Score One for the Kiwis!

Here's a palate cleanser for you. If Iraq is the least peaceful country in the world, what's the most peaceful? The Global Peace Index (GPI) gives the No. 1 spot to New Zealand. New Zealand comes in with a score of 1.202, compared to Iraq's 3.341. New Zealand maintains diplomatic relations with its neighbors and boasts a high rate of political stability. Homicide rates and human rights violations are quite low as well.

Iraq -- The World's Most Dangerous Place

With the worst scores in safety and security in society, level of trust in other citizens, homicide rate, level of violent crime and the potential for terrorist acts, Iraq is, by Global Peace Index (GPI) standards, the world's most dangerous country. The GPI uses a weighted scale of one to five to measure a country's level of peace. Iraq comes in with the highest score of the 144 countries surveyed, with an average of 3.341. Has Iraq always been so dangerous? Let's take a brief look at its history.

Often referred to as the "cradle of civilization," Iraq occupies the former Mesopotamia. It's located in the Middle East between Iran and Saudi Arabia. In the Middle Ages, Iraq was the centerpiece of the Islamic Empire, with Baghdad serving as a cultural and political capital to the entire surrounding area. Its influence began decreasing around the 13th century with Mongol invasions. But it began a slow rise to prominence again in the 1930s after attaining independence from British control. Around the late 1950s, oil production made Iraq one of the richest countries in the world. Saddam Hussein became president in 1979, and the country went to war with Iran, which lasted from 1980 to 1988. The first Gulf War started soon after, in 1991, after Iraq invaded Kuwait. International sanctions, war and Hussein's rule destroyed Iraq's economy and way of life.

In 2003, the United States and United Kingdom invaded Iraq, with military support from other nations. The war continues today. Elections in 2006 installed a new post-Saddam Hussein government, but the country continues to face many challenges and conflicts. Its economy is crippled and internal tensions run high. Hundreds of Iraqi civilians reportedly die each month due to these conflicts. Insurgents have driven entire communities out of their neighborhoods, resulting in the displacement of some four million people [source: Amnesty International]. Many Iraqis also suffer from restricted access to clean drinking water and live on less than a dollar per day. Many more Iraqis lack basic services and live under threat of disease and malnutrition [source: Oxfam].

Credited with a spate of recent bombings and terrorist attacks, Al Qaeda plays a key role in the Iraqi insurgency. Additionally, human rights abuses still run rampant, especially for women. In 2006 and 2007, more than 20 percent of Iraqi women reported experiences of physical violence [source: WHO].

The U.S. Department of State warns against all but essential travel to Iraq. As its security remains unpredictable, attacks against both military and civilian targets are common. Dangers include killings by armed groups, multinational forces, Iraqi security forces and private military, as well as detention without charge or trial, and kidnappings.

It should go without saying that it's not very safe to work in Iraq, either. Since 2003, approximately 190 journalists and media support people have died in Iraq due to hostile acts [source: CPJ]. Civilian contractors -- usually working on reconstruction -- also find themselves in danger. In 2006, insurgents abducted five civilian reconstruction workers. A recent discovery proved two of the five dead, and the remaining three are still missing [source: Essop].