Geography division

The Lay of the Land – Iraqi Geography

Iraq has the interesting distinction of being the home of one of the oldest maps ever discovered. An archeological dig near Kirkuk unearthed the small clay tablet in 1930 which was determined have been created sometime between 2500 BC and 2300 BC. That’s actually not all that surprising given that Iraq, the “Cradle of Civilization,” has been populated for thousands of years and has a tradition as a major trade center.

Iraq is strategically situated on the Arabian Peninsula sharing borders with Syria and Jordan on its west, Turkey on the north, Iran on the east and Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and a precious small coastal area abutting the Persian Gulf on the south. Iraq covers 438,317 square kilometers and is generally described as having four main geographical zones.

The Tigris-Euphrates alluvial plains in central and southeastern Iraq is home to most of the arable land in the country. Al-Jazïrah (the island), is an upland region in the north between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Deserts in the west and south cover roughly two-fifths of the country. Lastly are the alpine like highlands in the northeast. The principal water features in Iraq are the Tigris and Euphrates rivers which drain into Iraq from Syria and Turkey and are the key to irrigation but also the source of serious flooding.

There are two climate zones in the country each consisting of two seasons, winter and summer. Being comprised mostly of desert the majority of the country experiences mild to cold winters and hot summers with temperatures reaching 44 C. The exception to this climate is the upland area in the northeast where winters can be very cold accompanied occasionally by heavy snows. Summers in the uplands are significantly cooler than the land to the southwest.

Population Patterns

Over the last 20 years the population has become heavily urbanized with 66% of the population living in urban areas the highest concentration being in the capital city of Baghdad. Rural, mostly agricultural communities can be fewer than 100 people or number in the thousands depending largely on the amount of arable land and potable water that is available.

The major urban centers in Iraq include:

  • Baghdad. Sitting on the Tigris in central Iraq, Baghdad is the capital of the Republic of Iraq and the nation’s largest city with an estimated 7.2 million inhabitants. It is the second largest city in the Arab World (next to Cairo) and the second largest city in Western Asia (next to Tehran).
  • Basra. With a population in excess of 2 million Basra is Iraq’s third largest city. Located in the south of Iraq near Kuwait and Iran, Basra is Iraq’s main port and plays an important role in the export of the nation’s oil as well as transshipping of imports.
  • Kirkuk. Over 1.2 million Iraqis call Kirkuk home but the definition of whose home it really is has yet to be decided. Historically Kirkuk has been a Kurdish city but with the discovery of huge oil fields in the 1930s the Kurds were not the only ones interested in occupying the land. During the autocracy of Saddam Hussein thousands of Kurds were forcibly expelled and replaced with pro Hussein Sunni Arabs. After the incursion of US forces in 2003 Kurds returned to the city to reclaim their homes and businesses. Today relations have improved but are still tenuous and remain a serious challenge for the central government.
  • Arbil. Located just 85 km north of Kirkuk, Arbil (or Erbil or Irbil) is the capital of the Regional Kurdistan Government and has a population of 1.3 million making it the 4th largest Iraqi city (after Basra). Arbil also has the distinction of being one of the oldest continuously occupied cites in the world having first been occupied over 6,000 years ago. As the capital of the autonomous KRG the government in Arbil has taken it upon itself to enter into investment arrangements with foreign entities offering more liberal terms and incentives than the federal government.
  • Mosul. Scene of some of the fiercest fighting before, during and after the 2003 incursion, Mosul is the country’s second largest city with nearly 3 million residents. Located 400 km north of Baghdad, Mosul is a strategic crossroad city for infrastructure leading to Turkey and Syria. Known for its marble, Mosul is also home to numerous government owned enterprises including medical equipment, sulfur, concrete and ready to wear clothing.

All of Iraq’s major cities are ancient. It’s difficult to evaluate a city based on geography and demographics without having an appreciation for the 5,000 to 6,000 years of history that preceded today. Investors interested in Iraq are encouraged to speak with reliable local sources to determine actual conditions.

Population Trends

While Iraq is an ancient country, its population is young…and growing.

  • The estimated population of Iraq is 31,129,225 (July 20012) making it the 39th largest country in the world.
  • There are an estimated 350,000 Iraqi refugees, mostly professionals, intellectuals and business people, living outside the country.
  • The average age of the population is 21 years split nearly 50/50 male female.
  • The population is growing at 2.35% per year.
  • 78.2% of the population is considered literate (age 15 or older and able to read and write).

There are a number of resources that go into detail regarding the geography of Iraq but the only way to understand it completely is to be there…or speak to someone who is. If you have any questions that are left unanswered please feel free to contact us for our first hand observations.