Geography of Iraq: Important Geographical Information about Iraq

Iraq is divided into four principal regions – the alluvial plains from Tikrit towards the Persian Gulf of Lower Mesopotamia; the rolling uplands of Upper Mesopotamia between the Euphrates River and the upper part of the Tigris River; the desert region on the west and southwest banks of the Euphrates River and the north and northeast highlands of the Kurdistan region of Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan), near the border with Iran. According to official Iraqi statistics the total land area of Iraq is 438,446 square kilometers or 169,285 square miles. The US Department of State however lists the area as 434,934 square kilometers or 167,929 square miles, which is smaller by 3,512 square kilometers from the official Iraqi statistics.

It seems that Iraq has indeed one of the oldest civilizations, and lives up to its name as the cradle of civilization. A clay tablet that historians accepts as the earliest map known to man was discovered in an excavation near Kirkuk and Harran in 1930. The excavated area was just 200 miles or 322 kilometers from the known site of Babylon. The tablet is believed to have existed around 3800 BC.

Upper Mesopotamia is a higher region where the water from the rivers runs through deep valleys making irrigation difficult in the area, thus this region has a desert-like classification. This is in contrast with Lower Mesopotamia where the plains are. Here, irrigation canals distribute water into the agricultural areas, although flooding usually occurs in this southeastern part of Iraq. About 15,000 square kilometers are covered with marshes. Silt from the Tigris and Euphrates leave a thick layer of sediments and loam soil over the land, usually turning to mud when flooding occurs. Salt from the two rivers increase the salinity of the topsoil, thus lowering the agricultural productivity of the region.

Iraqi Kurdistan and northern Iraq have several mountains, with only a few valleys. The area is suitable for grazing and minor crop cultivation as the area receives enough rainfall. These areas though are the most profitable and productive for Iraq for this is where the large oil fields near Kirkuk and Mosul are located. This is also the region where most of the Iraqi Kurds dwell.

One section of Iraq, lying west and southwest of the River Euphrates is a desert, part of the Syrian Desert that extends into Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan. This region is sparsely populated, mostly by pastoral nomads.

The Tigris and the Euphrates and their tributaries bring much-needed water into Iraq for irrigation and other purposes. However these rivers are also a threat to several regions of Iraq as they swell and flood several areas when the rains come particularly in the months of March, April and May. The government of Iraq had been trying to institute measures to properly use the water system for better irrigation control but is now also concerned on how to control the annual flooding.

Iraq though, is not totally a desert country. It can experience extreme temperatures of over 48 °C or 118 °F around July and August. The country also has several periods when it receives heavy rainfall, particularly during winter until well past springtime. Rainfall during these months range from 100 to 180 millimeters on the average and areas like those in the south and southwest of the Zagros Mountains receive an annual rainfall of around 320 and 570 millimeters. From the months of April until October, Iraq experiences the hottest and driest times of the year. While for some countries rain is beneficial to crops, it does not do much for most parts of Iraq as the country can only grow one crop a year and the long, hot and dry months invariably lead to failed crop growths. That is why a proper irrigation system is badly needed by the country.

The country also experiences cool temperatures when the thermometer reading drops down to near freezing during winter near the mountains while it can be between 2 °C to 3 °C, which is about 35 °F to 37 °F in the desert. Around Baghdad, the average minimum temperature is around 16 °C to 17 °C or about 61 °F to 63 °F. Summer temperatures seesaw between 27 °C to 34 °C, which is roughly about 81 °F to 93 °F. There are two wind patterns in Iraq that bring in dust storms in the summer – the dry and dusty wind from the south and southeast called sharqi that occurs from April to the early part of June and again towards the end of September until November, and the north and northwesterly dry wind call the shamal, blowing in from the middle of June up to the middle of September. While the dry air and the summer heat cause fast evaporation detrimental to plant growth, the breeze does provide some cooling relief.

Iraq has vast oil reserves. Currently known are their oil reserves of about 112 million barrels but it is estimated by the US Department of Energy that the figure only represents about ten percent of the total oil reserves in Iraq. Potentially 90% is still waiting to be explored, which can yield up to 100 billion barrel more. While oil production costs in Iraq ranks among the world’s lowest, there are only more than 2,000 oil wells in Iraq. With just that number, Iraq still ranks as the second largest oil producer in the world after Saudi Arabia.

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