In recent weeks the long-running Syrian civil war - which began after a brutal crackdown on protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - has grown into a larger conflict as Arab Sunnis in Iraq, deeply dissatisfied with the Iraqi government in Baghdad, joined forces with Islamist rebels from Syria and Islamist militants from across the globe to effectively erase the border between the two countries, taking over the key Iraqi city of Mosul and a host of smaller towns.
There are many different forces at play in the region, with agendas that sometimes clash and sometimes coincide. The six maps below attempt to show how Iraq and Syria came into being as modern states and the internal and external forces that have shaped them since then.


During World War I, diplomats from France, Britain, Tsarist Russia and Italy held secret meetings at which they discussed the territorial division of the Middle East in the event of an Allied victory and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The agreement reached in 1916 - officially the Asia Minor Agreement - was later termed the Sykes-Picot agreement, after the top British and French officials at the talks, Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot. The agreement became public after the overthrow of the Tsar, when Soviet leader Leon Trotsky published its details in late November 1917. Implementation of the agreement after the war ended was also hindered by the founding of the modern Turkish republic under Mustafa Kemal "Ataturk" and revolts against British and French authority in Iraq and Syria respectively.