The Political Geography of
AP Human Geography
What is Political Geography?
Political geography is about the geographical distribution of
power, how it concentrates and how it shifts between places
John Agnew, Making Political Geography (2002), p. ix
Political geography concerns the processes involved in creating
and the consequences for human populations of the uneven
distribution of power over the earth's surface.
John Agnew, Political Geography: A Reader (1997), p. 1
Territory and territoriality are the defining concepts of political
geography in that they bring together the ideas of power and
space: territories as spaces that are defended, contested, claimed
against the claims of others; in short, through territoriality .
Kevin Cox, Political Geography: Territory, State, and Society
(2002), p. 1
Geographers are concerned with the spatial aspects of both the
physical and human environments of our planet, and especially
with their interrelationships; political geographers are concerned
with the political aspects of these interrelationships.
Martin Glassner and Chuck Fahrer (2004), Political Geography,
3rd ed. p. xvi
Ottoman Empire & Iraq - Historical
From the mid-16th century to 1916, the Ottoman
Empire ruled three disparate provinces—Basra,
Baghdad, and Mosul—that comprise modern-
day Iraq. To counter the influence of the Shia
Empire in Iran, the Ottomans maintained Iraq as
a Sunni-controlled state and largely had
excluded from power Iraq’s Shia and Kurdish
The Sunni Triangle refers to a roughly triangular area of Iraq
to the northwest of Baghdad. It is inhabited mainly by Sunni
Muslims of the same ethnicity as former Iraqi dictator Saddam
Hussein and most of his Ba'ath Party. Saddam himself was
born just outside the town of Tikrit, in the Sunni Triangle. The
triangle's three corners are usually said to lie in or around
Baghdad (on the east side of the triangle), Ramadi (on the west
side) and Tikrit (on the north side); the area also contains the
cities of Samarra and Fallujah.
Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the area has become the apex
of armed Sunni opposition to Coalition rule.
Kurds were promised autonomy in
the Treaty of Sevres (1920) but the
treaty was never ratified. Instead, a
peace treaty between the allies and
Turkey, Treaty of Lausanne (1923),
was adopted which did not mention
any rights for Kurds. Kurds were
not mentioned in any subsequent
international document until the UN
Security Council Resolution 688
was passed in April 1991.
The Kurdish people compose one of the ancient
nations of the Middle East. Kurdistan, the land of the
Kurds, is spread among several modern states:
northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, northeastern Syria,
southeastern Turkey, and small parts of Armenia.
There is no exact figure to the Kurdish population
because each state has tended to downplay the
number of Kurds within its own borders.
Nevertheless, according to various estimates, the
Kurdish population is estimated to range between 25
to 30 million. This makes the Kurds the fourth largest
ethnic people of the Middle East.
Iraq – under Saddam
• One party state
• Sunni minority are favored
• Kurds repressed
• Tribal loyalties
• Secular regime
Former president of Iraq.
Appeared before the allied tribunal on
July 1, 2004, facing broad charges of:
•Killing religious figures in 1974.
•Gassing Kurds in Halabja in 1988.
•Killing the Kurdish Barzani clan in
•Killing members of political parties.
•The 1986-88 "Anfal" campaign of
•Suppressing the 1991 uprisings by
Kurds and Shias.
•Invading Kuwait in 1990.
•Has refused to recognize the authority
of the tribunal, saying it was set up by
1. Legacy of Outside Domination
2. Rivalry/war with neighbors
Iraq/Iran war 1980-1988
• The borderlands between Iran and Iraq have never
made any sense. Rather than defining any real ethnic
homeland, the border merely marks where two
expanding imperial dynasties -- the Ottomans and
Persians -- ran into each other in the Sixteenth Century.
The final treaty signed some two centuries later split
Kurds, Shiites and Arabs between two alien overlords
along a vague line drawn somewhere in the wild
mountains. Even the break-up of the Ottoman Empire
after World War One didn't improve matters much, as the
non-Turkish provinces were turned over to the British
and French as mandates under the League of Nations
rather than formed into logical nation-states.
