Formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, Iraq was occupied by the United Kingdom during the course of World War I; in 1920, it was declared a League of Nations mandate under UK administration. In stages over the next dozen years, Iraq attained its independence as a kingdom in 1932. A "republic" was proclaimed in 1958, but in actuality a series of strongmen ruled the country until 2003. The last was SADDAM Husayn from 1979 to 2003.
Most of the population lives along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The rest of the country’s geography is difficult to live in, including rocky deserts (40% of the land), mountains with very cold winters (30% of land), and swampy/marshy land in the south.
The rivers have carp that can grow up to 300 pounds and sharks that swim in from the Persian Gulf.
Iraq has the second largest supply of oil in the world.
Religion and Ethnic Groups
Muslim (official) 95-98% (Shia 64-69%, Sunni 29-34%), Christian 1% (includes Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Assyrian Church of the East), other 1-4%
Arab 75-80%, Kurdish 15-20%, other 5% (includes Turkmen, Yezidi, Shabak, Kaka'i, Bedouin, Romani, Assyrian, Circassian, Sabaean-Mandaean, Persian)
A handshake, eye contact, and a smile are the most common greeting; good friends of the same sex may greet each other with a handshake and a kiss on the cheek.
Handshakes are not common between members of the opposite sex. If you’re a man meeting a woman, allow her to extend her hand first. If she does, you may shake her hand. If she does not, a small bow or nod of the head is an accepted greeting.
General Social Etiquette
Islam largely shapes the culture of the country, so foreigners should be mindful of this. Conservative clothing should be worn.
- If someone invites you into their home, you should only turn them down if absolutely necessary. Being invited to stay with someone is a high honor.
If your host does not wear their shoes inside, you should remove your shoes as well.
- Guests are held in high regard and are treated very well, as hospitality is a large part of the culture. According to tradition, guests can stay in the host’s home for three days before the host can question when they plan to leave.
If you are invited into someone’s home, bring a small gift (cookies, pastries, chocolates, or fruit basket). Flowers are becoming more common as a gift but should only be given to the hostess. Gifts of alcohol, meat, or with offensive images on the packaging should not be given. Gifts should be given with both hands, and you should not expect the recipient to open the gift right away.
If a man is giving a gift to a woman, he should say it is from one of his female family members (wife, mother, sister, etc.). A small gift for children is acceptable.
Family is extremely important in Iraqi culture. In fact, family is put before business and social relationships. Immediate and extended family are important with regards to honor; the behavior of one family member is seen as a reflection on the entire family.
Meals are seen as an important part of building a relationship. Business should not be discussed, unless the host brings it up.
If someone invites you into their home, you should only turn them down if absolutely necessary.
If eating on the floor, you should sit cross-legged or kneel on one knee. Be sure that your feet never touch the food mat.
Only eat and drink with your right hand.
When you’re finished eating, leave some food on your plate.
Foreigners should have a guide with them, even if traveling via train. The guide must also arrange/obtain permits for all locations outside of Baghdad that the foreigner would like to visit.
Travelling by road is considered unsafe and not recommended. If road travel is necessary, it should only be done during daylight hours and in a convoy with at least four people per vehicle. Poorly lit roads, robbery/carjacking, IEDs, and attacks are common problems travelers encounter on the road.
Military and private Shia militia checkpoints are common and frequent on the roads. At every checkpoint, you will need to present the proper paperwork and permits for travel. Even if you have the proper paperwork, your guide may need to make phone calls to get you past the checkpoint.
Hired cars are available at airports, and taxi services are available for transit and within cities. If using a taxi, negotiate the fare beforehand (tipping is not necessary).
Buses are another travel option in Baghdad; however, service may be irregular and routes may change. Bus passes should be purchased beforehand at kiosks.
Railway travel is another option; however, the only route currently in operation is between Baghdad and Basra.
Hello: Hallo (informal)
Good morning: Sabah el-Kheir
Good evening: Masaa-elkheir
Goodnight: Tesbah ala kheir
Goodbye (go in peace): Ma'a assalama
How are you?: Shlonech? (f)/Shlonak? (m)
What’s up?: Shako-Mako?
Cheers: be Sehtak
See you tomorrow: Ashofak Bachir
Excuse me: Min Fadhlak
Thank you: Shokran
You are welcome: Afwan
Are you OK?: Inta zein?
I’m not OK: Ani mo zein