Iraq, in an area once home to some of the earliest civilisations, became a battleground for competing forces after the US-led ousting of President Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The Shia-led government struggled to restore order until a “surge” of US troops in late 2007 began to push insurgents and militias out of cities and provinces they had long contested.
The country remains volatile, and disputes with the autonomous Kurdistan Region over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk have threatened to derail progress towards political stability.
Only three weeks after the start of the fighting, they had entered Baghdad, and the Iraqi leader’s grip on power had withered. The majority Shia population, which had to a large extent been excluded from power, was initially jubilant.
However, optimism gradually gave way to despair as insurgent groups – mainly drawn from embittered Sunnis, dismissed army officers and supporters of the former regime – began an increasingly bloody campaign of bomb attacks.