The region where the Euphrates and the Tigris Rivers is where Mesopotamia lies; where civilization was born and where most part of what today is known as Iraq, is located. Iraq, or formally called the Republic of Iraq, is situated in the Middle Eastern section of Asia. However, with the geographical location of Iraq in relation to Europe, the United Nations and other international organizations use Western Asia rather than Middle East when describing the region where Iraq is located.
Iraq covers a wide land area that spans the eastern portion of the Syrian Desert, the northern section of the Arabian Desert and the northwestern tip of the Zagros, the largest mountain range that runs in Iraq and neighboring Iran.
The country is steeped in history and a location where several civilizations started and colonizing empires, both indigenous and foreign had their influence in its culture and its people. Iraq became a country torn by several power struggles in modern times, and had turned into a battlefield between dictator President Saddam Hussein and his followers and the US-led forces that wanted them ousted.
International communities are exerting efforts to aid Iraq on its road to recovery and reconstruction after years of war with Iran and the ravages brought about by the ousting of Saddam Hussein. It is, however, a very slow process marred with different forms of challenges for both the people of Iraq and the international communities that are helping them.
:: Background of Iraq ::
Today’s Iraq was part of Mesopotamia, dubbed as the cradle of civilization, where a portion was the settlement of the Sumerians. They were the tribes that as early as the fourth century before the birth of Christ had already been practicing organized agriculture year-round. They established weaving, pottery, masonry, metalwork and leatherwork industries and developed the early form of writing called cuneiform. Iraq then was a very fertile agricultural land, brought about by the flooding and draining from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Many past empires clamored to rule Iraq, not only because of its very fertile agricultural lands but also because the country was strategically located as the gateway to easily invade Europe, Asia and Africa.
The Assyrians and the Babylonians were the dominant rulers of Iraq for 14 centuries and the country was the seat of power. With the Roman invasion during the first and third centuries, Christianity had a foothold in Iraq and Assyria, which became the center of the Christian faith in the region. However, with the Muslim invasion during the seventh century, Islam was established in Iraq and it quickly became the leading metropolitan area for the Muslims and the Arabs. Baghdad was built by the Abbasid Caliphate and transformed it into a multicultural place that was a center of learning. Baghdad was a city with a population of over a million people even during the Middle Ages. Islam experienced its golden age during this period.
The Abbasid Caliphate was completely destroyed and the city of Baghdad was almost totally annihilated during the Mongol invasion led by Hulagu Khan in 1257. Another Mongol, Tamerlane invaded Iraq in 1401. He, too, demanded total submission and those who opposed were massacred.
The Ottomans came next and once again the once fertile lands of Iraq became the battleground for the opposing forces, including the fights between the White Sheep Turkmen against the Black Sheep Turkmen in the 14th and 15th centuries. The constant wars weakened the Ottoman Empire and eventually nomadic tribes began to take control of some of the areas of Iraq, with Bedouins scavenging for wartime spoils.
During the First World War, the Ottoman rule in Iraq finally came to an end and the British took over three of the provinces of Iraq, Mosul, Baghdad ands Masra. These regions were unified by the British to form Iraq despite the fact that the Turks deliberately kept them apart. It was because the different tribes with opposing views and customs were occupying different areas. The Shiites were the dominant force in the south; the Sunnis occupied the central region encircling Baghdad; and the Kurds wielded their power in the north. The British made Iraq a kingdom and installed Faisal as its head. Faisal was one of the leaders of the Iraqi revolt against the Ottomans. After Iraq gained its independence from Britain in 1935, two political groups formed – the Communists with roots from the Soviet Union and the Baathists whose ideology was more closely identified with the Nazis under Hitler.
Iraq’s monarchy was overthrown and murdered by General Abd al-Karim Qassem in a 1958 coup with the support of the Communists. Saddam Hussein was a Baathist supporter and even participated in the attempt to assassinate General Qassem. In the struggle for power between these political forces, many lives have been sacrificed, as their battles were often bloody and atrocious. The Baathists finally succeeded in overthrowing General Qassem in 1963.
