Before the 2003 invasion, what did Iraq look like?

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The battle for Mosul has thrust Iraq back into headlines, as Iraqi military forces work to win the city back from ISIL fighters.

What did Iraq look like before 2003?

Iraq Explainer

The battle for Mosul has thrust Iraq back into headlines, as Iraqi military forces work to win the key city back from ISIL fighters. What did Iraq look like decades ago?

After nearly 14 years of war in the country following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the latest offensive in Mosul has taken its toll on Iraqi civilians.

The fight between Iraqi forces and ISIL in Mosul was described by the United Nations as one of the largest urban military operations since World War Two.

“You would expect in a conflict like this that the number of civilian casualties would be around 15 per cent, a high of 20 per cent. What we’re seeing in Mosul is that nearly 50 per cent of all casualties are in fact civilians,” said United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande.

The U.N. said that ISIL militants are using human shields in Mosul.

Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, told Congress that nearly 800 Iraqi security forces have been killed and 4,600 wounded in the increasingly brutal battle to retake Mosul from ISIL extremists that began last fall.

However, even before the war in Iraq began in 2003, the embattled country befell several other acts of hostility in rapid succession: In 1988, the Saddam Hussein regime launched a genocide campaign against Iraqi Kurds, killing between 50,000-100,000 people. In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, igniting the U.S.-led “Operation Desert Storm”—the offensive against Iraq, also known as the First Gulf War. The U.S. declared a cease-fire in 1991. In 1991 and following uprisings by Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi Shia, Hussein’s regime used chemical weapons and terror against the two groups.

In 1998, Iraq was the target of a U.S. air strike campaign after noncompliance with U.N. weapons inspectors. From 1990 to 2003, Iraq was placed under a series of U.N. sanctions for Hussein’s violation of peace and nuclear agreements. The decades of international sanctions nearly crippled Iraq, even before the 2003 war began.

Yet, well before the sanctions and the 2003 invasion, Iraq was known for its devotion to education. In 1984, illiteracy rates among the 15 to 45-year age group in Iraq dropped below 10 percent and the student dropout and repetition rates in the country were the lowest in the Middle East and North Africa, according to UNESCO numbers.

Since then, and following the years of war, the country has not fared as well. Figures from UNESCO in 2007 showed that almost 23 percent of Iraqis were illiterate.