The Iran-Iraq War was an armed conflict that began when Iraq invaded Iran in
September 1980 and ended in August 1988, with an estimated total of 1.7
million wounded and 1 million dead. The underlying cause of the war lay in the
long-standing regional rivalry between Persian Iran and Arab Iraq. The
immediate cause, however, was a border dispute that had its origins in the mid-
1970s. In 1974 Iran had begun supplying weapons to Kurdish nationalists in
northern Iraq, enabling them to stage a revolt against the Iraqi government. In
order to halt the rebellion, Iraq in 1975 compromised on a dispute with Iran
regarding the border on the Shatt al Arab estuary. In exchange, Iran stopped
supplying arms to the Kurds.
In 1980 Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Iran hoping to reverse the
1975 border settlement and perhaps to gain control of the rich, oil-producing
Iranian province of Khûzestân. Hussein also wanted to put an end to
religious propaganda directed against Iraq's secular regime by the Islamic
government of Iran, which had come to power in 1979 under Ayatollah
Khomeini and most Iranian Muslims belonged to the Shiite sect of Islam.
Hussein feared that the propaganda would undermine the loyalty of Iraqi
Shiites, who comprised about 60 percent of his country's population.
Hussein believed that victory would be easy; he assumed that Iran's
military strength had been greatly weakened by the revolution that had
brought the Islamic Republic to power in Iran the previous year. However,
he was mistaken. Although Iraqi forces won early successes, Iran rallied,
held the invaders, formed new armies, and took the offensive.
By 1982 Iraqi troops had been cleared from most of Iran. However, Iran
rejected the possibility of peace and pursued the war. Iran's only clear
objectives were to punish Iraq and overthrow Hussein.
Between 1982 and 1987 the fighting resulted in a stalemate. Iran mounted
offensives all along the border between the two countries, but especially in
the south, where Iran tried to capture Al Basrah, Iraq's main port. Iraq
resisted stubbornly, aided by donations and loans from other Arab states in
the region and by arms from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
(USSR) and France. Iraq held back Iranian troops with superior firepower
and gas warfare, while the Iraqi air force attacked Iranian cities and oil
installations, as well as tankers approaching or leaving Iranian ports in the
nearby Persian Gulf. Iran retaliated in kind, also attacking the ships of Iraq
and its allies.
The attacks on shipping in the Persian Gulf indirectly drew other countries,
including the United States, into the conflict.
In 1987 the United States and other nations stationed warships in the Gulf to
protect shipping. By 1988 Iran had lost the will to continue the war. Iraqi forces
resumed the offensive, but with economic development in both Iran and Iraq at
a standstill due to reduced oil exporting capabilities, an agreement for a
cease-fire was reached in August 1988 with the help of the United Nations.
Peace negotiations between the two countries stalled until August 1990 when
Iraq dropped demands for full control of the disputed Shatt al Arab waterway.
Iran and Iraq restored diplomatic relations that same year, and divided control
of the Shatt al Arab.
Flag of Iran
Gulf War (Kuwait) – 1990-1991
• As a result of the war with Iran and the heavy investment in arms and
training, the Iraqi military became the dominant force in the region. Led by
the Republican Guard it could formidably challenge any of its neighbors.
The price of keeping this force active was exorbitant. Iraq borrowed heavily
from its oil producing neighbors. The debt coupled with continued
investments brought on a 40 percent inflation rate and a stagnant standard
• Although Iraq had considerable oil reserves of her own, revenues were not
sufficient to meet the demands of her creditors. This problem was
exacerbated in 1990 when Kuwait and other oil states began to lower oil
prices and increase production beyond agreed upon levels. Iraq was forced
to follow suit or lose even more revenues. To make matters worse, Iraq
suspected the Kuwaiti's were drilling diagonally from their side of the border
to tap Iraqi oil reserves.
• Thus Saddam Hussein was now in a precarious position. It was getting
more and more difficult to maintain his military power (which he needed to
keep down internal opposition as well as to keep up national prestige). He
seemed there was an expeditious solution to his problems, a solution
involving a foreign adventure...
Kuwait was a small country that, like Iraq, had once been part of the Ottoman Empire,
then a British Protectorate. When that small country had been granted its
independence, its borders had been set in an arbitrary manner, the borders are not
readily defensible and the population is not necessarily cohesive. The country was
ruled by an Emir of the al-Sabah family.
