Iraq country brief

Overview

Following the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Iraq was established as a British Protectorate in 1920 by the League of Nations. A monarchy was established in 1921, with Iraq gaining its independence in 1932. In 1958, the monarchy was overthrown in a military coup d’état and the Republic of Iraq was created. It came under the control of the Ba'ath Party in 1968, with General Saddam Hussein gradually assuming control and formally acceding to the Presidency in 1979. He ruled until the collapse of his regime, following US-led coalition military action launched in March 2003 over Iraq’s failure to cooperate in relation to suspected stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 687. Iraq has been led by a democratically-elected government since 2006.

Iraq shares borders with Iran, Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. It has a narrow section of coastline measuring 58 km on the northern Gulf. Its capital is Baghdad. It has a total area of 438,317 km² and a population of around 39 million. There are 18 provinces in Iraq, including three provinces under the partial control of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), an autonomous regional government recognised under the Iraqi Constitution.

Political Overview

System of Government

Iraq is a federal constitutional democracy. The Head of State is the President. The Head of Government is the Prime Minister, who is drawn, along with the Cabinet Ministers, from the Council of Representatives (CoR), the unicameral legislature. Ministers forgo their CoR seats to serve in Cabinet. The Iraqi people elect the 329 members of the CoR through an open-list, proportional representation electoral process. Nine seats are set aside for representation of Iraqi minorities. Members serve four year terms. The Constitution sets a quota of 25 per cent of seats in the CoR to be held by women.

Iraq held a general election in May 2018. The Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq estimated that 45 per cent of eligible Iraqis voted across the country. Australia was one of several countries where out-of-country voting took place. Negotiations to form government can take some months.

Security

During late 2013 and 2014, the terrorist organisation Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Daesh, seized territory in west and northwest Iraq, including the city of Mosul. ISIL has systematically persecuted ethnic and religious minorities, and committed abuses against vulnerable groups including women and children.

The US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIL is working, at the request of the Government of Iraq, to support the Government to address the threat from ISIL. On 9 December 2017, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the defeat of ISIL in Iraq, but remnants of the group remain a threat. See ‘Australian Assistance’ below for more information on Australia’s contribution to the Coalition.

The Australian Government advises Australians not to travel to Iraq. Due to the security situation, consular assistance is extremely limited within Iraq. See travel advice for Iraq.

Bilateral Relations

Australia and Iraq enjoy a friendly and diverse relationship, with regular engagement on diplomatic, political, security, economic and humanitarian issues. Australia and Iraq are represented bilaterally through Embassies in Baghdad and Canberra respectively. Iraq has a Consulate-General in Sydney and the Kurdish Regional Government retains a representative office, also in Sydney.

Australia has had diplomatic relations with Iraq in various forms since 1935. Australia opened an Embassy in Baghdad in 1976 and Iraq established an Embassy in Canberra in 1995.

After the closure of the Australian Embassy in Baghdad in 1991, and the closure of the Iraqi Embassy in Canberra in 2003, full diplomatic relations resumed when both Embassies reopened in 2004, following the transfer of authority from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the Iraqi Interim Government.

People to people links

There is a sizeable Iraqi community in Australia. According to the ABS Migration Australia data, at 23 October 2017, 67,355 people born in Iraq were living in Australia. The resettlement of Iraqis who have fled their home country remains a priority within Australia’s offshore Humanitarian Programme. Between 2007–08 and 2016–17, around 31,480 Iraqis who had fled violence and unrest in Iraq have found a new life in Australia. Iraqis were the single largest nationality granted visas under the offshore Humanitarian Programme over this period, with around one in every four humanitarian entrants resettled in Australia coming from Iraq.

In 2016-17, Australia granted a total of 7,478 visas to Iraqis fleeing violence under the Offshore Humanitarian Programme. Priority for these places was for those with close family links to Australia and women, children and persecuted minorities with least prospect of return to their home countries. This included visas granted as part of the additional 12,000 places made available by the Australian Government in September 2015 for Syrians and Iraqis displaced by conflict in their home countries.

