Project number: UK/13/LLP-LdV/TOI-615
Languages ARABIC, KURDISH
Iraqi dinar (IQD)
Official name: Republic of Iraq (Al-Jumhuriya al-Iraqiya).
Location: Iraq is located in the Middle East at the northern-
extent of the Persian Gulf, north of Saudi Arabia, west of Iran,
east of Syria, and south of Turkey.
Climate: mostly desert; mild to cool winters with dry, hot,
cloudless summers; northern mountainous regions along Ira-
nian and Turkish borders experience cold winters with occa-
sionally heavy snows
Ethnic Make-up: Arab 75%-80%, Kurdish 15%-20%,
Turkoman, Assyrian, or other 5%
Religions: Muslim 97%, Christian or other 3% (Christian 0.8%,
Hindu <1%, Buddhist <1%, Jewish <1%)
Government: parliamentary democracy
Coat of Arms
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According to the constitution of 2005, the two official lan-
guages of Iraq are Arabic and Kurdish, which is official in
regions with a Kurdish majority. Turkmen and Assyrian neo-
Aramaic also are official languages in regions where they are
spoken. The two main regional dialects of Arabic spoken in
Iraq are Mesopotamian (spoken by about 11.5 million) and
North Mesopotamian (spoken by about 5.4 million). Other
languages in Iraq are Armenian, Azeri, and Chaldean Neo-Ar-
The constitution of 2005 guarantees freedom of religion
but specifies that no law may be enacted that is contrary
to the teachings of Islam, the state religion. Some 97 per-
cent of Iraq’s population is Muslim. Of that number, 60 to
65 percent is Shia and 32 to 37 percent Sunni. Although
the Shias have constituted more than half of Iraq’s pop-
ulation throughout the twentieth century, until 2005 all
governments excluded them from proportional political
power. The Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein systematical-
ly repressed the Shias. In 1991, a Shia revolt in southern
Iraq brought mass executions and further alienation, and
in the post-Hussein era, the Shia–Sunni split remains a
key political factor. The Kurds are predominantly Sunni
but ethnically different from the Arab Sunnis and of a less
militant religious orientation.
The flag of Iraq consists of three equal horizontal bands
of red (top), white, and black with three green, five-point-
ed stars centered in the white band. The phrase “Allahu
Akbar” (“God Is Great”) also appears in Arabic script in
the white band with the word Allahu to the left of the
center star and the word Akbar to the right of that star.
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The population of Baghdad, as of 2011, is approximate-
ly 7,216,040, making it the largest city in Iraq, the second
largest city in the Arab world (after Cairo, Egypt), and the
second largest city in Western Asia (after Tehran, Iran).
Located along the Tigris River, the city was founded in the
8th century and became the capital of the Abbasid Caliph-
ate. Baghdad evolved into a significant cultural, commercial,
and intellectual center for the Islamic world. This, in addi-
tion to housing several key academic institutions (e.g. House
of Wisdom), garnered the city a worldwide reputation as
the “Center of Learning”. Throughout the High Middle Ages,
Baghdad was considered to be the largest city in the world
with an estimated population of 1,200,000 people.
The city was largely destroyed at the hands of the Mon-
gol Empire in 1258, resulting in a decline that would linger
through many centuries due to frequent plagues and mul-
tiple successive empires. With the recognition of Iraq as
an independent state in 1938, Baghdad gradually regained
some of its former prominence as a significant center of
Family and Honour
Iraqis consider family and honour to be of paramount im-
portance. The extended family or tribe is both a political
and social force. Families hold their members responsible
for their conduct, since any wrongdoing brings shame
to the entire family. Loyalty to the family comes before
other social relationships, even business. Nepotism is
not viewed negatively; in Iraqi culture, it naturally makes
more sense to offer jobs to family as they are trusted. It
is common for large extended families to live in the same
house, compound, or village. In urban areas, families do
not necessarily live in the same house, although they
generally live on the same street or suburb.