Like much of the Persian Gulf region, most of the country's revenues derived from the
oil industry. The population was small, about 1.9 million, and its military was not a
factor in regional politics.
Kuwait was in many ways an irritant to Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Besides lowering oil
prices (thus cutting into Iraqi oil revenues), Kuwait had committed the unforgivable sin
of loaning Iraq considerable sums during the Iran/Iraq war. Iraq claimed to have saved
the entire region from the Iranian steam roller in the 1980's and deserved special
consideration amounting to renegotiating or even cancelling the debt. Kuwait refused.
During late July of 1990 Saddam built up his military forces on the border with Kuwait.
At 1:00 a.m. on August 2, three Iraqi divisions of the elite Republican Guard rolled over
the border. Resistance was nearly non-existent. The Guard reached the outskirts of the
capital, Kuwait City, a mere four and a half hours later. The frontal assault was
supported by an airborne special forces division attack directly on Kuwait City itself.
Saddam proclaimed his annexation of Kuwait, built up his forces, and waited to see
what the world would say and do about his fait acompli.
The position of the players in the Gulf
War were, of course, very important.
Kuwait is wedged between two greater
powers, Iraq and Saudi Arabia - making
it vulnerable to conquest by one state,
but assuring it the likely aid of the other.
The open terrain between and the
unnatural boundaries make military
movements easier in modern warfare.
Notice that Jordan is connected to Iraq
on the west. Jordan acted as Iraq's
primary supply line during the war and
tacitly supported Saddam's invasion of
Kuwait. Note also Israel's proximity to
Iraq and imagine the threat posed by
ballistic missiles on the Israeli
population, especially considering the
fact that Saddam tried to draw Israel
into the war and gain Arab support by
lobbing a few missiles at the Iraelis.
Rival Political Actors Today &
Types of Political Power -
Operation Iraqi Freedom
• United States = military, economic
• Iraqi government = moral, legal
• Shiites = cultural, military
• Sunnis (many supporters of Saddam) =
• Kurds = cultural, military
• Foreign Terrorist Groups = military
Future Political Geographies of Iraq
1. Unitary state with autonomy for Kurds
2. Federal State
3. Confederal State
Iraq Disintegrates – Future?
Iraq has the world's second-largest oil reserve, trailing only Saudi Arabia, with more
than 112 billion barrels actually produced each year. Experts say that Iraq could
produce an additional 220 billion barrels per year.
More and more, Baghdad is splintering
Baghdad into Shia and Sunni enclaves that are
increasingly no-go areas for anyone
from the outside. The trend is fuelled
by the ugliest sectarianism. It also
reflects a crude power grab, with both
sides egged on by political parties
aiming to maximize their clout in the
Iraqi Government by dominating as
much of the capital as possible. The
result is that since February 2006,
when Sunnis bombed the golden-
domed mosque in Samarra, a Shia
shrine, 146,322 individuals have been
displaced in Baghdad, according to the
International Organization for
Migration. In addition to all the internal
displacements, over a million -- maybe
two million -- Iraqis have fled the
London Times 12/15/06
country, creating a massive refugee
The Bottom Line as prophesized by Mr. K!
• Because various political, military, and economic factors make
it unlikely that Washington will simply maintain its current
economic and military commitments to Iraq indefinitely,
however, the key question is whether the Bush Administration
adapts its policy to the needs of reconstruction or instead opts
to phase out its engagement in Iraq. If there is enough good in
Iraq and enough positive developments there that if the United
States and its Coalition allies are willing to address the
challenges, there is every reason to believe that Iraq could be a
stable, prosperous, and pluralist society within a period of 5-15
years. In contrast, there is great danger for the United States in
disengaging from Iraq. Without a strong American role, at
least behind the scenes, the negative forces in the country
would almost certainly produce Lebanon-like chaos and civil
war that would quickly spill across Iraq's borders and
destabilize politically and economically fragile neighbors such
as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran, and Syria, and possibly Turkey
and Kuwait as well.
So what do you think?
Should we stay or should we go?