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1UpTravel - Geography Info and Facts of Countries : . - Iraq


Iraq Geography and Facts

Location: Middle East, bordering the Persian Gulf, between Iran and Kuwait

Geographic coordinates: 33 00 N, 44 00 E

Map references: Middle East

Area:
total: 437,072 sq km
land: 432,162 sq km
water: 4,910 sq km

Area - comparative: slightly more than twice the size of Idaho

Land boundaries:
total: 3,631 km
border countries: Iran 1,458 km, Jordan 181 km, Kuwait 242 km, Saudi Arabia 814 km, Syria 605 km, Turkey 331 km

Coastline: 58 km

Maritime claims:
continental shelf: not specified
territorial sea: 12 nm

Climate: mostly desert; mild to cool winters with dry, hot, cloudless summers; northern mountainous regions along Iranian and Turkish borders experience cold winters with occasionally heavy snows that melt in early spring, sometimes causing extensive flooding in central and southern Iraq

Terrain: mostly broad plains; reedy marshes along Iranian border in south with large flooded areas; mountains along borders with Iran and Turkey

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Persian Gulf 0 m
highest point: Haji Ibrahim 3,600 m

Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, phosphates, sulfur

Land use:
arable land: 12%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 9%
forests and woodland: 0%
other: 79% (1993 est.)

Irrigated land: 25,500 sq km (1993 est.)

Natural hazards: dust storms, sandstorms, floods

Environment - current issues: government water control projects have drained most of the inhabited marsh areas east of An Nasiriyah by drying up or diverting the feeder streams and rivers; a once sizable population of Shi'a Muslims, who have inhabited these areas for thousands of years, has been displaced; furthermore, the destruction of the natural habitat poses serious threats to the area's wildlife populations; inadequate supplies of potable water; development of Tigris-Euphrates Rivers system contingent upon agreements with upstream riparian Turkey; air and water pollution; soil degradation (salination) and erosion; desertification

Environment - international agreements:
party to: Law of the Sea, Nuclear Test Ban
signed, but not ratified: Environmental Modification


Background: Formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, Iraq became an independent kingdom in 1932.

A "republic" was proclaimed in 1958, but in actuality a series of military strongmen have ruled the country since then, the latest being SADDAM Husayn.

Territorial disputes with Iran led to an inconclusive and costly eight-year war (1980-1988). In August 1990 Iraq seized Kuwait, but was expelled by US-led, UN coalition forces during January-February 1991.

The victors did not occupy Iraq, however, thus allowing the regime to stay in control. Following Kuwait's liberation, the UN Security Council (UNSC) required Iraq to scrap all weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles and to allow UN verification inspections.

UN trade sanctions remain in effect due to incomplete Iraqi compliance with relevant UNSC resolutions.


Iraq

GEOGRAPHY

Size: Area of Iraq variously cited as between 433,970 (excluding Iraqi half of Iraq-Saudi Arabia Neutral Zone shared with Saudi Arabia, consisting of 3,522 square kilometers) and 437,393 square kilometers.

Topography: Country divided into four major regions: desert in west and southwest; rolling upland between upper Euphrates and Tigris rivers; highlands in north and northeast; and alluvial plain in central and southeast sections.

SOCIETY

Population: Preliminary 1987 census figures give total of 16,278,000, a 35 percent increase over 1977. Annual rate of growth 3.1 percent; about 57 percent of population in 1987 under twenty.

Religious and Ethnic Divisions: At least 95 percent of population adheres to some form of Islam. Government gives number of Shias (see Glossary) as 55 percent but probably 60 to 65 percent is reasonable figure. Most Iraqi Shias are Arabs. Almost all Kurds, approximately 19 percent of population, are Sunnis (see Glossary), together with about 13 percent Sunni Arabs. Total Arab population in 1987 given by government as 76 percent. Remainder of population small numbers of Turkomans, mostly Sunni Muslims; Assyrians and Armenians, predominantly Christians; Yazidis, of Kurdish stock with a syncretistic faith; and a few Jews.