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Saddam Hussein (1937 – 2006) was the fifth President of
Iraq, serving in this capacity from 16 July 1979 until 9 April
2003. A leading member of the revolutionary Arab Socialist
Ba’ath Party, and later, the Baghdad-based Ba’ath Party –
which espoused ba’athism, a mix of Arab nationalism and
Arab socialism — Saddam played a key role in the 1968 coup
(later referred to as the 17 July Revolution) that brought
the party to power in Iraq. Saddam formally rose to power
in 1979, although he had been the de facto head of Iraq for
several years prior. He suppressed several movements, par-
ticularly Shi’a and Kurdish movements, seeking to overthrow
the government or gain independence, and maintained
power during the Iran–Iraq War and the Gulf War. In 2003,
a coalition led by the US and UK invaded Iraq to depose
Saddam, who was accused of possessing weapons of mass
destruction and having ties to al-Qaeda. The trial of Saddam
took place under the Iraqi interim government and he was
sentenced to death and executed on 30 December 2006.
Hospitality is an Arab and Muslim tradition deeply en-
grained in the culture. Visitors are treated as kings and must
always be fed and looked after. A tradition within Islam
actually stipulates someone is allowed to stay in your home
for 3 days before you can question why they are staying and
when they will leave. Invitations to a home must be seen as
a great honour and never turned down.
The oldest known writing system developed in Iraq around
3200 B.C. Known as cuneiform, it used about 600 signs in-
stead of an alphabet. Each sign stood for a word or a sylla-
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1 January: New Year’s Day
Iraq takes part in the interna-
tional celebration of the first
day of the Gregorian calendar.
Moveable date in winter:
Milad Un Nabi
It is the observance of the
birthday of the Islamic prophet
6 January: Armed Forces Day
This day marks the anniversa-
ry of the activation of the Iraqi
Army on 6 January, 1921.
21 March: Nowruz (Iraqi
Nowruz marks the first day
of spring or Equinox and the
beginning of the year in the
9 April: Liberation Day
On this day the country was
freed from the Saddam Hus-
17 April: FAO Day
Food and Agriculture Organi-
zation Day (FAO) is celebrated
in Iraq to mark the organiza-
tion’s goal of assuring food
1 May: Labour Day
May 1 is considered as the
Labour Day by almost all the
nations of the world, and Iraq
is not an exception.
14 July: Republic Day
14 July 1958 is the day the
Hashemite monarchy was
overthrown in Iraq by popular
forces led by Abdul Karim Kas-
sem, who became the nation’s
Moveable date in summer:
Eid al-Fitr (3 days)
The holiday celebrates the
conclusion of the 29 or 30
days of dawn-to-sunset fasting
during the entire month of
27 July: 1991 Shiite Rebellion
This day commemorated the
Shiite upraisal against the
Hussein regime in 1991.
8 August: Ceasefire Day
This day marks the end of the
Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) also
known as the Imposed War
and Holy Defense in Iran and
the first Gulf War in the Arab
Moveable date in autumn:
Eid al-Adha (4 days)
It honors the willingness of
Ibrahim to sacrifice his prom-
ised son, Ismail, as an act of
submission to God’s com-
3 October: National Iraqi Day
In 1932, in accordance with a
treaty between Great Britain
and Iraq, Iraq gained indepen-
dence and joined the League
Moveable date in autumn or
winter: Hijri New Year
The first Islamic year begin-
ning in 622 AD during which
the emigration of Muhammad
from Mecca to Medina took
place is known as the Hijra.
Moveable date in autumn:
For Shi’a Muslims the Ashura
is a day to make pilgrimages,
wear mourning clothes and
avoid any entertainments. For
Sunni Muslims it is a day of joy
and celebration with family
and friends of the victories of
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HISTORY IN BRIEF
• Formerly a part of the Ottoman Empire, Iraq was occupied by Britain during World War I.
• In 1920, it was declared a League of Nations mandate under UK administration. In
stag¬es over the next dozen years, Iraq attained its independence as a kingdom in 1932.
• A “republic” was proclaimed in 1958, but in reality a series of strong political leaders
ruled the country until 2003. The last was Saddam Hussein.
