Defense Secretary Hagel on death of American aid worker: 'On behalf of all the men and women of the Department of Defense, I extend my deepest condolences to the family of Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also known to us as Peter, who time and again volunteered his service during times of war - first as an Army Ranger in Iraq, and later as a devoted humanitarian, providing aid to victims of the conflict in Syria. Like his fellow veterans of the 9/11 Generation, his strong desire to continue making a difference in the world after serving in uniform - to continue leading a life of purpose - is an inspiration to us all' - statement
Editor's note: Britain's Mail on Sunday newspaper is reporting that the Islamic State beheading suspect known as 'Jihadi John' may have been injured in an airstrike on an Iraqi town close to the Syrian border. A British Foreign Office spokesperson was unable to confirm the report. - Jimmy
Editor's note: The Associated Press is reporting that Iraqi government forces have driven out Islamic State militants from the oil refinery town of Beiji. This comes soon after Reuters reported, based off information from army officers and a witness, that government forces were about 1/2 a mile from the town. - Aaron
Iraq (/ɪˈræk/, /ɪˈrɑːk/, or /aɪˈræk/; Arabic: العراق al-‘Irāq), officially the Republic of Iraq (Arabic: جمهورية العراق Jumhūriyyat al-‘Irāq; Kurdish: كۆماری عێراقKomar-i ‘Êraq), is a country in Western Asia that borders Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, Kuwait to the southeast, Saudi Arabia to the south, Jordan to the southwest, and Syria to the west. The capital, Baghdad, is in the center of the country. Around 97% of the country's 36,000,000 people are Muslims, mainly Shias, Sunnis, and ethnic Kurds.
Iraq has a narrow section of coastline measuring 58 km (36 mi) on the northern Persian Gulf and its territory encompasses the Mesopotamian Alluvial Plain, the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, and the eastern part of the Syrian Desert. Two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, run south through the center of Iraq and flow into the Shatt al-Arab near the Persian Gulf. Theses rivers provide Iraq with significant amounts of fertile land.
The region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is often referred to as Mesopotamia and thought to be the birthplace of writing and the world's oldest civilizations. The area has been home to continuous successive civilizations since the 6th millennium BC. At different periods in its history, Iraq was the center of the indigenous Akkadian, Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian empires. It was also part of the Median, Achaemenid, Hellenistic, Parthian, Sassanid, Roman, Rashidun, Umayyad, Abbasid, Mongol, Safavid, Afsharid, and Ottoman empires, and under British control as a League of Nations mandate.
Iraq's modern borders were mostly demarcated in 1920 by the League of Nations when the Ottoman Empire was divided by the Treaty of Sèvres. Iraq was placed under the authority of the United Kingdom as the British Mandate of Mesopotamia. A monarchy was established in 1921 and the Kingdom of Iraq gained independence from Britain in 1932. In 1958, the monarchy was overthrown and the Republic of Iraq was created. Iraq was controlled by the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party from 1968 until 2003. After an invasion by the United States of America and its allies, Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party was removed from power and multi-party parliamentary elections were held. The American presence in Iraq ended in 2011 but the Iraqi insurgency continued and intensified as fighters from the Syrian Civil War spilled into the country.