Languages: Arabic official language and mother tongue of about 76 percent of population; understood by majority of others. Kurdish official language in As Sulaymaniyah, Dahuk, and Irbil governorates. Minorities speaking Turkic, Armenian, and Persian.

Education: Rapidly growing enrollment in tuition-free public schools. Six years of primary (elementary), three years of intermediate secondary, and three years of intermediate preparatory education. Six major universities, forty-four teacher training schools and institutes, and three colleges and technical institutes, all government owned and operated. Dramatic increases since 1977 in numbers of students in technical fields (300 percent rise) and numbers of female primary students (45 percent rise). Literacy variously estimated at about 40 percent by foreign observers and 70 percent by government. Academic year 1985-86: number of students in primary schools 2,812,516; secondary schools (general) 1,031,560; vocational schools 120,090; teacher training schools and institutions 34,187; universities, colleges, and technical institutes 53,037.

Health: High incidence of trachoma, influenza, measles, whooping cough, and tuberculosis. Considerable progress has been made in control of malaria. Continuing shortage of modern trained medical and paramedical personnel, especially in rural areas and probably in northern Kurdish areas.

Data as of May 1988


Iraq

GEOGRAPHY AND POPULATION

Boundaries

The border with Iran has been a continuing source of conflict and was partially responsible for the outbreak in 1980 of the present war. The terms of a treaty negotiated in 1937 under British auspices provided that in one area of the Shatt al Arab the boundary would be at the low water mark on the Iranian side. Iran subsequently insisted that the 1937 treaty was imposed on it by "British imperialist pressures," and that the proper boundary throughout the Shatt was the thalweg. The matter came to a head in 1969 when Iraq, in effect, told the Iranian government that the Shatt was an integral part of Iraqi territory and that the waterway might be closed to Iranian shipping.

Through Algerian mediation, Iran and Iraq agreed in March 1975 to normalize their relations, and three months later they signed a treaty known as the Algiers Accord. The document defined the common border all along the Shatt estuary as the thalweg. To compensate Iraq for the loss of what formerly had been regarded as its territory, pockets of territory along the mountain border in the central sector of its common boundary with Iran were assigned to it. Nonetheless, in September 1980 Iraq went to war with Iran, citing among other complaints the fact that Iran had not turned over to it the land specified in the Algiers Accord. This problem has subsequently proved to be a stumbling block to a negotiated settlement of the ongoing conflict.

In 1988 the boundary with Kuwait was another outstanding problem. It was fixed in a 1913 treaty between the Ottoman Empire and British officials acting on behalf of Kuwait's ruling family, which in 1899 had ceded control over foreign affairs to Britain. The boundary was accepted by Iraq when it became independent in 1932, but in the 1960s and again in the mid-1970s, the Iraqi government advanced a claim to parts of Kuwait. Kuwait made several representations to the Iraqis during the war to fix the border once and for all but Baghdad has repeatedly demurred, claiming that the issue is a potentially divisive one that could enflame nationalist sentiment inside Iraq. Hence in 1988 it was likely that a solution would have to wait until the war ended.

In 1922 British officials concluded the Treaty of Mohammara with Abd al Aziz ibn Abd ar Rahman Al Saud, who in 1932 formed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The treaty provided the basic agreement for the boundary between the eventually independent nations. Also in 1922 the two parties agreed to the creation of the diamond-shaped Neutral Zone of approximately 7,500 square kilometers adjacent to the western tip of Kuwait in which neither Iraq nor Saudi Arabia would build permanent dwellings or installations . Beduins from either country could utilize the limited water and seasonal grazing resources of the zone. In April 1975, an agreement signed in Baghdad fixed the borders of the countries. Despite a rumored agreement providing for the formal division of the Iraq-Saudi Arabia Neutral Zone, as of early 1988 such a document had not been published. Instead, Saudi Arabia was continuing to control oil wells in the offshore Neutral Zone and had been allocating proceeds from Neutral Zone oil sales to Iraq as a war payment.