• Territorial disputes with Iran led to an inconclusive and costly eight-year war (1980-
• In August 1990, Iraq seized Kuwait, but was expelled by US-led, UN coalition forces
during the Gulf War of January-February 1991. Following Kuwait’s liberation, the UN Se-
curity Council (UNSC) required Iraq to scrap all weapons of mass destruction and long-
range missiles and to allow UN verification inspections. Continued Iraqi noncompliance
with UNSC resolutions over a period of 12 years led to the US-led invasion of Iraq in March
2003 and the falling of the Saddam Husain regime. US forces remained in Iraq under a
UNSC mandate through 2009 and under a bilateral security agreement thereafter, helping
to provide security and to train and mentor Iraqi security forces.
• In October 2005, Iraqis approved a constitution in a national referendum and, pursuant
to this document, elected a 275-member Council of Representatives (COR) in December
2005. The COR approved most cabinet ministers in May 2006, marking the transition to
Iraq’s first constitutional government in nearly half a century.
• In January 2009, Iraq held elections for provincial councils in all governorates except for
the three governorates comprising the Kurdistan Regional Government and Kirkuk Gover-
norate. Iraq held a national legislative election in March 2010 – selecting 325 legislators
in an expanded COR – and, after nine months of deadlock, the COR approved the new
government in December 2010. Nearly nine years after the start of the Second Gulf War in
Iraq, US military operations there ended in mid-December 2011.
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• Approximately half of Iraq is covered by
inhospitable desert Traditionally, marriag-
es in Iraq are arranged, though more and
more Iraqis are choosing their own spous-
es, especially in larger cities.
• The famous children’s story Ali Baba and
the Forty Thieves was written in Iraq about
1,000 years ago
• In Iraq, as in many predominately Muslim
countries, it is offensive to use one’s left
hand while eating because the left hand is
considered to be unclean.
• Women in Iraq traditionally had more
freedom than in other countries in the
region. However, since the Gulf War, their
situation has become increasingly worse.
Religious groups try to force women to cov-
er up and threaten women wearing West-
• According to the UNHCR’s 2010 report,
Iraqis were the second largest refugee
group in the world, with 1.8 million Iraqis
seeking refuge in neighboring countries.
The largest group was from Afghanistan,
with 2.9 million refugees.
• According to the Bible, Abraham was from
Ur, which is in Southern Iraq. Isaac’s wife,
Rebekah was from Nahor, which is also in
Iraq. Additionally, according to legend, Iraq
is the site of the Biblical Garden of Eden.
• Mountains make up about 20% of Iraq.
The two main mountain chains are the
Taurus, on the border with Turkey, and the
Zagros, on the border with Iran. The moun-
tains are the only parts of Iraq that still have
• One of Iraq’s distinctive plants is licorice,
which has been used for thousands of years
for its health effects.
• Iraqis have been keeping bees for 5,000
years. Honey is an important source of food
and income for many Iraq families.
• Sand and dust storms rage for 20 to 50
days each year in Iraq, mostly during the
summer. Sandstorms can reach heights of
• Iraq once had one of the highest quali-
ty schools and colleges in the Arab world.
However, after the 1991 Gulf War and the
United Nations sanctions, today only around
40% of Iraqis can read and write.
• Iraq has been home to some of the great-
est urban centers in the world, including Ur,
Babylon, Nineveh, Ctesiphon, and Baghdad.
• The Iraqi desert is home to the dangerous
saw-scale viper. Many scientists consider it
the most dangerous snake in the world.
•Ancient Iraq was the birthplace of some of
the world’s most important inventions, such
as the 60-second minute and the 60-min-
ute hour, the wheel, writing, the first accu-
rate calendar, the first maps, and the first
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Hospitality is considered a highly admired asset to the Iraqis. Iraqis are known for being
very generous and polite, especially when it comes to mealtime. Meals are more often
a festive, casual experience than a formal one. Many Iraqis were raised to feed their
guests before themselves, and to feed them well. Most Iraqis hosts feel that they are
failing in their role as hosts if their guests have not tried all of their dishes. In fact, prop-
er appreciation is shown by overeating.
The cuisine of Iraq reflects this rich inheritance as well as strong influences from the cu-
linary traditions of neighbouring Persia, Turkey and the Syria region area. Like the Turks,
Iraqis like to stuff vegetables and eat a lot of lamb, rice, and yogurt. Like Iranians, they
enjoy cooking fruits with beef and poultry.
