Iraq Travel Information

Photo Formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, Iraq became an independent kingdom in 1932. A "republic" was proclaimed in 1958, but in actuality a series of military strongmen have ruled the country since then, the latest being Saddam Hussein. Territorial disputes with Iran led to an inconclusive and costly eight-year war (1980-88). In August 1990 Iraq seized Kuwait, but was expelled by US-led, UN coalition forces during January-February 1991. The victors did not occupy Iraq, however, thus allowing the regime to stay in control. Following Kuwait's liberation, the UN Security Council (UNSC) required Iraq to scrap all weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles and to allow UN verification inspections. UN trade sanctions remain in effect due to incomplete Iraqi compliance with relevant UNSC resolutions.

GEOGRAPHY

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, reedy 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.

Average temperatures range from higher than 48 degrees C (120 degrees 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.

PEOPLE

Almost 75% of Iraq's population live in the flat, alluvial plain stretching southeast toward 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 here.

Iraq's two largest ethnic groups are Arabs and Kurds. Other distinct groups are Turkomans, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Iranians, Lurs, and Armenians. Arabic is the most commonly spoken language. Kurdish is spoken in the north, and English is the most commonly spoken Western language.

Most Iraqi Muslims are members of the Shi'a sect, but there is a large 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.

ECONOMY

Iraq's economy is characterized by a heavy dependence on oil exports and an emphasis on development through central planning. Prior to the outbreak of the war with Iran in September 1980, Iraq's economic prospects were bright. Oil production had reached a level of 3.5 million barrels per day, and oil revenues were $21 billion in 1979 and $27 billion in 1980. At the outbreak of the war, Iraq had amassed an estimated $35 billion in foreign exchange reserves.

The Iran-Iraq War depleted Iraq's foreign exchange reserves, devastated its economy, and left the country saddled with a foreign debt of more than $40 billion. After hostilities ceased, oil exports gradually increased with the construction of new pipelines and the restoration of damaged facilities.

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, subsequent international sanctions, and damage from military action by an international coalition beginning in January 1991 drastically reduced economic activity. Government policies of diverting income to key supporters of the regime while sustaining a large military and internal security force further impaired finances, leaving the average Iraqi citizen facing desperate hardships. Implementation of a UN oil-for-food program in December 1996 has improved conditions for the average Iraqi citizen. Since 1999, Iraq was authorized to export unlimited quantities of oil to finance humanitarian needs including food, medicine, and infrastructure repair parts. Oil exports fluctuate as the regime alternately starts and stops exports, but, in general, oil exports have now reached three-quarters of their pre-Gulf War levels. Per capita output and living standards remain well below pre-Gulf War levels.

Important: Travel to Iraq may require a travel visa. Whether a visa is required for travel depends on citizenship and purpose of journey. Please be sure to review Travisa's Iraq visa instructions for details. Visa instructions for other countries are available on our do I need a visa page.

Country Statistics

Full country name: Republic of Iraq
Capital city: Baghdad
Area: 438,317 sq km
Population: 31,129,225
Ethnic groups: Arab 75%-80%, Kurdish 15%-20%, Turkoman, Assyrian, or other 5%
Languages: Arabic
Religions: Muslim
Government: parliamentary democracy
Chief of State: President Jalal TALABANI
Head of Government: Prime Minister Nuri al-MALIKI
GDP: 138.8 billion
GDP per captia: 4,200
Annual growth rate: 8.9%
Inflation: 5.6%
Agriculture: wheat, barley, rice, vegetables, dates, cotton
Major industries: petroleum, chemicals, textiles, leather, construction materials, food processing, fertilizer, metal fabrication/processing
Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, phosphates, sulfur
Location: Middle East, bordering the Persian Gulf, between Iran and Kuwait
Trade Partners - exports: India 22.5%, US 22.3%, China 13.4%, South Korea 11.7%, Japan 4.8%, Netherlands 4.3%
Trade Partners - imports: Turkey 25.3%, Syria 18.3%, China 11.7%, US 7.4%, South Korea 4.7%