Situated in the heart of the Middle East region, Iraq finds itself surrounded by 3 of the 5 largest states in the region. Iran (1,458km) shares its eastern border, with Saudi Arabia (814km) to the south and Turkey (352km) to the north. Its other neighbours are Jordan (181km) and Syria (605km) to the west, and Kuwait (240km) to the south east. The country would be completely landlocked but for the port of Umm Qasr on the Persian Gulf between Kuwait and Iran. With more than 438,000 sq km in surface area, Iraq is the 6th largest country in the region, and 57th in the world, its population of 30.4 million makes it the 40th most populous in the world.
Formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, Iraq was occupied by Britain during the course of World War I; in 1920, it was declared a League of Nations mandate under UK administration. In stages over the next dozen years, Iraq attained its independence as a kingdom in 1932. A "republic" was proclaimed in 1958, but in actuality a series of military strongmen have ruled the country since then, the latest being SADDAM Hussein. Territorial disputes with Iran led to an inconclusive and costly eight-year war (1980-88). In August 1990, Iraq seized Kuwait, but was expelled by US-led, UN coalition forces during the Gulf War of January-February 1991. Following Kuwait's liberation, the UN Security Council (UNSC) required Iraq to scrap all weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles and to allow UN verification inspections. Continued Iraqi noncompliance with UNSC resolutions over a period of 12 years resulted in the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and the ouster of the SADDAM Hussein regime. Coalition forces remain in Iraq, helping to restore degraded infrastructure and facilitating the establishment of a freely elected government.