Contemporary Iraq reflects the same natural division as ancient Mesopotamia, which con-
sisted of Assyria in the arid northern uplands and Babylonia in the southern alluvial plain.
Al-Jazira (the ancient Assyria) grows wheat and crops requiring winter chill such as apples
and stone fruits. Al-Irāq (Iraq proper, the ancient Babylonia) grows rice and barley, citrus
fruits, and is responsible for Iraq’s position as the world’s largest producer of dates.
Kubbat mousel is a flat disc of two layers of burghul (a cereal food made from the groat
of several different wheat species, most often from durum wheat) with a thin layer of
minced meat mixture in the middle. It originated in the city of Mousel, 240km north
of Baghdad. Kubbat Mousel is sold frozen in the Arab world and in most Arab shops in
west¬ern countries. This allows for more frequent consumption of this delicious dish than
in the days when it was made at home from scratch.
Fesenjān (Chicken in pomegranate and walnut sauce) is most likely Iranian in origin. It
has come to Baghdad from the cities of Najaf and Karbala, where a number of Iranians
visit the holy shrines and often stay for a period of time. Also, there are nu¬merous mar-
riages between Iraqis and Iranians, which is another way for some of the Iranian dishes to
reach Iraqi kitchens.
Masgouf is a traditional Mesopotamian dish made with fish from the Tigris. It is an open
cut freshwater fish roasted for hours after being marinated with olive oil, salt, curcuma
and tamarind while keeping the skin on. Traditional garnishes for the masgouf include
lime, chopped onions and tomatoes, as well as the clay-oven flatbreads common to Iraq
and much of the Middle East.
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The main ingredient of Tepsi Baytinijan, an Iraqi casserole, is aubergine, which are sliced
and fried before placing in a baking dish, accompanied with chunks of either lamb/beef/
veal or meatballs, tomatoes, onions and garlic. Potato slices are placed on top of the
mixture, and the dish is baked. Like many other Iraqi dishes, it is usually served with rice,
along with salad and pickles.
Dolma is a family of stuffed vegetable dishes. The grape-leaf dolma is common, and zuc-
chini, aubergine, tomato and pepper are commonly used as fillings. The stuffing may or
may not include meat.
Kofta is a family of meatball or meatloaf dishes in
Middle Eastern, Indian, and Balkan cuisines. In the
simplest form, koftas consist of balls of minced
or ground meat — usually beef or lamb — mixed
with spices and/or onions. Vegetarian varieties
include lauki kofta, shahi aloo kofta, and malai
Kleicha, a national cookie of Iraq, comes in sev-
eral traditional shapes and fillings, the most pop-
ular being the molded ones filled with dates. The
sweet discs are also favorites, along with the half
moons filled with nuts and sugar.
Qatayef dessert is reserved for the Muslim holi-
day of Ramadan, a sort of sweet crepe filled with
cheese or nuts. It was traditionally prepared by
street vendors as well as households in the Le-
vant, and more recently it has spread to Egypt.
• Arak, a clear, colorless, unsweetened aniseed-flavored distilled alcoholic drink.
Arak is usually not drunk straight, but mixed with approximately 1/3 arak to 2/3 water,
and ice added.
• Sharbat, a chilled, sweet drink prepared from fruit juice or flower petals.
• Shinēna, a cold beverage of yogurt mixed with cold water, sometimes with a pinch
of salt or dried mint added.
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Meeting and Greeting
• Men do not touch women unless they
are first-degree relatives (wives, mothers,
daughters, or sisters), in which case they
greet with a handshake. A failure to shake
someone’s hand when meeting them or
bidding them goodbye may be seen as of-
• These rules apply only to people of the
same sex; it is considered disrespectful for
a man to offer his hand to a woman unless
she extends it first – and obviously women
should never be kissed. Touching the right
hand to the heart as a form of greeting
indicates respect or sincerity. In rural areas,
greetings between men include handshak-
ing and kissing on the cheeks.
• A son may kiss his mother’s head as a sign
of respect. Children show respect by kissing
the hand of an elder.
