Abu Ghraib
Al-Qaeda in Iraq
Ansar al-Islam
Awakening Movement

Ba'ath Party
Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Dawa Party
Dual Use

Enemy Combatant

Fedayeen Saddam

General Security Service


Iraq Intelligence Service
Iraq Military Intelligence
Iraq Special Service



Lawful Combatant


National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)
National Security Strategy (NSS)
Nuclear Weapons

Oil-for-Food Program

Preemptive War
Preventive War
Private Contractor


Republican Guard
Revolutionary Command Council (RCC)

Sadr City
Sons of Iraq
Sunni-Shi'a Split
Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)


Unlawful Combatant
Uranium Yellowcake


Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD)
White Phosphorus




Terms Definitions
Abu Ghraib An Iraqi prison built by British contractors in the 1960s and used by Saddam Hussein until the 2001 invasion. The prison made world headlines in 2004 with stories of Iraqi prisoner abuse by US soldiers.

Allah Allah is the Arabic word for God. Some Muslims feel they cannot say the word "God" but must use the word Allah even in English, as only the original Arabic can convey the notion of God properly.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq Also known as AQI, it is a Sunni insurgent group that is part of the global al Qaeda movement. Although it is around 90% Iraqi, foreign fighters predominate in the leadership and among the suicide bombers. The leader is Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian, and his predecessor, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, was a Jordanian.

Ansar al-Islam "Supporters of Islam." A militant Islamic Kurdish separatist group that seeks to transform Iraq into an Islamic State. It was formed by Mullah Krekar in northern Iraq in Dec. 2001.

Arab A member of a Semitic people, originally inhabiting Arabia, whose Arabic language and Islamic religion have spread widely throughout the Middle East and northern Africa since the seventh century.

Assyrians Also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs, Assyrians originated in northern Mesopotamia, or modern Iraq. They are the third largest ethnic group in Iraq, are mostly Christian, and speak Assyrian Aramaic.

Awakening Movement A group of Sunni tribal and community leaders who cooperated with US efforts to expel al-Qaeda in Iraq and helped secure cities and towns. It originated in western Anbar Province in 2006.

Ba'ath Party An Arab political party that was established in Syria in the 1940s. Its main ideological objectives are secularism, socialism, and pan-Arab unionism. The Iraqi Ba'ath Party was in power from 1968 until Saddam's overthrow in 2003.

[Read more detail in our question: What is the Ba'ath Party?]

Baghdad The capital city of Iraq that is located on the Tigris River and dates back to the 8th century. It is the largest city of Iraq in population and size and the second largest in the Arab world, after Cairo.

Biological Weapons Also known as germ weapons, they are disease-producing microorganisms, toxic biological products, or organic biocides, such as anthrax and cholera, that are adapted for military use and intended to cause death or injury to humans, animals, or plants.

Chemical Weapons Man-made toxic chemicals, such as mustard gas or Agent Orange, that are adapted for military use and are developed to cause death or severe harm to people and animals and plants.

Dawa Party One of the two biggest Shiite political parties in Iraq. Founded in the 1950s, this conservative party is lead by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Dual Use When an item or technology has both civilian and military applications.

[Read how the US exported dual-use items to Iraq between 1985 and 1990 in our Timeline, Pre-History-1989.]

Enemy Combatant An individual who, under the laws and customs of war, may be detained for the duration of an armed conflict. It is a general category that subsumes two sub-categories: lawful combatants and unlawful combatants.

Fallujah A city in the Iraqi province Al Anbar, about 40 miles west of Baghdad. Also known as the "City of Mosques" for the more than 200 mosques found in the city and surrounding villages.

Fedayeen Saddam "Saddam's men of sacrifice." A paramilitary force founded by Saddam's eldest son, Uday, who's mission included running counterinsurgency operations, and helping police fight crime and maintain order.

General Security Service
The political security police force under Saddam Hussein, charged with monitoring the day-to-day life of Iraqis. Its key missions are to react to political behavior the government deems criminal and to maintain internal security.

Insurgency A movement that combines violence, through subversion, sabotage, and armed conflict, with political programs in pursuit of revolutionary purposes.

