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June 2009

Iraq Country Profile, 2003

Iraq Country Profile, 2003

Iraq or Republic of Iraq, (area: 437,072 sq. km.; 2007 est. pop.27,499,638) covers a land area about the size of California. Iraq is bordered by Kuwait, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The country slopes from mountains over 3,000 meters (10,000 ft.) above sea level along the border with Iran and Turkey to the remnants of sea-level marshes in the southeast. Much of the land is desert or wasteland. The mountains in the northeast are an extension of the alpine system that runs eastward from the Balkans into southern Turkey, northern Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, terminating in the Himalayas. Iraq is strategically located on the Shatt al Arab waterway and at the head of the Persian Gulf.

The terrain consists of mostly desert, alluvial plains, and mountains along the borders with Iran and Turkey. Iranian and Turkish borders experience cold winters with occasionally heavy snows that melt in early spring, sometimes causing extensive flooding in central and southern Iraq. Average temperatures range from higher than 48°C (120°F) in July and August to below freezing in January. Most of the rainfall occurs from December through April and averages between 10 and 18 centimeters (4-7 in.) annually. The mountainous region of northern Iraq receives appreciably more precipitation than the central or southern desert region.

Almost 75% of Iraq's population live in the flat, alluvial plain stretching southeast from Baghdad and Basrah to the Persian Gulf. The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers carry about 70 million cubic meters of silt annually to the delta. Known in ancient times as Mesopotamia, the region is the legendary locale of the Garden of Eden. The ruins of Ur, Babylon, and other ancient cities are in Iraq.

Iraq's two largest ethnic groups are Arabs and Kurds. Other distinct groups include Turcoman, Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Armenians. Arabic is the most commonly spoken language. Kurdish is spoken in the north, and English is the most commonly spoken Western language. The majority (60-65%) of Iraqi Muslims are members of the Shi'a sect, but there is a large (32-37%) Sunni population as well, made up of both Arabs and Kurds. Small communities of Christians, Jews, Bahais, Mandaeans, and Yezidis also exist. Most Kurds are Sunni Muslim but differ from their Arab neighbors in language, dress, and customs.

In 1932, Iraq gained independence from the League of Nations mandate under British administration. In 1958, following a military coup, Iraq proclaimed itself a republic and Islam was declared the national religion. During the 1960's the Baath party emerged as the ruling political power and in 1979 Saddam Hussein assumed control of the government. Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq from 1979 to 2003. Baghdad, the capital, is located in central Iraq on the banks of the Tigris River and has a population (5.7 million) slightly smaller than New York, NY (8.1 million).

US Dept. of State Background Notes; CIA World Factbook, 02/2008; 05/2009

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