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
Offers a list of biggest cities in the state of Iraq, including the capital
city which hosts major colleges and universities.
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
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
In Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq, education is
organized by the local authorities, who have made major
FACTS - EDUCATION
Proportion of children starting primary
92.3 percent (2007)
Number of pupils per teacher in primary
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
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
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
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
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
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-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
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
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
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.