HOME I. Introduction

Iraq, also Irak, country in Southwest Asia, bounded on the north by Turkey; on the east by Iran; on the south by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the Persian Gulf; and on the west by Jordan and Syria. Iraq has an area of 438,317 sq km (169,235 sq mi). Some of the world's greatest ancient civilizations were developed in the area that makes up modern Iraq. See  Assyria; Babylonia; Mesopotamia; Sumer. Baghdad is the country's capital and largest city.

II. Land and Resources

The northern portion of Iraq, known as Al Jazira, is mountainous. Elevations of about 2,100 m (about 7,000 ft) above sea level are reached near the Turkish border; in the northeastern part of the country there are peaks ranging to 3,600 m (11,811 ft) atop Mount Ebrahim (Kuh-e Haji Ebrahim). Farther south the country slopes downward to form a broad, central alluvial plain, which encompasses the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The extreme southeastern portion of Iraq is a low-lying, marshy area adjacent to the Persian Gulf, on which Iraq fronts for a distance of about 40 km (about 25 mi). West of the Euphrates, the land rises gradually to meet the Syrian Desert.

Present-day Iraq occupies the greater part of the ancient land of Mesopotamia, the plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The two rivers flow through Iraq from northwest to southeast. They meet about 160 km (about 100 mi) north of the Persian Gulf to form the Shatt al Arab, which drains into the gulf. The chief tributaries of the Tigris are the Great Zab, the Little Zab, and the Diyalá rivers. Level terrain separates the Tigris and the Euphrates in their lower courses. In ancient times the two rivers were joined by a network of canals and irrigation ditches, which directed the water of the higher-lying and more westerly Euphrates across the valley into the Tigris.

A. Climate

Most of Iraq has a continental climate with extremes of heat and cold. The mountainous northern portion of the country has cool summers and cold winters, often accompanied by snow. In central Iraq the summers are long and hot and the winters short and cool. The mean January temperature in Baghdad is 9° C (49° F); for the months of July and August it is 33° C (92° F), and temperatures as high as 51° C (123° F) have been recorded. In the southern area around the Persian Gulf some of the highest atmospheric temperatures in the world have been recorded, and humidity is high. In the northeastern highlands rainfall is considerable from October to May, but farther south, on the central alluvial plain, precipitation is slight, averaging approximately 150 mm (approximately 6 in) annually. The Syrian Desert gets little or no precipitation.

B. Natural Resources

The natural resources of Iraq are primarily mineral. In addition to small deposits of salt, coal, gypsum, and sulfur, the country is well endowed with petroleum resources and has areas of rich soil.

C. Plants and Animals

Vegetation is scanty throughout Iraq. The southern and southwestern parts of the country are desert areas. The country has few trees, except for the cultivated date palm and the poplar. Among the fauna are the cheetah, gazelle, antelope, wild ass, lion, hyena, wolf, jackal, wild pig, hare, jerboa, and bat. Numerous birds of prey exist, including the vulture, buzzard, raven, owl, and various species of hawk; other birds include duck, geese, partridges, and sand grouse. Lizards are fairly common.

D. Soils

The soils of Iraq are of two different kinds. Heavy alluvial deposits, containing a significant amount of humus and clay, make up one type and are useful for construction. The lighter soils, lacking in humus and clay content, contain wind-deposited nutrients. A high saline content mars the otherwise rich composition of the soils. Irrigation and flood-control projects on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers help increase the agricultural production of this area.