Academic journal article Social Education

Spotlight on Iraq. (in Focus)

Academic journal article Social Education

Spotlight on Iraq. (in Focus)

Article excerpt

THE POPULATION OF IRAQ IS estimated at about 24 million people, making it the most populous state of the eastern Arab world.

The typical inhabitant of Iraq lives in a town, as is the case in other major oil-producing states. In the past 50 years, migrants have flocked to cities from the countryside, drawn by employment opportunities offered by the government--by far Iraq's largest employer--and jobs in trade and services in towns. Only about 25% of Iraqis now live in rural areas.

The largest city is the capital, the historic city of Baghdad. The population of greater Baghdad is estimated at about 5 million, divided mainly between large Sunni and Shia Muslim communities.

Iraq shares borders with six countries: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Kuwait. The nation's borders were drawn to permit a narrow finger of land to run along the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway at the Persian Gulf. Iraq has no other coastline.

Iraq is a land of contrasts, with widely varying topography and climate. In the west of the country, extending to the Syrian, Jordanian and Saudi borders, is a desert. Beginning in the north and stretching down toward the Persian Gulf in the south is a fertile plain that was once called Mesopotamia ("the land between the two rivers," the Euphrates and the Tigris). The highlands north and east of the Tigris river are a beautiful but harsh mountainous region. In the northern foothills west of the Tigris, cooler summers and adequate rainfall allow for abundant grain harvests in some places, although there are few trees, and large areas are barren. In the south, marshes and lakes dot the map.

Economy

Among Arab countries, Iraq has the greatest potential for economic modernization. It is the only Arab country to have not only vast oil resources, but also a fair amount of fertile agricultural land, and a large and relatively well-educated labor force. In the years between 1974 and 1979, when oil prices and revenues were high, Iraqis enjoyed a high standard of living. Iraq's subsequent wars against Iran and Kuwait, and the resulting international sanctions, have drastically reduced its standard of living and placed its economy in dire straits.

The core of the Iraqi economy is oil, first discovered in 1927 near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. Iraq's known oil reserves (112 billion barrels of crude oil) are exceeded only by those of Saudi Arabia. The accompanying map (p. 413) shows the location of Iraq's major oil fields, as well as the international oil companies working in Iraq. U.S. oil companies currently do not work there, because of past anti-U.S. policies by Iraq and the U.S. interpretation of sanctions against Iraq as prohibiting such involvement. The largest oil fields are clustered in the north, adjoining areas currently held by the Kurdish parties, and in the southern delta regions in which Iraq's Shia population predominates.

Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the embargo on Iraqi oil exports, Iraqi oil production fell to one tenth of its pre-war level, from 3.5 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in July 1990 to around 0.3 million bbl/d in July 1991. After Iraq was allowed to produce oil in exchange for humanitarian goods in 1995 under the oil-for-food program administered by the United Nations, its production rose again, and for 2001, Iraqi crude oil production averaged 2.45 million bbl/d, about 70% of the pre-war level. Although U.S. companies have been banished from direct involvement in Iraq, the U.S. imported nearly 1 million barrels of Iraqi oil a day at the start of 2002. *

Historically, Iraq has engaged in extensive trade in all directions-North Africa, Europe, central Asia and (through the Persian Gulf) India and other southern and eastern Asian countries.

Iraq has fertile agricultural land coveting about one fifth of its territory, but careful water management is needed. …

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