Data as of May 1988


Iraq

Major Geographical Features

Most geographers, including those of the Iraqi government, discuss the country's geography in terms of four main zones or regions: the desert in the west and southwest; the rolling upland between the upper Tigris and Euphrates rivers (in Arabic the Dijlis and Furat, respectively); the highlands in the north and northeast; and the alluvial plain through which the Tigris and Euphrates flow . Iraq's official statistical reports give the total land area as 438,446 square kilometers, whereas a United States Department of State publication gives the area as 434,934 square kilometers.

The desert zone, an area lying west and southwest of the Euphrates River, is a part of the Syrian Desert, which covers sections of Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The region, sparsely inhabited by pastoral nomads, consists of a wide, stony plain interspersed with rare sandy stretches. A widely ramified pattern of wadis--watercourses that are dry most of the year--runs from the border to the Euphrates. Some Wadis are over 400 kilometers long and carry brief but torrential floods during the winter rains.

The uplands region, between the Tigris north of Samarra and the Euphrates north of Hit, is known as Al Jazirah (the island) and is part of a larger area that extends westward into Syria between the two rivers and into Turkey. Water in the area flows in deeply cut valleys, and irrigation is much more difficult than it is in the lower plain. Much of this zone may be classified as desert.

The northeastern highlands begin just south of a line drawn from Mosul to Kirkuk and extend to the borders with Turkey and Iran. High ground, separated by broad, undulating steppes, gives way to mountains ranging from 1,000 to nearly 4,000 meters near the Iranian and Turkish borders. Except for a few valleys, the mountain area proper is suitable only for grazing in the foothills and steppes; adequate soil and rainfall, however, make cultivation possible. Here, too, are the great oil fields near Mosul and Kirkuk. The northeast is the homeland of most Iraqi Kurds.

The alluvial plain begins north of Baghdad and extends to the Persian Gulf. Here the Tigris and Euphrates rivers lie above the level of the plain in many places, and the whole area is a delta interlaced by the channels of the two rivers and by irrigation canals. Intermittent lakes, fed by the rivers in flood, also characterize southeastern Iraq. A fairly large area (15,000 square kilometers) just above the confluence of the two rivers at Al Qurnah and extending east of the Tigris beyond the Iranian border is marshland, known as Hawr al Hammar, the result of centuries of flooding and inadequate drainage. Much of it is permanent marsh, but some parts dry out in early winter, and other parts become marshland only in years of great flood.

Because the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates above their confluence are heavily silt laden, irrigation and fairly frequent flooding deposit large quantities of silty loam in much of the delta area. Windborne silt contributes to the total deposit of sediments. It has been estimated that the delta plains are built up at the rate of nearly twenty centimeters in a century. In some areas, major floods lead to the deposit in temporary lakes of as much as thirty centimeters of mud.

The Tigris and Euphrates also carry large quantities of salts. These, too, are spread on the land by sometimes excessive irrigation and flooding. A high water table and poor surface and subsurface drainage tend to concentrate the salts near the surface of the soil. In general, the salinity of the soil increases from Baghdad south to the Persian Gulf and severely limits productivity in the region south of Al Amarah. The salinity is reflected in the large lake in central Iraq, southwest of Baghdad, known as Bahr al Milh (Sea of Salt). There are two other major lakes in the country to the north of Bahr al Milh: Buhayrat ath Tharthar and Buhayrat al Habbaniyah.

The Euphrates originates in Turkey, is augmented by the Nahr (river) al Khabur in Syria, and enters Iraq in the northwest. Here it is fed only by the wadis of the western desert during the winter rains. It then winds through a gorge, which varies from two to sixteen kilometers in width, until it flows out on the plain at Ar Ramadi. Beyond there the Euphrates continues to the Hindiyah Barrage, which was constructed in 1914 to divert the river into the Hindiyah Channel; the present day Shatt al Hillah had been the main channel of the Euphrates before 1914. Below Al Kifl, the river follows two channels to As Samawah, where it reappears as a single channel to join the Tigris at Al Qurnah.

