Article on the Physical Features of Iraq

Iraq was created in 1932 when the British relinquished control over their former mandates in Southwest Asia.

It has an area of 167,975 sq. miles (435,652 sq. km) exclud­ing the neutral zone jointly controlled by Saudi Arabia, and a population of 22.4 mil­lion.


It was ruled as a monarchy by the Hashemite family until an army-led revo­lution overthrew it in 1958, when it became a republic. Occupying the terri­tory that was known as Mesopotamia (“Land between the Rivers”) of classical times, the region’s extensive alluvial plains of the Tigris and Euphrates gave rise to the world’s earliest civilizations.

Iraq is one of the world’s leading oil producers. In recent decades it has built one of the most power­ful armed forces in the Arab world; its strength was demonstrated during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) and in the 1990 in­vasion of Kuwait. Since the establishment of the present regime, it has been an authoritarian state in which internal dis­sent has been ruthlessly suppressed, particularly among the Kurdish minority in the north. The administration is keen to play an effective role as a regional power in the Middle East.

Iraq contains four distinct physical regions: Lower Mesopota­mia or the alluvial plains of the central and southwestern parts of the country; Al Jazirah (“The Island”) or Upper Mesopotamia, the arid plateau north of Lower Mesopota­mia; the western desert; and the mountainous region of the north and the northeast.

Lower Mesopotamia and Upper Mesopotamia cover the territory between the two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, south of the northern moun­tainous region. Both are part of an old geosyncline, still subsiding in the south, and together they make up the core of modern Iraq and are most important from an agricultural point of view.


Lower Meso­potamia is a poorly-drained alluvial plain of low elevations, below 300 feet (100 me­ters) and thus subject to large-scale flooding. The plains contain extensive marshlands, some of which dry up in the summer to become salty wastelands, and a few lakes. In many parts, salinity is a seri­ous problem. A high water table, poor drainage, and a high rate of evaporation have caused the alkaline soils to accumu­late at or near the surface, rendering the ground unfit for cultivation.

The uplands of Upper Mesopotamia (Al Jazirah) rise to about 500 feet (152 meters) elevation. The soils, built by the silt of the rivers, are very fertile and are very important to Iraq’s ag­riculture. The combined waters of the Tigris and Euphrates form a delta near Basra and flow as Shatt-al-Arab on the last leg of their journey before draining into the Persian Gulf.

The western desert is a vast, arid re­gion adjoining the deserts of Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait and covering almost 40 percent of the country. The land rises to more than 1,600 feet (534 meters) slop­ing, in general, towards the Euphrates. The topography is complex and includes rocky desert, sand dunes, wadis, ridges, and de­pressions. The northern and northeastern mountains occupy nearly a fifth of the country.

The relief of the mountain region rises from the Tigris towards the Turkish and Iranian borders in a series of rolling uplands, river basins, and hills until the high mountains of Kurdistan (between the Turkish Taurus and the Iranian Zagros Mountains) are reached. The general align­ment of the mountains is northwest to southeast. The summits rise to 10,000 or 11,000 feet (3,040-3,618 meters) in places, and the mountains are deeply dissected by the several tributaries of the Tigris.

Climatically, Iraq may be divided into two provinces: the hot, arid lowlands in­cluding the alluvial plains and the deserts; and the mountainous, damper northeast where temperatures are lower. Here, rain- fed cultivation is possible, but elsewhere irrigation is essential. Summers are hot with mean daily temperatures of about 95°F (35°C) and dry with 4 to 7 inches (100 to 180 mm) of precipitation.

Winters are cool with average daily temperatures be­tween 35 and 60°F or 2 to 15°C for Baghdad. About 90 percent of the precipitation falls from December to April. In the north­eastern province summers are shorter and some 5 to 10 degrees cooler than those of the lowlands. Here, winters can be much colder. In Mosul January temperatures, range between 24 and 63°F (-4 to 17°C). In higher elevations, rainfall may exceed 40 inches annually, but in the foothills 12 to 22 inches (30.5-55.4 cm) precipitation is the norm.

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