to suspected stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 687. Iraq has been led by a democratically-elected government since 2006.

Iraq shares borders with Iran, Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. It has a narrow section of coastline measuring 58 km on the northern Gulf. Its capital is Baghdad. It has a total area of 438,317 km² and a population of around 41 million. There are 18 provinces in Iraq, including three provinces under the partial control of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), an autonomous regional government recognised under the Iraqi Constitution.

Political Overview

System of Government

Iraq is a federal constitutional democracy. The Head of State is the President. The Head of Government is the Prime Minister, who appoints the Council of Ministers (Cabinet). The Prime Minister and ministers do not have to be elected members of the Council of Representatives (CoR), the unicameral legislature, but the CoR must approve their nominations. Ministers must forgo their CoR seats to serve in Cabinet. The Iraqi people elect the 329 members of the CoR through an open-list, proportional representation electoral process. Nine seats are set aside for representation of Iraqi minorities. Members serve four-year terms. The Constitution sets a quota of 25 per cent of seats in the CoR to be held by women.

Security

During late 2013 and 2014, the terrorist organisation Da'esh seized territory in west and northwest Iraq, including the city of Mosul. While it controlled territory, Da'esh systematically persecuted ethnic and religious minorities, and committed abuses against vulnerable groups including women and children. On 9 December 2017, then-Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the defeat of Da'esh in Iraq.

Despite the territorial defeat of Da'esh in Iraq and Syria (announced by the Syrian Democratic Forces in March 2019), the Global Coalition continues to work, at the request of the Government of Iraq, to support the Iraqi Security Forces to combat the threat posed by remnants of Da'esh. See 'Australian Assistance' below for more information on Australia's contribution to the Coalition.

The Australian Government advises Australians not to travel to Iraq. Due to the security situation, consular assistance is extremely limited within Iraq. See travel advice for Iraq.

Bilateral Relations

Australia and Iraq enjoy a friendly and diverse relationship, with regular engagement on diplomatic, political, security, economic and humanitarian issues. Australia and Iraq are represented bilaterally through Embassies in Baghdad and Canberra respectively. Iraq has a Consulate-General in Sydney and the Kurdish Regional Government retains a representative office, also in Sydney.

Australia has had diplomatic relations with Iraq in various forms since 1935. Australia opened an Embassy in Baghdad in 1976 and Iraq established an Embassy in Canberra in 1995.

After the closure of the Australian Embassy in Baghdad in 1991, and the closure of the Iraqi Embassy in Canberra in 2003, full diplomatic relations resumed when both Embassies reopened in 2004, following the transfer of authority from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the Iraqi Interim Government.

Australian assistance

Australia has made a significant contribution to the Global Coalition to Defeat Da'esh. Together with New Zealand, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) trained over 47,000 Iraqi security personnel as part of Task Group Taji. This mission concluded in June 2020. Australia continues to provide specialist assistance to the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service and to fill important roles in the Coalition headquarters. Australia also provides personnel to the NATO Mission Iraq’s headquarters.

Australia has provided and committed over $200 million in humanitarian assistance to Iraq since June 2014, including through a multi-year humanitarian and stabilisation package of $116 million, since 2017. Australian funding helps provide food, medical services and protection to people in need, as well as stabilisation support to areas liberated from Da’esh control. See Iraq humanitarian response for more details on Australia's current humanitarian package.

Economic Overview

Iraq continues to be beset by post-conflict challenges (including high unemployment among displaced persons and immense reconstruction needs), as well as longstanding political and sectarian divisions; challenges that have been compounded by the effects of COVID-19. Sustainable economic progress in Iraq will depend on whether the Iraqi Government can improve internal security, rein in corruption and advance economic reform.

Oil remains critical to the Iraqi economy. Iraq has OPEC's fourth largest crude oil reserves and is the world's third largest oil exporter. Oil accounts for around 88 per cent of government revenue.

For more information on the Iraqi economy, please see our Iraq fact sheet [PDF].

Trade and Investment

Total merchandise trade between Australia and Iraq in 2018 – 2019 was over $201 million.

Historically, Australia's primary commercial interest in Iraq has been wheat, which it has exported to Iraq for over 50 years. Wheat was by far the largest Australian export to Iraq in 2018 - 2019, valued at $176.4 million. Additionally, over $9 million in dairy products were exported to Iraq in 2018 - 2019.

The Australian and Iraqi Governments remain committed to broadening bilateral trade relations. The Australian Embassy in Baghdad and Austrade facilitate commercial links between Australia and Iraq.

Information on doing business and opportunities in Iraq

Recent High Level Visits

Australia’s Governor General, His Excellency the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd) visited Baghdad in December 2019 to meet with Iraqi President Dr Barham Salih and ADF personnel. In December 2018, Australia's Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, visited Baghdad to meet with then Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi and to visit deployed ADF personnel. In November 2018, the then Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, visited Baghdad to meet with President Barham Salih and to speak to ADF personnel.

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