• A typical greeting is Al-salamu ‘alaykum
(May peace be upon you). Young Iraqis
greet with a less-formal wave and the word
• It is considered impolite to address a per-
son by first name unless the individual is a
close friend and from the same generation
and social class.
• A man is commonly addressed as Abu
(Father of), followed by his oldest son’s first
name. A woman likewise might be ad-
dressed by her oldest son’s name, as in Um
Abbas (Mother of Abbas). Even a husband
and wife refer to each other in this way,
both in public and in private.
• An individual with no sons is addressed
by his or her oldest daughter’s first name,
and an individual with no children is called
Abu ghayib or Um ghayib (Awaiting father or
Body language is a highly developed form
of communication in Iraq, and a multitude
of gestures are commonly used in everyday
interaction. Men tend to use gestures more
than women, and the following list applies
largely to men.
• When engaged in conversation, Iraqis tend
to stand a short distance from one another
and use a good deal
of physical contact. Body language is an im-
portant method of expression.
• To express respect, especially to an elder,
a person will avoid eye contact during con-
versation. Likewise,men and women will not
maintain eye contact with each other.
• Eyebrows raised and head tilted back
• Extending both open palms towards
someone signifies enthusiasm or “excel-
• Touching the outer edges of the eyes with
the fingertips indicates assent.
• It is often considered impolite to wave
with the left hand. Pointing with the index
finder can also be seen as offensive - one
should use the whole hand.
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The dress in Iraq is varied as many people
today wear western-styled clothing. Howev-
er, the majority of people continue to wear
more traditional clothing.
For men, this traditional dress is called a
dishdasha, which is a loose-fitting garment
that completely covers a person from the
neck down. In Iraq, this piece of clothing can
come in nearly any color, but tends to be in
black or browns. Women often wear a dish-
dasha or an abaya; however, the decoration
and detail of a woman’s dress tends to be
much more significant than a man’s and the
women in Iraq tend to have very colorful
clothing, often highlighted in golds.
Both men and women in traditional dress
cover their hair; women wear a cloth called
a hijab, which is wrapped around their neck
so only their faces can be seen, while men
may wear a keffiyeh, another head covering,
or leave their heads uncovered.
Today, some Iraqis have turned to west-
ern-styled clothing with the traditional
headwear or a simple scarf. These clothes
are similar to what can be seen in much of
the world, but both men and women tend
to cover up with long-sleeved shirts and
Foreigners in Iraq should dress conservative-
ly with both arms and legs covered. Some
women many feel more comfortable cov-
ering their hair in public, but even amongst
the locals this is a slowing dying practice.
More importantly, due to the violence, it is
recommended that you wear nothing that
makes you stand out as a foreigner. Most
visitors to Iraq today go there with a larger
organization, whether that is the military or
a non-governmental organization, or anoth-
er group, and this organization is best suited
to assist in what and how to dress.
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When eating in Iraq, there are a few eti-
quette rules you must know and follow. If
you get invited to dine with the locals, the
first two rules you must follow are to dress
conservatively. Second, in conservative
homes and towns, it is not acceptable to
eat with a person of the opposite sex un-
less it is your child, sibling, or spouse.
While this is somewhat uncommon today,
to some conservative Muslims this is im-
portant, so you should observe the situa-
tion at the local restaurant and follow their
lead. Due to this, don’t bring a guest of the
opposite sex to any meal unless you are
specifically invited to do so. In many restau-
rants there is a “Men Only” section and a
“Family Section,” in which women and men
can dine together (there is no “Women
Only” section), so before any woman goes
out to eat, be sure the restaurant or host is
willing to allow women to eat with men.
Try to arrive on time for a meal, and if eat-
ing in a local’s home remove your shoes at
the door if others have done so. Greet the
elders first, but be sure to greet every per-
son individually and shake their hands (al-
though some conservative Muslims don’t
believe men and women should touch, so
wait for locals to extend their hand first if
they are of the opposite sex). Let your host
seat you and when sitting be sure to keep
your feet flat on the floor or pointed be-
hind you as pointing the soles of your feet
at another can be seen as offensive.
