On March 19, 2003, the United States and its allies invaded an Iraq that had been weakened by an eight year war with Iran, an earlier US invasion, and more than a decade of harsh economic sanctions. This invasion toppled the government of Saddam Hussein and sparked a violent insurgency that has deepened ethnic, tribal and sectarian divisions in the country. Civilian deaths peaked in 2006 and as of early 2014 are once again on the rise.
The United States formally declared the end of the war on December 15, 2011. However, violence has continued unabated in the over two years since; more than 1,600 people were killed between January 1 and February 24in 2014 alone. The continuing violence has hampered reconstruction efforts. Iraq’s economy has always been heavily dependent on oil exports and until recently, instability has limited the production and sale of Iraq’s vast oil reserves. Corruption and oil smuggling, as well as long-term economic problems, have hindered the country’s development and millions lack clean drinking water and are reliant on food aid.
Iraq held its first election after the ousting of Saddam Hussein’s government in 2005. While the 2010 elections were relatively peaceful, no party won enough votes for an overall majority in parliament. It took nine months of negotiations to form a power-sharing government. The first elections since the 2011 US withdrawal are scheduled for April 30, 2014. Despite numerous challenges, there is hope for Iraq’s burgeoning civil society, with many encouraged by the country’s recent NGO law.