Through major investments in education from the 1960s onwards, Iraq gained some of the Middle East’s best doctors, engineers and scientists. Literacy reached 80 percent in 1987. But decades of war and UN sanctions have undermined many of the advances achieved.
In 2003–2008, the years immediately following the overthrow of the dictator Saddam Hussein, more than 31,000 armed attacks against schools were carried out by the government. Teacher salaries were low, and thousands of teachers were dismissed after 2003 as a result of contact with the former ruling Baath Party (see Modern History).
- COUNTRYAAH: Country facts of Iraq, including geography profile, population statistics, and business data.
The continued violence has led to new problems. In large parts of Iraq, the school system still works poorly. Around 2014–2015, the terrorist group Islamic State (IS) subjugated parts of the country, including the big city of Mosul. The universities of Mosul, al-Falluja and other places were closed. In Mosul, bookstores were organized for “Islamic” literature from the university and the city’s library. IS supporters organized some of their own teaching, but it hardly lived up to general expectations of a school system. Since IS was removed from its mounts, there is a great need for reconstruction, which also applies to school premises. About half of the schools in the areas affected by IS proliferation were destroyed and few have been rebuilt.
At the end of 2019, a Norwegian aid organization estimated that there were approximately 775,000 children among the country’s internal refugees, many of them in camps where it is difficult to arrange teaching. Nearly a quarter of a million children had no access to school during the previous school year.
Teacher salaries are paid in part by the UN or by aid organizations, and volunteers make up a significant proportion of staff because of the shortage of trained teachers. The lack of teachers also helps prevent children from attending school.
The paper requires six years of compulsory schooling for all children between six and eleven years of age. After compulsory school, students can continue with six years of high school and high school studies. During the period 2008–2012, 93 percent of boys and 87 percent of girls attended primary school, according to the UN, but the proportion was significantly lower among girls in rural areas and among refugees. Fewer went on to high school: 53 percent of boys and 45 percent of girls. Only one-sixth of the girls in the countryside continued to high school.
Literacy has dropped, but a certain increase has been seen again since 2015, according to Unesco. In general, the level of education is clearly lower in rural areas than in cities.
There are both state and private universities. Baghdad University, founded in 1957, is one of the largest in the Arab world. Since 2008, private schools have been re-admitted and the number has increased rapidly. They charge relatively high fees but usually have higher standards and better teachers than state schools.
In Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq, education is organized by the local authorities, who have made major educational efforts.
- Topmbadirectory: Offers information about politics, geography, and known people in Iraq.
FACTS – EDUCATION
Proportion of children starting primary school
92.3 percent (2007)
Number of pupils per teacher in primary school
Reading and writing skills
43.7 percent (2013)
Turkish soldiers remain in Iraq
On December 30, Prime Minister al-Abadi says Turkey has not fulfilled its promise to take all Iraqi troops home.
The army retakes Ramadi
At the end of the month, the government announces that the army has taken full control of the entire Ramadi and has started disarming mines laid out by IS. It is unclear how many of the IS around 400 people were killed during the final battles or managed to get out of the city.
Kurdish government in economic crisis
The regional Kurdish government proposes a series of savings to reduce the economic crisis that has led to a government debt of around US $ 18 billion. The government is three months behind in paying the salaries of civil servants, including to the armed forces peshmerga. The savings are mainly due to sharply lowered benefits for ministers and high-ranking officials. The crisis is mainly due to delayed payments from the central government in Baghdad and the sharply reduced oil price.
Iraq appeals to UN for help against Turkey
Since Iraq turned to the UN Security Council with a protest against the Turkish troops presence, some of the Turkish soldiers are withdrawn, but the Iraqi government demands that all of them leave the country. Turkey resigns a few days later to begin taking home the rest of the force following a direct call from US President Obama.
Iraq appeals to NATO
When the two-day deadline has expired, Prime Minister al-Abadi is appealing to NATO to persuade Turkey to withdraw its military force from Iraqi soil. Russia calls for a closed meeting with the UN Security Council to discuss the Turkish intrusion, but the Iraqi UN ambassador says the issue should be resolved without international intervention.
Conflict with Turkey on soldiers
The Iraqi government orders Turkey within two days to take home about 150 soldiers who, along with about 25 tanks and other heavy weapons, have entered northern Iraq near Mosul. According to Iraq, the Turkish force has entered the country without permission. Iraq threatens to “take all available resources” unless the soldiers leave the country. Turkey refuses to call the soldiers home and claims that they are in Iraq to protect soldiers training Kurdish troops fighting IS. US sources say the Turkish presence is not coordinated with the international alliance fighting the Islamic State.