Once the food is served, follow your host’s
lead as he or she may invite everyone to
begin eating at the same time, or may
request that either you or the elders be
served first. Try a bit of everything offered
as turning down food is rude.
Eat as the locals eat; in most settings this
means eating in the continental style (knife
in the right hand, fork in the left); on some
occasions and with some dishes, you may
eat with your hand, but only touch your
food with your right hand. Be sure to
only take a small amount of food at first if
served family style, as you will certainly be
offered a second helping. Turn down the
first offer of a second helping, but on their
insistence accept the offer. As you finish
your food, leave a bit on your plate to show
there was more than enough and place
your fork and knife together in the 5:00
As a primarily Muslim country, Iraq has
little alcohol available, although technically
it is legal. Obtaining alcohol is difficult and
religious radicals have been known to tar-
get alcohol vendors and consumers.
The tap water in Iraq should not be con-
sumed. Be sure to also avoid anything with
ice as it may have been made from the tap
water. Salads and fruits may also have been
washed with tap water, so you should be
careful with them as well.
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ETIQUETTE AND CUSTOMS
Irony, sarcasm and self-depreciation are all
styles of humor that can easily cause mis-
understandings in Iraq. It is not unusual for
people who are communicating in a lan-
guage that is not their mother tongue to
take words literally, at least until they know
the language – and you – very well.
Telling a joke at one’s own expense can be
confusing in cultures that are concerned
about status and saving face. The best poli-
cy is to be very careful about cracking jokes
or making sarcastic comments until you
know your audience very well.
Gift Giving Etiquette
• If you are invited to an Iraqi’s
home, bring a box of cookies, pas-
tries or a box of chocolates. A fruit
basket is also appreciated.
• Flowers are being given more and
more but only to a hostess.
• If a man must give a gift to a wom-
an, he should say that it is from his
wife, mother, sister, or some other
• A small gift for the children is al-
• Gifts are handed over with two
• Gifts are generally not opened
If you are invited to someone’s home:
• Check to see if you should remove shoes.
• Dress conservatively and smartly.
• Do not discuss business.
• Iraqi table manners are relatively formal.
• If the meal is on the floor, sit cross-
legged or kneel on one knee. Never let
your feet touch the food mat.
• Use the right hand for eating and drink-
• It is considered polite to leave some food
on your plate when you have finished eat-
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Do be prepared for people to smoke in dif-
Do give women the opportunity to avoid
physical contact with men. Handshakes
between the sexes may be allowed; a
two-handed handshake is especially wel-
Don’t shake a woman’s hand (if you are
male) unless she first offers it to you.
Do be respectful and express gratitude for
hospitality and generosity.
Do repeat your offer of a gift two or three
times until your host accepts.
It is considered rude for a host to not offer
a guest something to eat and drink. This
custom applies to unexpected visitors as
well. It is polite to accept your host’s offer.
Don’t offend your host by refusing to enter
a room first. There is a rank system where
the oldest or highest-ranking person social-
ly enters a room first; women are usually
among the last to enter.
Don’t use your left hand for contact with
others, eating or gestures. It is considered
Don’t expose the soles of your feet or
Don’t point with your fingers. It is a sign of
contempt. Instead, point with your whole
Don’t slouch, lean, or appear disinterested
when conversing with an Iraqi man.
Don’t back away from an Iraqi during con-
versation. Close personal interaction is cus-
tomary and distance is considered rude.
Don’t offer a Muslim food or drink or con-
sume either publicly during Ramadan. Nev-
er offer a Muslim alcohol or pork.
DOS AND DON’TS
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Don’t engage in religious discussions.
Don’t make the “OK” or “Thumbs Up”
sign; they are considered obscene.
Don’t praise an Iraqi’s possessions too
much, he may give them to you and expect
something of equal value in return.
Most everyday taboos stem from Islamic
values. They apply throughout Kurdish and
Arab Iraq and to Muslims in other coun-
• No pork unless none of your dining com-
panions are Muslim.
• No alcohol if you are with anyone who
may take offence. In general, it is best to
mirror the choice of your host.
• Do not use the left hand for giving and
taking “clean” items, especially at meals,
when handling business cards or accepting
tokens of hospitality.
• Do not show the soles of your feet to
others, including crossing your legs.