The Baath political party rose to power after the Communists were discredited when they were defeated in the six-day war against Israel in 1967. From this emerged a new leader, Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr, a brutal leader who ordered suspected traitors killed. Saddam Hussein was head of the secret police and chief administrative assistant during that time. With political ambitions of his own, he began placing his cronies in important government positions.
Over ten years of planning gave Saddam enough power to eventually force al-Bakr to step down from his position in 1967. Saddam financed his mighty military force, accumulated modern weaponry and researched on nuclear and chemical weapons with oil revenues. He dreamt of surpassing the world’s super powers like the Soviet Union, China and the United States. He began his campaign in 1980 by invading Iran, a war that will last for eight years and caused great human and financial losses to the country. A stalemate was brought about by the intervention of the United States but Saddam continued his quest to develop weapons with nuclear capability. In his effort to find additional oil revenues, he launched an invasion of Kuwait in 1990, resulting in the 1992 Gulf War. He failed to foresee that the Allied Forces would retaliate. Although Saddam Hussein was thoroughly beaten, he was able to remain in government and his military force continued to be intact.
Therefore, while Hussein was not able to launch other attacks outside of Iraq, he continued his dream of being the leader of a world super power and continued amassing weaponry and strengthening his army. His dictatorial rule worsened and it was estimated that as many as 300,000 Iraqis became victims of torture chambers, prisons, concentration camps and mass killings. He continuously flaunted that he had developed new types of weaponry that could cause mass destruction, prompting the Allied Forces and the United Nations to intervene and request inspection of Hussein’s nuclear facilities. Already considered a threat compounded by the horrific incidents that occurred in 2001 and the failed attempts to get approval to inspect military and research facilities in Iraq, the Iran War ensued on the 20th of March 2003 to end the threat. The United States and Great Britain led the invasion of Iraq and swiftly took over the country and deposing Saddam Hussein in the process. He was later tried and convicted under Iraqi law and was later executed by the newly formed government.
The Iraq War officially ended on the 15th of December 2011 and the last group of US soldiers left Iraq on the 18th of December 2011.
:: Geography of Iraq ::
Iraq is basically made up of river plains, mountainous regions as well as deserts. The country occupies part of the Syrian Desert and a section of the Arabian Desert. The alluvial plains of the two rivers running through the country, Tigris and Euphrates are on the eastern part of the country. Above the centrally located capital city of Baghdad are the river basins, which are separated by an upland portion, called Al Jazira that is almost like a desert. Below the capital city are the low and marshy plains.
Up the northeastern section of Iraq lie the Zagros Mountains where a few peaks rise from about 3,000 to 3,600 meters. The rest of the mountain peaks are substantially lower in height.
Water is basically provided by three sources, the two rivers and the Shatt al-Arab. The Tigris has the Little Zab, Diyala and Great Zab as its tributaries while the Euphrates has no permanent tributaries within Iraq. The occasional rain creates several small lakes while floods occur usually during springtime when the snow melts. Marshlands cover part of the southeastern section of Iraq although these are slowly being reduced due to the drainage programs overseen by the government since the early part of the 1990s.
Traditionally, Iraq’s location is in the Middle East, just like its other oil-producing neighbors. Internationally the location is called Western Asia, according to the United Nations. Baghdad, Iraq’s capital city and the second largest city after Tehran in Iran, in all of Western Asia, is located almost in the center of the country.
Iraq’s longitude is 44° 00’ 00” east of Greenwich while its latitude is 33° 00’ 00” north of the equator.
The total land area of Iraq encompasses 438,317 square kilometers. It is divided into a land surface of 437,367 square kilometers and a very small portion or just about 950 square kilometers is covered with water. Comparatively speaking, the total land area of Iraq is slightly over than double the land area of Idaho or almost the same size as the land area of California in the United States.