Iraq Intelligence Service Also known as the Mukhabarat, it was tasked with monitoring the ruling Ba'ath Party and other groups, and monitoring embassies and foreign nationals visiting Iraq, during Saddam Hussein's reign. This agency tried to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush during his visit to Kuwait in 1993.

Iraq Military Intelligence Created in 1932, soon after Iraq's independence, its missions were to ensure the loyalty of Iraq's military and to gather military intelligence. It maintained a network of informants and was involved in operations outside the country, including assassinations of regime opponents.

Iraq Special Service Created in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war and directed by Saddam Hussein's son, Qusay. It was considered the top intelligence agency in Iraq, and its primary duties were to protect Saddam and manage the Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard.

Islam The monotheistic religious faith of Muslims characterized by the belief in Allah (God) as the sole deity and in Muhammad as his prophet. Islam recognizes no distinctions between church and state.

Jihad Arabic for "holy war," it can be a military struggle on behalf of Islam or an internal, individual, spiritual struggle toward self-improvement, moral cleansing and intellectual effort.

Karbala Located 55 miles southwest of Baghdad. Shi'a Muslims consider it to be one of their most holy cities.

Kurd A member of a non-Arab Middle Eastern minority population native to parts of what are now Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, and Syria. Ethnically close to the Iranians, Kurdish dialects belong to the northwestern branch of the Iranian languages. The majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims. Plans for a Kurdish state, promised by the Treaty of Sèvres (1920), which dissolved the Ottoman Empire, were never realized.

Lawful Combatant An enemy combatant who receives prisoner of war (POW) status and the full protections of the Third Geneva Convention.

Mandaean A member of an ancient Gnostic sect, which stresses salvation of the soul through esoteric knowledge (gnosis) of its divine origin. Found throughout Iraq and Iran, members speak a form of Aramaic and view Jesus as a false prophet, instead revering John the Baptist.

Mukhabarat Also known as the Iraq Intelligence Service, it was tasked with monitoring the ruling Ba'ath Party and other groups, and monitoring embassies and foreign nationals visiting Iraq, during Saddam Hussein's reign. This agency tried to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush during his visit to Kuwait in 1993.

Muslim A person who is a follower and believer of the Islamic faith. A member of the Nation of Islam.

Najaf About 100 miles south of Baghdad, it is an Islamic holy city that is the site of the tomb of Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad and the first imam of Shi'a Muslims.

National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) A judgment on a specific national security issue written by representatives from key US intelligence agencies. It is designed to provide the President and policy makers with the best, unbiased information and analysis available.

[See our question: What do the 2002, 2004, 2006, Jan. 2007, and Aug. 2007 National Intelligence Estimates (NIE) report?]

National Security Strategy (NSS) Mandated by the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 that is an annual, comprehensive report outlining major national security concerns and strategies. It is compiled by the President's administration and submitted to Congress.

[Read more in our question: What are the 2002 and 2006 US National Security Strategies?]

Noncombatant A member of the armed forces, such as a chaplain or surgeon, whose duties lie outside combat, or a civilian in wartime, especially one in a war zone.

Nuclear Weapons A weapon that derives its explosive power from a nuclear reaction. Types of nuclear weapons include atom bombs, hydrogen bombs, fission bombs, and fusion bombs.

Oil-for-Food Program Established on Apr. 14, 1995 by UN Security Council Resolution 986, it provided Iraq with an opportunity to sell oil to finance the purchase of food and other humanitarian necessities to relieve the impact of UN economic sanctions on the country.

[See our question: Did the Oil-for-Food program benefit the people of Iraq?]

Preemptive War A war started on the basis of incontrovertible evidence that an enemy attack is imminent.

Preventive War A war initiated in the belief that military conflict, while not imminent, is inevitable, and that a delay would involve greater risk.

Private Contractor A person who works for a private company and provides specialized expertise or services of a military or security nature to the US armed forces. Services range from catering and engineering to providing personal armed security detail.

[See what the debate is in our question: What are the pros and cons of private contractors, such as Blackwater and Halliburton, in Iraq?]

