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War in Iraq

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Tips for Teachers Dealing with Current Events Concerning Iraq

As you progress through this information and activities, there are some things you can do enhance the educational experience. Some of those are:

– Listen to your students and watch their behavior. Some may be quiet but frightened. Some may act out while others are fine but it is important to take some time to note any unusual behavior indicating a deeper emotion requiring some attention.

– Reassure students that their homes and school are highly likely to be safe places. Point out to them that their schools and homes are functioning normally and the government is doing all it can to protect them.

– Take time each day to discuss and review the facts of what is happening versus the fiction and/or rumor. The newspaper can be a great help determining between the two.

While we encourage you to participate in many of these activities, we also suggest that you maintain a balance of classroom activity unrelated to current events. It's important for students to be comforted daily by the regular routine.

Newspaper Learning Activities:
  1. Discuss the qualities and abilities our military leaders should have. Collect articles about the leaders, identifying those characteristics and qualities as they are illustrated by news events.

  2. Want to take action expressing your opinions? Write op-ed columns, editorials, letters to the editor, send messages to representatives in Congress or write to the President. (You can send e-mail to

  3. On a regular basis read the newspaper and talk about what you read. The news may be frightening so it's helpful to air your feelings.

  4. Keep a clipping file of news stories about the war. As you choose new articles to add to your files, write a summary of the story and keep that in the file as well.

  5. It may also be interesting to keep a "quotation journal." As newsmakers are quoted in the newspaper, you can choose interesting quotes to jot down and reflect on in writing. It is a good idea to write regularly in journals so that you have a way to process what you are hearing and reading about the war. Share your thoughts with their families at home, too.

  6. If you have military personnel in your community, you may want to invite a speaker to your classroom to talk about this military action. The perspective of a military member adds a new dimension to class discussions.

  7. As this war rages, there will be other important news, too. Take note of other happenings in the world. Even in times of war, life continues.

  8. Skim the newspaper to find some "Good News." Display these clippings on a bulletin board.

  9. Facilitate a discussion about the word, "security." What does it mean to you? Use a dictionary to define the term and then write about what makes you feel secure and insecure. Skim the newspaper to find stories that contribute to your feelings of security and insecurity.

  10. April is National Poetry Month. Write "found" poems about the conflict by using words you find in the headlines. This is a good exercise to voice opinions and feelings. A group of poets who were against the war delivered poems of their feelings to members of Congress. You can read those poems online at After reading the poems, discuss the idea of disagreeing with our government's policies. Is it disloyal to disagree with this war? Can a person be a patriot and still be against the war?

  11. The news coverage may include photos of children in a war zone. Discuss what it might be like to live inside such a zone and why it is important for people, especially children, outside the zone to know what is happening there. The newspaper may include first person descriptions of the events. After you've read along or listened with your eyes closed as your teacher read the article, quickly write your reactions to the material. What events are most and least disturbing to your? What more do you want to know? How can you learn more?

Teacher's Note: This last activity allows students to personalize this new information swiftly and efficiently. Since some of the vocabulary might prove challenging, it may be helpful to keep a running list of new words on the board as they come up. For homework, students can define the new words using a dictionary.

Background on Iraq

Geographic Location

Iraq is situated at the northern tip of the Arabian Gulf in Southwest Asia and is bounded on the east by Iran on the south by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, on the west by Jordan and Syria and on the north by Turkey.

Its coastline along the gulf is only 30 km (19 mi.) long. Its only port on the gulf, Umm Qasr, is small and located on shallow water so only small craft can dock there.

You can download and print a map of the Middle East by hitting this Web site:

For more information see: Information about Iraq: Geography


The population is of Iraq is approximately 23.3 million (2001 estimate), of which 72% are Arab, 23% are Kurds and the remaining 5% are a variety of smaller ethnic groups. 95% of Iraqis claim Sunni or Twelver Shia Islam as their religion. The official language is Arabic, which is spoken by about 80% of the population. The capital of Iraq is Baghdad.

For more information see: Information about Iraq: People


Once known as Mesopotamia, Iraq was the home of many ancient civilizations, including the Sumerian, Babylonian, and Parthian cultures.

At the end of World War I, Iraq became a British-mandated territory. In 1932, Iraq became independent and was ruled as a constitutional monarchy. In 1945, Iraq joined the United Nations and became a founding member of the Arab League. In 1956, the Baghdad Pact allied Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom. Baghdad, in Iraq, was the headquarters, but, later, Iraq's membership in the Pact ended, in 1959. Saddam Hussein began leading Iraq in 1979.

For more information see: Information about Iraq: History

Background of the Current Crisis

The Iran-Iraq war raged from 1980-88 with Iraq declaring victory. At its end, the Kurds in Northern Iraq rebelled against the government and Hussein ordered attacks using weapons of mass destruction, including a mass chemical weapons attack that killed several thousand civilians.

In 1990, Iraq invaded the neighboring country of Kuwait. The United Nations Security Council ordered Iraq to withdraw but they refused. Then, the Persian Gulf War (sometimes referred to as "Operation Desert Storm") began with troops of several countries led by the U.S. They were able to push the Iraqis out of Kuwait but Hussein stayed in power in Iraq. Some people believe that letting  Hussein stay in power then is what is causing this problem today.