Iraq is nestled among larger Western Asian nations and has a border that extends for 3,631 kilometers. Its longest border is shared with Iran on its eastern side for 1,458 kilometers. One hundred eighty one kilometers separates Iraq from Jordan in the west. Kuwait borders Iraq for 240 kilometers in the south while the country shares a border with Saudi Arabia for 814 kilometers, also on its southern side. It also has a neutral zone shaped like a diamond that it shares with Saudi Arabia. Turkey borders its northern side for 331 kilometers while Syria borders the northwestern side for 605 kilometers.
A small part of Iraq, between Kuwait and Iran, juts out toward the Persian Gulf, giving Iraq a coastline that runs for 58 kilometers.
Although Iraq’s continental shelf is not specified, it has a territorial sea claim of 12 nautical miles
Iraq is basically a desert country and as such a major part of it experiences hot and arid climate, although a subtropical climate also exerts influence in some parts of the country. Summers in Iraq can be quite unbearable, particularly for those who are not accustomed to very hot weather conditions. The temperature during summer time in Iraq averages more than 40 °C, or a searing 104 °F. Extreme temperature can go up to 48 °C or over 118 °F in most part of the country at times. Summer skies are cloudless and the weather is hot and dry. The country, however, experiences winters that can be mild or cool, depending on the region. Near the mountains along its borders with Turkey and Iran, winters can be harsh, and the region sometimes experience heavy snowfall that quickly melt at the onset of spring, which can cause widespread flooding in the southern and central parts of Iraq. Low winter temperatures generally register about 15 °C to 19 °C, or about 59 °F to 66 °F. On the average, winter temperature is about 21 °C or just about 69 °F. The evening temperatures are much lower, usually dropping somewhere between 2 °C to 5 °C or about 36 °F to 41 °F. The winter months receive the highest rainfall and it’s very rare that the country experiences rainfall during summer, except in areas near the mountains in the north.
Iraq is composed mainly of wide expanse of desert flat plains, with rugged sections running along the Turkey and Iran borders where most of the mountains are. Along the border with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in the southeast are marshes crowded with reeds. Deep fertile valleys have been created near the Euphrates River as well as the Tigris River. The country’s only access to the Persian Gulf is through the Shatt al-Arab region, the section that juts out towards the Gulf. The desert areas are located on the southwest and western parts of the country whereas rolling plains are located are found on the north and northeastern parts near the mountains.
The highest point in Iraq is Kuhe Haji Ebrahim, which stands at 3,595 meters. This is located within the Zagros Mountains along the border separating Iraq from Iran. Another peak is higher than Kuhe Haji Ebrahim at 3,611 meter but it is unnamed. Iraq’s lowest point is the Persian Gulf at zero meters.
Just like the other oil-producing nations in Western Asia, Iraq is rich in natural resources like natural gas and petroleum. Sulfur and phosphate deposits are also found in the country.
The delta plains north of the capital city of Baghdad and the upper valleys near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are the most suitable areas for agriculture in Iraq. The rest of the country is made up of desert plains, craggy mountains and marshlands. The total arable area is only equivalent to 13.12% of the total land area, with less than one percent or 0.61% planted with permanent crops. Most of the land area or over 86% is allocated for other uses.
Due to the large part of Iraq being part of the desert, sandstorms and dust storms are frequent. Some parts of the country are also prone to flooding particularly during spring when the snow from the mountains rapidly melts due to the heat.
Current Environmental Issues
Water, particularly potable water, is quite scarce in Iraq, as the country receives very little rainfall. The extreme heat continues to dry up more areas, contributing to increasing desertification of parts of the country. Air and water pollution is also becoming a far greater problem. There is also a problem with soil degradation and increasing salinity. Its wildlife population is getting threatened due to the destruction of their natural habitat. The drying up of the marshland inhabited by the Marsh Arabs for water control projects has displaced these indigenous inhabitants.
International Environmental Agreements
Iraq has taken part is a few international environmental agreements, including ozone layer protection, biodiversity and law of the sea. It has signed but is yet to ratify the environmental modification agreement.