• Do not wear shoes inside houses.
• Never touch Iraqi women, especially in
• Never enquire after an Iraqi’s man wife,
daughters or any other female family
member, Enquire generally about the
well-being of his family instead.
•Avoid talking about your pet dog as dogs
are considered dirty.
Recommended topics for
You will always be safe if you compliment
your destination. Your hosts are very likely
to ask you how you like Erbil or Baghdad;
always answer positively, even if you are
in the midst of a sandstorm. Try to find
common ground in sport. Showing interest
in Islam and Islamic culture is appreciated,
but be natural and sincere in your conver-
Topics of conversation to avoid:
• Questioning Islam
• Asking your Iraqi colleague if they are
Sunni or Shi’a
• Directly declaring your atheism or agnos-
• Making enquiries about local women
• Discussing Saddam Hussein
• Openly criticizing political leaders, even
if Iraqis do
• Discussing any Israel/Palestine issues
• Making uninformed comments about
Iraqi politics or negative aspects of Iraqi
• Showing enthusiastic patriotism for your
own country, especially combined with an
attitude that your way is the only way to
• Indicating support for the American-led
“War on Terror”
• General references to Iraq as though it
is somehow responsible for the world’s
DOS AND DON’TS
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Meeting and Greeting
• Iraqi businesspeople are relatively formal
in their business dealings.
• The common Arabic greeting is “asalaamu
alaikum” (peace be with you), to which you
should respond “wa alaikum salaam” (and
peace be with you).
• The most common business greeting is
the handshake with direct eye contact.
• Handshakes can be rather prolonged; try
not to be the first person to remove your
• Men should wait to see if a woman ex-
tends her hand.
• Business cards are given out.
• It is a nice touch to have one side of your
card translated into Arabic.
The need to save face and protect honor
means that showing emotions is seen nega-
tively. Displays of anger are a serious no-no.
If you must show disapproval, it is always
best to do so one-to-one, quietly and with
Always keep your word. Do not make a
promise or guarantee unless you can keep
it. Iraqi business people are not afraid of
asking blunt and probing questions. These
may be about you, your company or its
Due to the hierarchical nature of orga-
nizations or businesses, the leader of an
Iraqi team does most of the talking for his
company or department. Subordinates
are there to corroborate information or to
provide technical advice and counsel to the
most senior Iraqi. Decisions are generally
made at the top of the company, but this
will be based on recommendations from
pertinent stakeholders and technical ex-
perts who sit in on meetings.
Expect interruptions during meetings when
phone calls may be taken or people enter
the room on other matters. This should not
be seen negatively; one should simply re-
main patient and wait for matters to return
Iraqis often have several discussions tak-
ing place on the side during a meeting.
They may interrupt the speaker if they
have something to add. They can be loud
and forceful in getting their point of view
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The family is the most important social unit in Iraq, and family loyalty is one of the
most important values. Honor, both personal and the family’s honor, is also very
important. It is considered a disgrace to speak badly about a family member, or tell
non-family members about bad things that have happened in the family.
PEOPLE IN IRAQ
A family consists of all related kin, and can
include hundreds of people. Rural families
live with or near each other, while urban
families stay closely connected through
The structure of Arab society is such that
financial power is in the hands of the hus-
band, although the wife is not completely
Roles of the sexes are very clearly defined
in Iraq. In rural areas, this strict division
often causes the sexes to be segregated,
except when eating and sleeping.
Most marriages are arranged by families,
but a couple must approve a match. Di-
vorce is very rare, even though it is fairly
easy under Islamic Shari’a (law).
Young children are adored and indulged,
though they are strictly punished for misbe-
havior. They are expected to obey their par-
ents and grandparents. Iraqis believe that
wisdom increases with age, so the elderly
are deeply revered.
In the Iraqi culture, respect is a key com-
ponent, because everyone is so close that
they want things to remain peaceful in the
family and from a social perspective. Chil-
dren respect their elders, men and women
respect one another, and respect is expect-
ed in all social situations.
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Iraq has one of the world’s oldest cultural
histories. Iraq is where the Ancient Meso-
potamian civilizations were, whose legacy
went on to influence and shape the civiliza-
tions of the Old World.
