Iraq is bordered by Turkey on the north, Iran on the east, the Arab Gulf on the
southeast, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on the south, and Jordan and Syria on the
west. The country has an area of 167,975 square miles (435,053 square
The Great Zab River flows into Iraq from Turkey and eventually merges with
the Tigris 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast of Mosul. The country consists
primarily of lowlands that seldom exceed 300 feet (90 meters) in elevation.
The hills in northeastern Iraq rise into the Zagros Mountains, which extend
along the border with Iran and reach an elevation of 12,001 feet (3,658
meters) at Rawanduz.
To the south and southwest, Iraq shares desert steppe with Kuwait, Saudi
Arabia, and Jordan. Part of the Syrian Desert extends into the country in
the northwest. A region unique to Iraq is the marshy lowlands that surround
the Shatt al 'Arab waterway and the union of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers
just below Al Qurna. Palm trees and reed marshes cover the land here. The
climate varies widely, according to region.
In general, the climate of Iraq is hot and dry in the summers, and cool and a
bit rainier in the winters. In most of the country, temperatures average in
the 80°s during the summer (although they can soar well into the 100°s), and
in the 40°s and 50°s during the winter; in the mountains they are
correspondingly cooler. Except for the mountainous areas, the rainfall in Iraq
qualifies it as a desert.
Government water control projects have drained most of the inhabited marsh
areas east of An Nasiriyah by drying up or diverting the feeder streams and
rivers; a once sizable population of Shi'a Muslims, who have inhabited these
areas for thousands of years, has been displaced; furthermore, the destruction
of the natural habitat poses serious threats to the area's wildlife populations;
inadequate supplies of potable water; development of Tigris-Euphrates Rivers
system contingent upon agreements with upstream riparian Turkey; air and
water pollution; soil degradation (salination) and erosion; desertification.