Fast Facts

Population:
27,499,638
Capital:
Baghdad; 5,620,000
Area:
437,072 square kilometers (168,754 square miles)
Language:
Arabic, Kurdish, Turkoman, Assyrian, Armenian
Religion:
Shiite and Sunni Muslim, Christian
Currency:
Iraqi dinar
Life Expectancy:
69
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $3,600
Literacy Percent:
74
Flag: Iraq
Map: Iraq

Iraq occupies the ancient region of Mesopotamia, "land amidst the rivers," a fertile lowland created by the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Today these rivers sustain large areas of irrigated farmland and one of the highest populations in the Middle East. Beneath the land, Iraq is second only to Saudi Arabia in rich oil reserves. Temperatures range from below freezing in winter to higher than 49°C (120°F) in the summer.

Iraq's diverse population includes some 20 million Arabs consisting of Shiite Muslims (60 percent), Sunni Muslims (35 percent), and Christians (3 percent). Most Shiites live in the southeast, and most Sunnis live in central Iraq. About four million Kurds, a non-Arab Muslim people, live in the mountainous northeast.

Iraq gained independence in 1932 as a monarchy, but a 1958 coup brought a series of military dictatorships. In 1979 Saddam Hussein took control of Iraq; he invaded Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. Iraq lost both resource-draining wars. Iraqis suffered from high war casualties and from Hussein's persecution of Shiites, Kurds, and others who opposed him.

U.S.-led coalition forces drove the Iraqi occupation army from Kuwait in 1991 and patrolled no-fly zones over Iraq from 1992-2003—protecting Kurds and Shiites from Iraqi warplanes. The Kurdish community, defying the Iraqi army, established its own self-governing region in the early 1990s. Iraq ended cooperation with UN weapons inspectors in 1998, creating concern that Iraq was again developing nuclear or chemical weapons.

Another U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, reaching Baghdad by April 9 and capturing Hussein on December 14. After the removal of Hussein, the Coalition Provisional Authority temporarily administered Iraq until June 28, 2004, when it transferred authority to the Iraqi Interim Government. Iraq's permanent constitution was ratified on October 15, 2005, and two months later an election was held for a 275-member Council of Representatives. The council approved most of Iraq's cabinet members on May 20, 2006, marking the transition to Iraq's new constitutional government. On December 30, 2006, former President Hussein was hanged for crimes against humanity.

ECONOMY

  • Industry: Petroleum, chemicals, textiles, construction materials
  • Agriculture: Wheat, barley, rice, vegetables; cattle
  • Exports: Crude oil

—Text From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition

Related Features

  • Picture of garden restaurant with fountain at the Erbil International Hotel, Arbil, Iraq

    Best Trips of 2014

    National Geographic Traveler presents the New Year's must-see places. From Argentina to Oz, this list reflects what’s authentic, culturally rich, sustainable-minded, and of course superlative in the world of travel today.

  • Photo: Moviegoers at Baghdad's first 4-D cinema

    Baghdad After the Storm

    Despite hardships and lingering violence, residents imagine a new version of the ancient city. Take a tour of the changing city of Baghdad with photographer Lynsey Addario.

  • Photo: New rebel cadets stand at attention in Benghazi.

    Middle East Youth Pictures

    Armed with cell phones, social media, and sometimes just sheer determination, youth from North Africa to the Middle East are struggling to take ownership of their future.

Take a Nat Geo Trip

Select a destination or trip type to find a trip:

See All Trips »

Travel Photos From Your Shot

See More Your Shot Galleries »