The country is known for its poets, and its
painters and sculptors are among the best
in the Arab world, some of them being
world-class. Iraq is known for producing fine
handicrafts, including rugs and carpets. The
architecture of Iraq is seen in the sprawling
metropolis of Baghdad, where the con-
struction is mostly new, with some islands
of exquisite old buildings and compounds,
and elsewhere in thousands of ancient and
modern sites across Iraq.
Unlike many Arab countries, Iraq embraces
and celebrates the achievements of its past
in pre-Islamic times. What is now Iraq was
once the Cradle of Civilization in Ancient
Mesopotamia and the culture of Sumer.
Arab rule during the medieval period had
the greatest cultural impact on modern
Iraq. The dominating culture within Iraq is
Arabic culture, and most Arabs are Muslim.
Iraqi Muslims are split into two groups, the
Sunnis and the Shias (Shiites). The Sunnis,
a majority in Islam, are a minority in Iraq,
and the Shias, a minority in the Arab world,
are the majority in Iraq. Between the Shia
and Sunni Muslims, loyalty to Iraq has come
to be a common factor. Though they have
differing views, both Sunnis and Shias hold
high leadership positions in the government
(including the Sunni Saddam Hussein), as do
The Arab culture, influenced by the con-
querors in the 7th century, withstood many
changes of power throughout the centuries,
and managed to remain influential. In the
19th century, while the Ottoman Empire
was focusing on the “Turkification” of its
people, rebels in Mesopotamia were build-
ing their Arab nationalist movement. They
were granted an opportunity to act during
World War I, when the British agreed to rec-
ognize Arab independence in Mesopotamia
if they helped fight against the Turks.
Though Iraq was subject to British mandate
rule following the defeat of the Ottoman
Empire, Arab nationalism stood strong. For
the next few decades, even after indepen-
dence from Britain, the government’s at-
titude wavered between being pro-British
and Arab nationalist. Today Iraq stands firm
in its belief in pro-Arab nationalism.
Tribalism is an important aspect of Iraqi so-
ciety. It has been estimated that up to 75%
of the population identifies themselves as
belonging to a specific tribe.
CULTURE AND SOCIETY
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Women in Iraq
During the Iran-Iraq War, with so many men fighting in the military, women were required
to study in fields and to work in positions normally filled by men. Female professionals,
such as doctors, are normally pediatricians or obstetricians, so that they work with only
women or children.
The General Federation for Iraqi Women (GFIW) is a government organization for women
with eighteen branches, one in each province. Its stated goal is to officially organize wom-
en, promote literacy and higher education, and encourage women in the labor force. The
federation supported big legislative steps, such as a 1977 law that said a woman may be
appointed an officer in the military if she has a university degree in medicine, dentistry,
or pharmacy. However, it has had little impact on issues that affect women as individuals,
such as polygamy, divorce, and inheritance.
In the past, arranged marriages were common. However, this practice is becoming rar-
er, and a law was passed that gave authority to a state-appointed judge to overrule the
wishes of the father in the event of an early marriage. The Muslim majority traditionally
views marriage as a contract between two families, as the family’s needs are considered
most important. In urban settings, women and men have more options in choosing their
spouses, though the proposed spouse must receive parental approval. Partners often
come from the same kin group, and though marriage between different ethnic groups is
accepted, it is not too common. The ruling Baath regime considers marriage to be a na-
tional duty that should be guided and encouraged.
Couples can live in either of two ways: with the husband’s extended family, or as a nucle-
ar family. At present, with economic hardships, families tend to live in extended house-
holds. The extended family unit consists of the older couple, sons, their wives and fami-
lies, and unmarried daughters. Other dependent relatives may also make up a part of this
group, and the oldest male is the head of the group. In this living arrangement, house-
hold and child-rearing tasks are shared among all female members of the larger families.
If the couple can afford to live in a nuclear household, women, even though they work
outside the home, retain all domestic and child-care responsibilities. Children normally
imitate older siblings, and obedience and loyalty to elders are of vital importance. The
boy is thought to be more valuable to a family, given his potential to work, while the girl
is considered more of a dependent.
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