Mass grave found
In connection with the mine clearance work in Sinjar, the Kurdish soldiers find what is believed to be a mass grave for Yazid women murdered by IS. The grave is believed to contain the remains of at least 70 middle-aged and older women. The younger women were generally robbed by the Islamists for use as sex slaves.
Kurdish successes against IS
After a brief offensive, Kurdish forces are said to have taken back Sinjar, which was captured by IS in August 2014. The offensive is backed by US flights, which are reported to have been cut by one of the Islamic State’s major supply lines between Iraq and Syria. Yazid forces participate in the fighting on the Kurds’ side.
Parliament gives al-Abadi an oath
Parliament adopts a resolution requiring Prime Minister al-Abadi to consult with elected officials before presenting more political reforms similar to those he recently ordered (see August). The resolution is believed to lead to a power measurement between the government and parliament.
Political conflict in Kurdistan
Four ministers in the regional Kurdish government belonging to the opposition party Gorran are dismissed and replaced by representatives of the dominant party KDP. The dismissals are motivated by the fact that Gorran was behind politically-based violence.
Counter-offensive against IS
In the middle of the month, government forces launch what is described as the largest offensive against IS in several months. They are said to have taken back parts of the city of Baiji and its major oil refinery and are reported to continue north.
Political deadlock in the Kurdish region
The autonomous Kurdish region has suffered political uncertainty since the end of President Barzani’s term without the parties being able to agree to extend it. No counter-candidate has been put forward, but several parties say they do not want to extend Barzani’s mandate until the powers of the presidential office are reduced. The opposition party Gorran demands that the President of Parliament step in for 60 days and that new elections are held thereafter.
The judicial system must be strengthened
al-Abadi also orders a thorough review of the entire judiciary to ensure its independence, strengthen its fight against corruption and guard the principle of everyone’s equality before the law. The Prime Minister issues his directives only hours after the same demands were made by Shiite leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
al-Maliki is accused of Mosul’s case
A parliamentary inquiry holds former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and 35 other persons responsible for the fall of the city of Mosul in the hands of the Islamic State (IS) in the summer of 2014. The report will be handed over to the prosecutor. Prime Minister al-Abadi approves a recommendation from another commission that the army commanders who allowed Ramadi to evacuate in May should be brought before a military court.
The Prime Minister’s position can be strengthened
If the reform, which is described as the biggest change in Iraq’s political system since the 2003 US invasion, is greatly strengthened by Prime Minister al-Abadi’s position. The three vice presidents and three deputy prime ministers are abolished, which removes a whole layer of political leaders who have been able to use their positions to build their own power centers. Several government ministries are merged to reduce the number of ministers; a total of 11 of 33 ministerial posts were abolished. The prime minister is also given the right to dismiss provincial governors and regional officials, who have often been able to gain greater power in their areas than the central government in Baghdad.
Reform plan approved
The plan is adopted unanimously in Parliament without proper debate. Assessors agree that it will be much more difficult in practice to push through all the radical proposals that will become evident to a number of influential people. Parliament Speaker Salim al-Juburi says that the President’s plan must be complemented by a parliamentary reform plan to ensure that all changes are made in accordance with the country’s constitution.
State bureaucracy should be reformed
After several weeks of government-critical demonstrations, Prime Minister al-Abadi announces a reform plan. The popular dissatisfaction has been triggered by constant power cuts during a massive heat wave and the government is accused of inefficiency and corruption. Among other things, the system that distributes political items between different groups of people is criticized under certain quotas (see Political system). The critics believe that it paves the way for the job to be filled with incompetent people. When announcing the government’s reform plan, al-Abadi announces that appointments to high political posts should not be based on quotas and that some government posts should be given to people who are politically independent. The reform plan also includes a reduction in the costs of bodyguards as well as an increase in appropriations to the national security forces.
Car bomb against Shiites
At least 120 people are believed to have been killed and over 130 injured in a car bomb attack in Khan Bani Saad, three miles northeast of Baghdad. Most of the victims are Shiites gathered to celebrate the end of the month of Ramadan, id al-fitr. The Islamic State claims to have carried out the attack.
Millions in flight during the year
According to the UN, more than 3 million Iraqis have been forced to leave their homes since early 2014. Of these, more than 2.6 million come from the three provinces of Anbar, Nineveh and Salaheddin, which have been hit hardest by the IS-government fighting. In the last two months, the fighting over Ramadi in Anbar province has driven 276,000 people into flight.
Refugee stream to Baghdad
Over 40,000 people who have escaped from IS in Ramadi are allowed to enter Baghdad, after first being locked out and stranded under open skies for several days. Several people have been reported to have died from dehydration or fatigue. The authorities are worried that IS fighters will infect Baghdad with the refugees.