:: People of Iraq ::
The nationals living in Iraq are called Iraqis, a term that can be used both as a noun and as an adjective.
The inhabitants of Iraq are predominantly composed of Arabs, which comprise about 75% to 80% of the population. The Kurdish takes about 15% to 20%. Five percent of the population is composed of Assyrian, Turkoman and other minor ethnic groups.
Arabic (official), Turkoman (a Turkish dialect), Kurdish (official in Kurdish regions), Armenian, Assyrian (Neo-Aramaic)
Like most of the Arab world, Muslim is the official religion in Iraq and is followed by 97% of the population, further broken down into the Sunni with about 32% to 37% and the Shia, which comprise 60% to 65%. The rest of the population practices Christianity and other forms of religions.
Iraq population estimate for 2011 is 31,234,000, with a population growth rate of nearly 2.4%. It is also estimated that the total fertility rate is about 3.67 children born for every woman old enough to bear children. The population increase is through birth only as there is zero net migration rate in Iraq.
According to 2011 demographics, the dominant age group belongs to the 15 to 64 age bracket, representing 58.9% of the population. In terms of gender, there are 9,076,558 males and 8,826,545 females in this age group. Thirty-eight percent represent the 0 to 14 age group, broken down into 5,882,682 males and 5,678,741 females. For the older section of the population, those who are 65 years and over represent only 3.1%, with the females numbering 499,138 while the males are only about 435,908.
In terms of sex ratio, males are more dominant than females in Iraq. At birth, the rate is 1.05 male versus female. In the under 15 years category, there are 1.04 males for every female while in the 15 to 64 category, the rate goes slightly lower at 1.03 males over female. The ratio goes further down in the 65 years and over age group, with about 0.88 male for every female. For the entire population, the average sex ratio is placed at 1.03 male against each female.
The median age of the population of Iraq is quite young, averaging 20.9 years for the entire population. If it is broken down between genders, the male population’s median age is slightly lower at 20.8 years. The female population’s median age is higher than the country and male average, placed at 21 years.
Birth and Death Rates
The birth rate in Iraq is quite healthy, estimated in 2011 to be around 28.81 births/1,000 population. The death rate on the other hand is estimated to be around 4.82 deaths for every 1,000 inhabitants of the country.
Maternal and Infant Mortality Rate
According to the 2008 census figures, maternal mortality rate in Iraq is quite low, with only 75 deaths/100,000 live births recorded. Infant mortality rate is slightly higher, with about 41.68 deaths for every 1,000 live births, the average for the whole country. Broken down into genders, there are 45.93 deaths for every 1,000 male children born alive in Iraq. For females, the mortality rate is lower, only the record showing only 37.21 deaths for every 1,000 live births, according to 2011 estimates.
Life Expectancy at Birth
For the entire population, the life expectancy at birth is places at 70.55 years. For the females, it is estimated to be around 72.02 years, while for the males, the expectancy is lower, at only 69.15 years.
Ignorance was one of the reasons why a pandemic of HIV/AIDS occurred in Iraq. The first to fall victim to the disease were the hemophiliacs that were administered in 1986 with contaminated blood. Then President Saddam Hussein thought that the disease would spread through casual contact and ordered that those patients afflicted with the disease should be segregated and were either imprisoned or exterminated. There were no facilities then and knowledge about the disease was scarce. According to the World Fact Book, prevalence of HIV/AIDS in children and adults was around 0.1%, based on estimates done in 2001. In 2006 there were about 500 people living with HIV/AIDS while the death toll directly resulting from the disease is still unknown.
While Iraqi nationals age 15 years and over can read and write, the literacy level in Iraq is only placed at around 74% for the entire population. The literacy rate is higher for the males, estimated to be around 84% while the female literacy rate is just about 64%. The average stay in school for the whole population of Iraq is around 10 years. The males spend more years in school, estimated to last up to 11 years while the females only manage to stay in school for around 8 years.
:: References ::