Official name: Republic of Iraq

Area: 437,072 square kilometers (168,754 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Ebrāhīm (3,600 meters/11,811 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 3 P.M. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 730 kilometers (454 miles) from east-northeast to west-southwest; 984 kilometers (611 miles) from south-southeast to north-northwest

Land boundaries: 3,631 kilometers (2,256 miles) total boundary length; Iran 1,458 kilometers (906 miles); Jordan 181 kilometers (112 miles); Kuwait 242 kilometers (150 miles); Saudi Arabia 814 kilometers (506 miles); Syria 605 kilometers (376 miles); Turkey 331 kilometers (206 miles)

Coastline: 58 kilometers (36 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Iraq is a Middle Eastern state located on the h2rsian Gulf between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The heartland of the country, which has been known since ancient times as Mesopotamia, is the area between Iraq's two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. With an area of 437,072 square kilometers (168,754 square miles), Iraq is slightly more than twice as large as the state of Idaho. Iraq is divided into eighteen provinces.


Iraq has no territories or dependencies.


Summer temperatures range from 22°C to 29°C (72°F to 84°F) minimum to 38°C to 43°C (100°F to 109°F) maximum—in the shade. Temperatures higher than 48°C (118°F) have been reported, with June through August usually the hottest months. Winter temperatures range from –3°C to about 16°C (27°F to about 61°F), but have been recorded below –14°C (7°F) in the western desert. Severe winter frost is frequent in the north. Ninety percent of the precipitation falls between November and April, mostly occuring from December through March. The months of May through October are dry. Mean annual rainfall is between 10 and 17 centimeters (4 and 7 inches). Rainfall is higher in the foothills southwest of the mountains (between 32 and 57 centimeters /12 and 22 inches), and in the mountains annual rainfall reaches 100 centimeters (39.4 inches).


In the north the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers pass through elevated terrain, but near the middle of the country the rivers enter a vast alluvial plain that extends to the Persian Gulf. Rugged, inhospitable mountains extend to the north and northeast; the Syrian Desert, which is almost completely uninhabited, blankets the west and southwest.


Iraq has a short coastline on the Persian (Arabian) Gulf between Iran and Kuwait.

Coastal Features

Iraq's short Persian Gulf coast, which has no significant indentations or bays, consists entirely of the Shatt al Arab River Delta.


The many lakes in central Iraq are fed largely by the flooding of the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers, as well as by streams and canals from these rivers. As a result, the lakes vary considerably in volume and area, depending on the flow of the rivers. In general, the largest are Ath-Tharthār, Ar-Razzāzah, and Hawr alHabbānīyah. South of Baghdad the lakes tend to be increasingly saline, reflecting the heavy silt content of the two great rivers and the poor drainage in this region.


The Euphrates is the longest river in the country. Originating in Turkey, it flows through Syria, where it receives several tributaries before entering Iraq. Once within Iraq, it has no permanent tributaries but is fed by the wadis of the western desert during the winter rains. The Tigris also rises in Turkey and flows through a brief section of Syria before entering Iraq. It has many tributaries in Iraq, all of which enter it from the northeast. The most important are the Great Zab, Little Zab, Uzaym, and Diyala. All of these join the Tigris above Baghdad except for the Diyala, which joins it about 36 kilometers (22 miles) below the city. After the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers converge, they are known as the Shatt al Arab, which flows for roughly 193 kilometers (120 miles) southeast to the Persian Gulf. The river forms the border between Iran and Iraq for about half its length.


The area west and southwest of the Euphrates River is a part of the Syrian Desert, which also covers sections of Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The region, sparsely inhabited by pastoral nomads, consists of a wide, stony plain interspersed with rare sandy stretches. A complicated pattern of wadis, which are watercourses that are dry most of the year, runs from the border to the Euphrates. Some wadis are more than 400 kilometers (248 miles) long and carry brief but torrential floods during the winter rains.


The alluvial plain of Mesopotamia begins north of Baghdad and extends to the Persian Gulf. The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers lie above the level of the plain in many places, held within natural embankments. During the frequent flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, they deposit a heavy coating of silt over a wide area, forming fertile farmland.


The northeastern highlands begin just southwest of a line drawn from Mosul to Kirkūk and extend north to the borders with Turkey and Iran. High ground, separated by broad, undulating steppes, gives way to mountains ranging from 1,000 to nearly 4,000 meters (3,280 to 13,123 feet) near the Iranian and Turkish borders. The high mountains are an extension of the Zagros Mountains of Iran and include Iraq's highest peak, Mount Ebrāhīm (3,600 meters/11,811 feet).


The Euphrates winds through a gorge 2 to 16 kilometers (1 to 10 miles) wide in the hilly Al Jazīrah region before reaching the plains at Ar Ramādi.

The Shanidar Cave, in the Shanidar Valley of northern Iraq overlooking the Great Zab River, is a significant archaeological site where Neanderthal remains have been excavated.


Iraq derives its name from the Arabic term "cliff." West of the central river plain rises a plateau that extends into Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, reaching heights of about 1,000 meters (3,281 feet). Some of this plateau is revealed in exposed cliff rock, but the boundaries between Iraq and its western neighbors are physically indistinguishable.


During the twentieth century, Iraq built an extensive system of dams, barrages, canals, and irrigation systems to harness the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers for irrigation and help control their potentially disastrous seasonal flooding. Among the numerous reservoir sites are Samarra, Dukan, and Darband on the Tigris River, and Mosul and Al Hadithah on the Euphrates. Lake Al-Qādisīyah is a sizable reservoir on the Euphrates in the northwestern part of the country.

In the 1990s, Saddam Hussein's regime channeled river waters away from the marsh-lands at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers into the Persian Gulf for military purposes, destroying the unique ecosystem of the region. A shallow canal, called Nahar al-Aaz (the Glory River), diverts water from the Tigris; another canal, the Mother-of-All-Battles River, channels water from the Euphrates; and a third one, named Saddam's River, carries agricultural runoff to the gulf. By 2001, this diversion had destroyed an estimated 90 percent of Iraq's wetlands.



Cockburn, Andrew, and Patrick Cockburn. Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein . New York: HarperCollins, 1999.

Stark, Freya. Baghdad Sketches . Marlboro, VT: Marlboro Press, 1992.

Tripp, Charles. A History of Iraq . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Web Sites

"Iraq." ArabNet. (accessed April 24, 2003).

Iraq History and Culture. (accessed April 24, 2003).

Pictures from Iraq. (accessed April 24, 2003).

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