IS taking in Ramadi
Following a rapid offensive, IS Ramadi, the capital of the country’s largest province, takes on Sunni-dominated Anbar. The loss of al-Ramadi is described as the government’s biggest hardship since IS took over Mosul in June 2014. The fighting in Ramadi is said to have claimed around 500 lives.
IS attacks oil refinery
On May 7, IS goes on strike against Iraq’s largest oil refinery in Baiji, some 20 miles north of Baghdad. Very tough battles with government troops are reported. Retaining control of Baiji is considered crucial to the army’s and its allies’ ability to advance against Mosul, held by IS.
Saddam’s closest man is killed
The army claims to have killed Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, formerly Saddam Hussein’s closest man and vice president at the time of the 2003 US invasion. He must have been killed in a battle in Salaheddin province.
Offensive against IS in Anbar
Iraqi forces go on strike against IS in Anbar province, the country’s strongest Sunni stronghold.
IS release yazidis
IS releases over 200 Yazidis that have been held captive since the summer of 2014. Most are elderly and disabled. They are handed over to Kurdish soldiers outside Kirkuk.
Displaced minorities receive their own radio
A new radio station starts broadcasting from a location near the Kurdish capital Erbil. Radio al-Salam is aimed at all the minority people who have been expelled from their home districts by the Islamic State and, among other things, aims to create unity and understanding between the ethnic and religious groups.
IS driven out of Tikrit
On April 1, the government claims that the army and its allies have captured most of Tikrit. Fighting continues but the army is said to have taken control of the city center and is in the process of expelling IS from the northern suburbs. Shiite militias standing on the side of the army are reported to have engaged in extensive looting and lynching after retaking the city. After three days, they are reported to have left Tikrit since Prime Minister al-Abadi ordered the looters to be arrested.
Christian strength fights
The first brigade fully recruited among Christians enters service after a time of military basic training. The Christian force of about 600 is subordinate to the Kurdish peshmerga army and is based on an Assyrian force formed in 2004 to protect churches on the Nineve Plains between Mosul and Erbil.
Ancient cities are ravaged by IS
According to the government, IS is beginning to destroy the remains of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, proposed to be classified by UNESCO as one of Iraq’s World Heritage Sites. Islamists are reported to have begun demolishing the buildings with excavators and possibly hauling sculptures on trucks. Nimrud, founded in the 13th century BC, lies three miles southeast of Mosul. UNESCO’s chief Irina Bokova describes the destruction as a war crime and calls on both the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court ICC to act. Days later, reports will also come of how IS has begun to destroy the 2,000-year-old city of Hatra, which is on the World Heritage list, and the former Assyrian capital Khorsabad, or Dur Sharrukin.
Offensive against IS in Tikrit
The army and government-led militias launch an offensive against Tikrit, 15 miles north of Baghdad, held by IS since June 2014. A total of about 30,000 people are reported to be participating in the operation.
IS destroys cultural heritage
A video that IS posted on the internet seems to show how Islamists break ancient sculptures in a museum in Mosul. Among the art treasures destroyed are objects that experts believe are more than 2,000 years old. The destruction of what fundamentalists see as “idols” are compared with the Afghan Taliban blasts of Buddha statues in 2001. UNESCO’s Director on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate what she sees as “cultural cleansing”.
IS charged with genocide
Four human rights organizations accuse IS of being in the process of wiping out minority groups in Iraq. In a joint report, organizations write that millions of Yazidis, Assyrians and Turkmen have been driven from their homes, thousands of captured women have been raped, tortured and forced to convert to Islam and marry IS warriors. There is also evidence that prisoners were forced to donate blood to wounded warriors.
Woman is allowed to rule Baghdad
Baghdad gets its first female mayor, Zebra Alwach, who held a managerial post at the Department of Education. She is the first woman of all time in such a high municipal post in Iraq.
The Kurdish government is failing
The Kurdish regional government accuses Baghdad’s central government of failing to live up to the agreement to give autonomous Kurdistan its share of the federal state budget (see December 2014). Kurdish head of government Nechivan Barzani says the Kurdish Treasury is basically empty.
National Guard is formed
The Iraqi Parliament (Council of Representatives) adopts a law to create a new National Guard, to which Sunni militants should be recruited. This has been proposed since IS conquered Mosul in June 2014.
Shiite abuses on Sunnis
The army claims to have completely expelled the Islamic State from the province of Diyala northeast of Baghdad. Government-friendly Shiite militias are accused of killing at least 72 civilian Sunnis in the village of Barwanah in connection with the army offensive. Prime Minister al-Abadi condemns the murders and says that these kinds of crimes run the risk of driving Iraqi Sunnis into the arms of IS.