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Iraqi Geography

Iraq is located in the Middle East, between Iran and Kuwait. It is the site between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, commonly referred to as the Fertile Crescent. The country also borders Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey. In addition, it borders the Persian Gulf, with access to the strategic Shatt al Arab waterway, a route excellent for trade and transportation. Iraq's area is a total of 437, 072 sq km, which is twice the size of Idaho(1).

The terrain of Iraq is mostly broad plains, with reedy marshes and flooded areas in the south along the Iranian border. Only 13.12% of Iraqi land is arable with 0.61% of land used for permanent planting.

The climate of Iraq differs depending on the region. Mostly, it is desert, with mild to cool winters and dry, hot, cloudless summers. Central and southern Iraq is characterized by dry, subtropical summers, with temperatures reaching 120° F. Because the annual rainfall is less than ten inches, agriculture depends primarily on irrigation (3). The hot and humid climate of southern Iraq, as well as ample water from the two rivers, present ideal conditions for date-palm farming. In fact, Iraqi dates are world famous. Other crops of Iraq include oranges, pomegranates, grapes, figs, chickpeas, lentils, beans, turnips, leeks, cucumbers, watercress, lettuces, onions and garlic (3).

Some dangers to the farmers in the area include the accumulation of salt brought by irrigation to low-lying areas, sometimes causing desertification.

In the north, there is a large mountainous region along the Iranian and Turkish borders. Here, winters are cold with heavy snow that melts in spring and can cause flooding in central and southern Iraq (1). The flooding often results in destruction of houses and crops for the season. As a result, the central and northern region of Iraq "constantly hovers between desert and swamp." (3) The climate of the north has been historically the cradle of farming in the region, with the slopes of the hills were covered with oaks, pine-trees, and the valleys between the hills producing barley, wheat, fruit-trees, vine and vegetables (3).

Natural resources of Iraq include petroleum, natural gas, phosphates, and sulfur. Iraq holds the world's second largest oil reserve, after Saudi Arabia. However, it is estimated by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) that around 90 percent of the country's oil resources are unexplored due to wars and sanctions.

Some of the natural hazards in Iraq are dust storms, sandstorms, and floods. However, among the largest hazards in Iraq are environmental problems. During the 1990's, the government drained the inhabited marsh areas of An Nasiriyah in the south by drying them up or diverting streams and rivers feeding into them. The result of this move was the displacement of a large population of Marsh Arabs that inhabited the area for thousands of years. In addition to the affect on the people, the draining destroyed the natural habitat and affected the wildlife population (1). Soil degradation, salination, erosion, and desertification are also significant problems. Since 1991, water and air pollution have had among the most far-reaching effects on the people of Iraq. As a result of burning oil wells and explosions during the war, problems such as acid rain, smog and air pollution have increased the rates of cancer exponentially, creating an impending epidemic.

In addition, radioactive uranium use during the 1991 Gulf War has left many areas of Iraq contaminated. The majority of the depleted uranium is located in the former Southern Demilitarized Zone, also referred to as the "Highway of Death," 11 miles north of the Kuwait border. In 1991, the United States bombed Iraqi military vehicles, tanks and armored personnel carriers with armor-piercing shells made of depleted uranium (2). This was the first time this weapon has been used in war. Although it has not been admitted by the US, Iraqi doctors, researchers and U.S. veterans' organizations indicate that the radioactive uranium is a significant cause of the cancer. In fact, Iraq has seen a cancer increase after the 1991 war. Unfortunately, the half-life of radioactive uranium is around 4 billion years old. As a result, without significant cleanup efforts, the area around the "Highway of Death," and other areas where uranium shells were used, will remain contaminated for years.

Other significant effects on the environment and geography are the result of anti-Kurd policies in the northern region of Iraq. During the 1990's, Saddam Hussein ordered the well-irrigated productive region to be evacuated, the villages destroyed, and water bodies poisoned. As a result, the displaced Kurds became urbanized and the agricultural productivity of the area dropped. Pollution remains a problem in the area.


(1)CIA World Factbook. "Geography of Iraq." Available from Internet; accessed on February 5, 2007.
Energy Information Administration. "Iraq." Available from
Internet; accessed on February 5, 2007.

(2)Johnson, Larry. "Iraqi cancers, birth defects blamed on U.S. depleted uranium." Seattle Post, November 12, 2002, available from
Internet; accessed on February 10, 2007.

(3)Linzer, Dafna. "U.S. Faulted for Leaving Tons of Uranium in Iraq." The Washington Post, July 8, 2004, available from
Internet; accessed on February 10, 2007.

(4)The National Geographic. "Natural Resources of Iraq." Available from
Internet; accessed on February 5, 2007.

(5)Roux, Georges. Ancient Iraq. London, New York: Penguin Books, 1992.

Iraqi Cultural Office

1801 P St NW 3rd Floor, Washington, DC 20036

Phone1: 202-986-2626, Phone2: 202-986-2899, Fax: 202-986-2291 


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