The Tigris also rises in Turkey but is significantly augmented by several rivers in Iraq, the most important of which are the Khabur, the Great Zab, the Little Zab, and the Uzaym, all of which join the Tigris above Baghdad, and the Diyala, which joins it about thirty-six kilometers below the city. At the Kut Barrage much of the water is diverted into the Shatt al Gharraf, which was once the main channel of the Tigris. Water from the Tigris thus enters the Euphrates through the Shatt al Gharraf well above the confluence of the two main channels at Al Qurnah.

Both the Tigris and the Euphrates break into a number of channels in the marshland area, and the flow of the rivers is substantially reduced by the time they come together at Al Qurnah. Moreover, the swamps act as silt traps, and the Shatt al Arab is relatively silt free as it flows south. Below Basra, however, the Karun River enters the Shatt al Arab from Iran, carrying large quantities of silt that present a continuous dredging problem in maintaining a channel for ocean-going vessels to reach the port at Basra. This problem had been superseded by a greater obstacle to river traffic, however, namely the presence of several sunken hulks that had been rusting in the Shatt al Arab since early in the war.

The waters of the Tigris and Euphrates are essential to the life of the country, but they may also threaten it. The rivers are at their lowest level in September and October and at flood in March, April, and May when they may carry forty times as much water as at low mark. Moreover, one season's flood may be ten or more times as great as that in another year. In 1954, for example, Baghdad was seriously threatened, and dikes protecting it were nearly topped by the flooding Tigris. Since Syria built a dam on the Euphrates, the flow of water has been considerably diminished and flooding was no longer a problem in the mid-1980s. In 1988 Turkey was also constructing a dam on the Euphrates that would further restrict the water flow.

Until the mid-twentieth century, most efforts to control the waters were primarily concerned with irrigation. Some attention was given to problems of flood control and drainage before the revolution of July 14, 1958, but development plans in the 1960s and 1970s were increasingly devoted to these matters, as well as to irrigation projects on the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates and the tributaries of the Tigris in the northeast. During the war, government officials stressed to foreign visitors that, with the conclusion of a peace settlement, problems of irrigation and flooding would receive top priority from the government.

Data as of May 1988


Iraq

Settlement Patterns

In the rural areas of the alluvial plain and in the lower Diyala region, settlement almost invariably clusters near the rivers, streams, and irrigation canals. The bases of the relationship between watercourse and settlement have been summarized by Robert McCormick Adams, director of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. He notes that the levees laid down by streams and canals provide advantages for both settlement and agriculture. Surface water drains more easily on the levees' backslope, and the coarse soils of the levees are easier to cultivate and permit better subsurface drainage. The height of the levees gives some protection against floods and the frost that often affect low-lying areas and may kill winter crops. Above all, those living or cultivating on the crest of a levee have easy access to water for irrigation and household use in a dry, hot country.

Although there are some isolated homesteads, most rural communities are nucleated settlements rather than dispersed farmsteads; that is, the farmer leaves his village to cultivate the fields outside it. The pattern holds for farming communities in the Kurdish highlands of the northeast as well as for those in the alluvial plain. The size of the settlement varies, generally with the volume of water available for household use and with the amount of land accessible to village dwellers. Sometimes, particularly in the lower Tigris and Euphrates valleys, soil salinity restricts the area of arable land and limits the size of the community dependent on it, and it also usually results in large unsettled and uncultivated stretches between the villages.

Fragmentary information suggests that most farmers in the alluvial plain tend to live in villages of over 100 persons. For example, in the mid-1970s a substantial number of the residents of Baqubah, the administrative center and major city of Diyala Governorate, were employed in agriculture.

The Marsh Arabs (the Madan) of the south usually live in small clusters of two or three houses kept above water by rushes that are constantly being replenished. Such clusters often are close together, but access from one to another is possible only by small boat. Here and there a few natural islands permit slightly larger clusters. Some of these people are primarily water buffalo herders and lead a seminomadic life. In the winter, when the waters are at a low point, they build fairly large temporary villages. In the summer they move their herds out of the marshes to the river banks.

The war has had its effect on the lives of these denizens of the marshes. With much of the fighting concentrated in their areas, they have either migrated to settled communities away from the marshes or have been forced by government decree to relocate within the marshes. Also, in early 1988, the marshes had become the refuge of deserters from the Iraqi army who attempted to maintain life in the fastness of the overgrown, desolate areas while hiding out from the authorities. These deserters in many instances have formed into large gangs that raid the marsh communities; this also has induced many of the marsh dwellers to abandon their villages.