After the Gulf War in 1991, the United Nations ordered Iraq to destroy its weapons of mass destruction and any missiles that could go farther than 93 miles. Inspectors were sent in to monitor the situation. The inspectors also destroyed some weapons that they found. The inspectors remained in Iraq for a few years and then said that the government of Iraq was interfering with their work and left the country. The U.S. threatened to use force against Iraq and did bomb Baghdad. Iraq refused to allow any more inspections. They said they had no more weapons of mass destruction. Iraq refused to allow the inspectors to return until recently.

The Crisis Today

There have always been conflicts between people and nations. What makes this conflict more frightening, dramatic, and potentially devastating are the advances that science and technology have made in developing weapons of mass destruction, including those of chemical and biological warfare. Since Iraq has already used chemical warfare to attack the Kurds in 1988, President Bush doesn't trust Saddam Hussein to be honest about the dangerous weapons they might still have. Bush believes that Iraq needs new leadership. That is called "regime change." U.S. officials thought about different ways they could arrange for new leadership, but have decided that a U.S. military attack against Iraq may be the best option.

One reason this option is dangerous is because it is unknown what Iraq will do if attacked. They could attack Israel because Israel is a friend of the U.S. and, if attacked, Israel would be likely to hit back, perhaps with nuclear weapons of its own. At that point, the U.S. could find itself in a war with Israel against Iraq and since Iraq is an Arab nation, this would have a dramatic effect on other Arab nations. How would other Arab countries feel about a war against one of their own?

And, if the U.S. succeeds in removing Hussein from power, what then? It is expensive to rebuild a country after a war and the U.S. would have to rebuild Iraq.

And, not everyone wants to go to war. Some people don't believe that Iraq is a threat. Others don't believe that peace in the region known as the Middle East will come as a result of this war. Americans and other countries are divided in their opinions about this war. It is not an easy decision for anyone to make.

Here is some of what President Bush has said about wanting to go to war:

"Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens....This is a regime that agreed to international inspections, then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the world. States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger....We will be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." (President Bush, State of the Union address to Congress, January 29, 2002)

"In defending the peace, we face a threat with no precedent. Enemies in the past needed great armies and great industrial capabilities to endanger the American people and our nation. The attacks of September the 11th required a few hundred thousand dollars in the hands of a few dozen evil and deluded men. ....The dangers have not passed....

"The gravest danger to freedom lies at the perilous crossroads of radicalism and technology. When the spread of chemical and biological and nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missile technology--when that occurs, even weak states and small groups could attain a catastrophic power to strike great nations. Our enemies have declared this very intention....

"For much of the last century, America's defense relied on the Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment. In some cases, those strategies still apply. But new threats also require new thinking. Deterrence--the promise of massive retaliation against nations--means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons or missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.

"Homeland defense and missile defense are part of stronger security, and they're essential priorities for America. Yet the war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge. In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act.

"....our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend American liberty and to defend our lives." (President Bush, graduation speech to West Point cadets, June 1, 2002)

More Newspaper Learning Activities:

To facilitate students' understanding of conflict, divide students into groups of four and then into pairs within each group. Teachers should assign a position to the pairs. Pairs should then take the assigned views to answer this question: Should the U.S. have attacked Iraq and replaced its leader? Students need not argue their actual feelings, but should defend the position they are assigned.

As sources of background information students can use the newspaper as a primary source and supplement it with research in magazines, and on the Internet. They might want to check out Web sites of the White House, the State Department and news organizations including CNN and PBS.

Allow students time to conduct research and present their arguments within their groups. Instruct them in ways to listen and debate without judgement. Then ask each pair to select their strongest argument and share it with the class. After the presentations, ask the students to draft a class statement giving the majority opinion about U.S. policy.

Here are additional questions to have students use the newspaper to research.

  1. How has the rest of the world responded to the U.S. position towards Iraq? How has the Iraqi government responded? How has the UN responded?

  2. What is "national security"? What are some threats to our security?

  3. The President was in favor of a war and not all Americans agreed with him. Should the President be allowed to make decisions like this without the agreement of the American people?  How important should public opinion be when it comes to matters of national security?

  4. Do you have family or friends currently serving in the military or reserves? How are they preparing for war? Do you think Americans' opinions about the war with Iraq are influenced by how close they are to those who will serve if we go to war?

  5. Role play a debate among representatives to the UN from one of these countries -- United Kingdom, France, Russia, Turkey, or China.

  6. Conflicts "escalate" and just as an escalator works, the higher up one goes, the harder it is to "de-escalate" or go down. Review the history of the Iraqi conflict as provided above and note the factors that led to its escalation. Do you see any way that this conflict could have been kept from escalating? Consider conflicts you have been involved in personally. Write a summary of a conflict you've experienced and underline any "escalating" factors. As you read the ongoing news about this conflict, identify the "escalating" factors.

  7. What do you think the U.S. should do about countries that might be helping terrorists? Suppose we suspect certain countries of aiding terror but we don't have definitive proof? Do we need proof or should we act on suspicion? Write an essay on the steps you think the U.S. should take to prevent future terrorist acts.

Additional resources for teaching about the war can be found online at:

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