Ramadan Observed by more than one billion Muslims around the world, it is a time for spiritual purification achieved through fasting, self-sacrifice and prayers. Celebrated during the ninth month of Islamic calendar, a fast is observed each day from sunrise to sunset. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five Pillars of Islam, the Islamic belief that requires that Muslims perform five central duties in order to strengthen their faith.

Republican Guard The best equipped and trained units among Saddam's forces. The majority of the approximately 60,000-80,000 men were Sunni Muslims.

Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) Formerly, the most powerful decision-making body in Iraq, with Saddam Hussein as Chairman. It functioned as the top executive and legislative organ of the state and considered an arm of the Ba'ath Party.

Sadr City Formerly known as Saddam City, it is a district of Baghdad that has been named for Imam Mohammed Sadr, an Iraqi Shi'a leader killed by Saddam Hussein.

Sharia A code of law, including both civil and criminal justice as well as regulating individual conduct both personal and moral, based on the Koran and the religion of Islam.

Shi'a Muslims of the branch of Islam comprising sects believing in Ali, Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, and imams as the only rightful successors of Mohammad. They also believe in the concealment and messianic return of the last recognized imam.

Sons of Iraq Part of the Awakening movement, it was a volunteer, locally recruited, and primarily Sunni security force that had as many as 90,000 members. The force was armed and supported by the United States.

Sunni Muslims of the branch of Islam that adheres to the orthodox tradition and acknowledges the first four caliphs as rightful successors of Muhammad.

Sunni-Shi'a Split A schism that dates back to the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD, and the question of who was to take over the leadership of the Muslim nation.

Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) Originally a Shi'a resistance group that was formed in Iran in 1982 to provide an opposition to Iraqi aggression against Iran. Know known as the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, it is one of the two main Iraqi Shi'a political parties.

Terrorism Premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.

[Read our question: What is terrorism?]

Torture Any act directed against an individual in the offender's custody or physical control, by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on that individual for such purposes as obtaining from that individual or a third person information or a confession, or punishing that individual for an act that individual or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed.

[Read more in our question: What is the definition of torture?]

Turkoman A member of the third largest ethnic group in Iraq behind Arabs and Kurds, found mostly in the northern and central regions of Iraq. Turkomans are Turkish speaking and lmost all are Muslims, though some are also Christians.

Unlawful Combatant An enemy combatant who does not receive prisoner of war (POW) status or the protections of the Third Geneva Convention.

Uranium Yellowcake A processed oxide of uranium extracted and concentrated from uranium ore. It is used as the raw material for commercial nuclear materials, esp. fuel elements in nuclear reactors.

Waterboarding An interrogation technique in which water is forced into a detainee's mouth and nose so as to induce the sensation of drowning.

[See more in our resource: Background information on waterboarding.]

Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) Any weapon or device that is intended, or has the capability, to cause death or serious bodily injury to a significant number of people through the release, dissemination, or impart of chemical, biological or radioactive material.

[Read about 26 Countries' WMD Programs; A Global History of WMD Use.]

White Phosphorus Also known as Willy Pete, it is used for signaling, screening, and incendiary purposes and can be used to destroy the enemy's equipment or to limit the enemy's vision. It can be used as an aid in target location and navigation and is usually dispersed by explosive munitions.

[Editor's Note: The 1925 Geneva Protocol bans chemical and biological weapons, but the US considers white phosphorous to be an "incendiary weapon" and therefore is not in violation of the Geneva Protocol.

The 1980 Convention on Chemical Weapons is composed of 5 protocols. Protocol Three bans incendiary weapons. The US did not sign this specific protocol. According to the convention, if a nation signs two of the five protocols, then it is considered "party" to the convention. The US did sign two of the five protocols. While the US may be "party" to the convention, they are not considered legally bound to observe Protocol Three.]

Yazidis Descendents of Kurds, their religion includes a fusion of elements of paganism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam. The largest group of Yazidies lives in Iraq, near Mosul. They are impoverished cultivators and herdsman who have a strictly graded religio-political hierarchy and tend to maintain a more closed community than other ethnic or religious groups.