Iraq is a key economic and political state in the Middle East and Western Asia. It is bordered by Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, Saudi Arabia to its south, and Syria to the west. The capital, and largest city, is Baghdad. The main ethnic groups are Arabs and Kurds; others include Assyrians, Turkmen, Shabakis, Yazidis, Armenians, Mandeans, Circassians, and Kawliya. Around 95% of the country’s 36 million citizens are Muslims, with the majority following Shia Islam (60%) and the remainder following Sunni Islam (40%). Christianity, Yarsan, Yezidism, and Mandeanism are also present and make up the remaining 5%. The official languages of Iraq are Arabic and Kurdish.

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 Iraqi Republic created. Iraq was controlled by the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party from 1968 until 2003. After an invasion by the United States and its allies in 2003, Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party was removed from power and multi-party parliamentary elections were held in 2005. 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.

The Arabic name العراق al-ʿIrāq has been in use since before the 6th century. There are several suggested origins for the name. One dates to the Sumerian city of Uruk (Biblical Hebrew Erech) and is thus ultimately of Sumerian origin, as Uruk was the Akkadian name for the Sumerian city of Urug, containing the Sumerian word for “city”, UR. An Arabic folk etymology for the name is “deeply rooted, well-watered; fertile.

Iraqi Kurdistan, officially called the Kurdistan Region (Central Kurdish: هه‌رێمی کوردستان‎, Herêmî Kurdistan, Arabic: إقليم كردستان‎, qlīm Kurdistān‎) by the Iraqi constitution, is located in the north of Iraq and constitutes the country’s only autonomous region.It is frequently referred to as Southern Kurdistan (Central Kurdish: باشووری کوردستان‎; Northern Kurdish: Başûrê Kurdistanê), as Kurds generally consider it to be one of the four parts of Kurdistan, which also includes northern Syria (Rojava or Western Kurdistan).

The new Constitution of Iraq defines the Kurdistan Region as a federal entity of Iraq, and establishes Kurdish and Arabic as Iraq’s joint official languages. The four governorates of Duhok, Hawler, Silemani, and Halabja comprise around 41,710 square kilometres (16,100 sq mi) and have a population of 5.5 million (2015 estimate). In 2014, during the 2014 Iraq Crisis, Iraqi Kurdistan’s forces (Peshmerga) also took over much of the disputed territories of Kurdistan in the Kirkuk and Ninewa plains area.

The name Kurdistan literally means “Land of the Kurds”. The regional government calls it the “Kurdistan Region”. The full name of the government is the “Kurdistan Regional Government”, abbreviated “KRG”. Kurds also refer to the region as Başûrê Kurdistanê or Başûrî Kurdistan (“Southern Kurdistan”), referring to its geographical location within the whole of Kurdistan. During the Baath Party administration in the 1970s and 1980s, the region was called the “Kurdish Autonomous Region”