The war has also affected settlement patterns in the northern Kurdish areas. There, the persistence of a stubborn rebellion by Kurdish guerrillas has goaded the government into applying steadily escalating violence against the local communities. Starting in 1984, the government launched a scorched-earth campaign to drive a wedge between the villagers and the guerrillas in the remote areas of two provinces of Kurdistan in which Kurdish guerrillas were active. In the process whole villages were torched and subsequently bulldozed, which resulted in the Kurds flocking into the regional centers of Irbil and As Sulaymaniyah. Also as a military precaution, the government has cleared a broad strip of territory in the Kurdish region along the Iranian border of all its inhabitants, hoping in this way to interdict the movement of Kurdish guerrillas back and forth between Iran and Iraq. The majority of Kurdish villages, however, remained intact in early 1988.

In the arid areas of Iraq to the west and south, cities and large towns are almost invariably situated on watercourses, usually on the major rivers or their larger tributaries. In the south this dependence has had its disadvantages. Until the recent development of flood control, Baghdad and other cities were subject to the threat of inundation. Moreover, the dikes needed for protection have effectively prevented the expansion of the urban areas in some directions. The growth of Baghdad, for example, was restricted by dikes on its eastern edge. The diversion of water to the Milhat ath Tharthar and the construction of a canal transferring water from the Tigris north of Baghdad to the Diyala River have permitted the irrigation of land outside the limits of the dikes and the expansion of settlement.

Data as of May 1988


Iraq

Climate

Roughly 90 percent of the annual rainfall occurs between November and April, most of it in the winter months from December through March. The remaining six months, particularly the hottest ones of June, July, and August, are dry.

Except in the north and northeast, mean annual rainfall ranges between ten and seventeen centimeters. Data available from stations in the foothills and steppes south and southwest of the mountains suggest mean annual rainfall between thirty-two and fifty-seven centimeters for that area. Rainfall in the mountains is more abundant and may reach 100 centimeters a year in some places, but the terrain precludes extensive cultivation. Cultivation on nonirrigated land is limited essentially to the mountain valleys, foothills, and steppes, which have thirty or more centimeters of rainfall annually. Even in this zone, however, only one crop a year can be grown, and shortages of rain have often led to crop failures.

Mean minimum temperatures in the winter range from near freezing (just before dawn) in the northern and northeastern foothills and the western desert to 2o-3° C and 4o-5° C in the alluvial plains of southern Iraq. They rise to a mean maximum of about 15.5° C in the western desert and the northeast, and 16.6° C in the south. In the summer mean minimum temperatures range from about 22.2° C to about 29° C and rise to maximums between roughly 37.7o and 43.3° C. Temperatures sometimes fall below freezing and have fallen as low as -14.4° C at Ar Rutbah in the western desert. They are more likely, however, to go over 46° C in the summer months, and several stations have records of over 48° C.

The summer months are marked by two kinds of wind phenomena. The southern and southeasterly sharqi, a dry, dusty wind with occasional gusts of eighty kilometers an hour, occurs from April to early June and again from late September through November. It may last for a day at the beginning and end of the season but for several days at other times. This wind is often accompanied by violent duststorms that may rise to heights of several thousand meters and close airports for brief periods. From mid-June to mid-September the prevailing wind, called the shamal, is from the north and northwest. It is a steady wind, absent only occasionally during this period. The very dry air brought by this shamal permits intensive sun heating of the land surface, but the breeze has some cooling effect.

The combination of rain shortage and extreme heat makes much of Iraq a desert. Because of very high rates of evaporation, soil and plants rapidly lose the little moisture obtained from the rain, and vegetation could not survive without extensive irrigation. Some areas, however, although arid do have natural vegetation in contrast to the desert. For example, in the Zagros Mountains in northeastern Iraq there is permanent vegetation, such as oak trees, and date palms are found in the south.

Data as of May 1988



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