Australian assistance

Australia is making a significant contribution as part of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIL. Around 300 Australian military personnel are working alongside New Zealand colleagues in the ‘Building Partner Capacity’ training mission in Iraq, building the capacity of Iraqi Army and law enforcement personnel to ensure Iraq’s security. Since 2015, the joint training mission has trained over 35,000 Iraqi personnel. This builds on Australia’s support to Coalition air operations against ISIL, as well as a contribution of around 80 Australian Special Forces personnel, who are advising and assisting the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service. Australia has also committed personnel to the NATO Training Mission headquarters in Iraq.

Australia has provided and committed $180 million in humanitarian assistance to Iraq since June 2014, including the $100 million three-year Iraq Humanitarian and Stabilisation Package (2017/18 – 2019/20). Australian funding helps provide food, medical services and protection to people in need, as well as stabilisation support to areas liberated from ISIL control. See Iraq humanitarian response for more details on Australia’s current humanitarian package.

Between 2003 and 2014, Australia provided $382 million in development and humanitarian assistance to Iraq to re-establish services to over 1.3 million people, including over half a million refugees and internally displaced people. This was in addition to $987 million in debt relief to support Iraq’s transition to a stable and democratic nation after decades of war and dictatorship. Australia has worked in partnership with the Government of Iraq to improve the management of water, agriculture research, rural development, public sector governance, education, landmine clearance and basic services delivery.

Economic Overview

The improved security environment following the Iraqi Government’s success against ISIL and a gradual increase in investment for reconstruction are positives for Iraq’s short-term economic outlook.

The International Monetary Fund estimates Iraq’s economic growth to be around 3.1 per cent in 2018 and to accelerate to 4.9 per cent in 2019, averaging around 3.0 per cent over the medium term. But the country continues to be beset by post-conflict challenges (including high unemployment among displaced persons and immense reconstruction needs), as well as longstanding political and sectarian divisions. Sustainable economic progress in Iraq will depend on whether the Iraqi Government can improve internal security, rein in corruption and advance economic reform.

Oil remains critical to the Iraqi economy. Iraq has OPEC’s fourth largest crude oil reserves and is the world’s third largest oil exporter. Oil accounts for over 90 per cent of government revenue and over 99 per cent of export revenue. Oil production is expected to grow by 2.2 per cent in 2018 but oil production is expected to increase only marginally from 2020 as the Iraqi Government cannot afford to significantly increase investments in the oil sector.

For more information on the Iraqi economy, please see our Iraq fact sheet [PDF 50 KB].

Trade and Investment

Total merchandise trade between Australia and Iraq in 2017 was over $89 million.
Historically, Australia's primary commercial interest in Iraq has been wheat, which it has exported to Iraq for over 50 years. Wheat was by far the largest Australian export to Iraq in 2017, valued at $65.6 million. Additionally, over $8 million in dairy products were exported to Iraq in 2017.

The Australian and Iraqi Governments remain committed to broadening bilateral trade relations. In 2007, Iraq announced the opening of an Iraq Trade Liaison Office in Canberra and the appointment of a senior trade official to Australia. At the same time, the Australian Embassy in Baghdad and Austrade continue to facilitate commercial links between Australia and Iraq.

Information on doing business and opportunities in Iraq

Recent High Level Visits

Minister for Veterans Affairs and Defence Personnel Darren Chester visited Iraq in August 2018 to meet with Australian Defence Force and civilian personnel. Minister for Defence Marise Payne, accompanied by the Chief of Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, travelled to Iraq in February 2018 to meet with Australian Defence Force and civilian personnel. Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove also visited Baghdad in February 2018 to meet with President Massoum and speak to Australian Defence Force personnel. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited Iraq in April 2017, where he met with Prime Minister al-Abadi and visited Australian troops in Taji. Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop met with government and civil society leaders, including the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, during her October 2014 visit. Iraqi Foreign Minister al-Ja’afari visited Australia in February 2015.

Last Updated: 31 August 2018