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Iraq: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

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Iraq, Iraq, Middle East

Photo by Army.mil


Iraq MapLocation: Iraq is located in the Middle East and has borders with Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and the Gulf of Oman.

Capital: Baghdad 

Climate: Very hot, dry summers and cool winters that gets colder in the northern regions. The northern regions experience snow in winter that melts and causes flood in spring.

Population: As of July 2008 the population was 28,221,180.

Iraqi ManEconomy: The Iraqi economy is driven by its enormous oil reserves and petroleum based industries which accounted for about 95% of its earnings. Chemicals, textiles, agriculture, leather, construction infrastructure, fertilizer, and metal processing used to be other important contributors to the economy. War has considerably changed the economic landscape of the country. An unemployment rate of up to 30% was recorded in 2006.

Ethnic Make-up: Arab 80%, Kurds 15%, Others 5%.

Religions: Muslim 97% (Shia Muslims 65%, Sunni Muslims 35%), Christians and Others 3%.

Language: Arabic, Kurdish, Turkoman, Assyrian, Armenian.

Government: Republic.

Iraqi Children
Photo by Army.mil

Travel Issues: Presently being in a state of war and extreme conflict most countries deter their citizens from travelling to Iraq. While visas for religious visits are not being granted, that for tourism is granted under specific circumstances. Those intending to visit Iraq need to contact their embassies in order to get the latest information and travel restrictions. In normal situations travel to Iraq requires a valid passport, Iraqi visa, and a return ticket.

Iraqi WomenHealth & Safety: Travel to Iraq mandates the need for immunisation against Diphtheria, Hepatitis A, Tetanus, and Typhoid. Tuberculosis, Hepatitis B, Malaria and Rabies vaccinations are sometimes recommended. Yellow fever shots are required from travellers coming from affected areas. Specific information relating to current guidelines should be had from embassies closer to date of travel.

Water and milk should be boiled before consumption. Tap water is not recommended even for daily ablutions, making ice, or any other personal use. It is safer to peel fruits and vegetables after washing thoroughly. The medical system is not as efficient as it used to be and it is safer to carry personal medication with you. Hospitals are often overcrowded and doctors stretched to the limit. Payment for medical services is expected in cash.


Baghdad Father
Photo by Army.mil

The People: The history of Iraq has been plagued with conflicts which has caused general perception to be somewhat distorted when it comes to its amazing culture. Dating back to the Mesopotamian civilization is a cultural background which still dictates terms when it comes to society, customs, and beliefs. While that being so, pre-war Iraq was a modern society enjoying the benefits of education, world-class medical and scientific fraternity, infrastructure, and telecommunications. The ongoing war has however set the country back to devastating levels that experts fear may leave lasting scars.

Iraq PalaceThe Religion: Islam is the major religion of Iraq followed by about 97% of the population. A 3% minority adhere to Christianity, Judaism, and other religions.

Role of Family: Close affiliation with extended family is a hallmark of Iraqi society. Families of up to three generations, if not more, come under one unit and live together in traditional societies. In the urban scenario nuclear families live separate from the extended unit but are never independent of them when it comes to major decision-making and celebrations.

colorful girl by klika100Older family members are always deferred to and shown a great deal of respect when it comes to opinions and status. Strong values of loyalty and obedience are inculcated in children at a very early age. Businesses and occupations are handed down and taken care of by the male members of a family. Property and wealth is owned by family rather than an individual. Male kinsmen are very protective of the honour of women.

Ancestors: Lineage in families is traced way back to ancestors dead and alive. It is a very important feature in Iraqi society to know your roots and have an identity. Values and culture are handed down as a matter of routine from ancestors and there is very little change in attitude in spite of modern lifestyles.

fish cookingRecreational Activities: Football was played with a passion in pre-war Iraq and was the most popular national pastime. Camel racing, desert safaris, and other ethnic sport forms used to enjoy a lot of popularity.

Anything else important for this culture: The Iraqi lifestyle is strictly governed by Islamic laws in all walks of life from clothing to general social etiquette. Any discrepancies may entail serious consequences. Visitors need to be fully conversant with local behaviour and norms in order to avoid any unpleasant outcomes.


Baghdad Highway
Photo by jim.greenhill

Meetings & Greetings: There is a certain element of formality involved in meetings. You are expected to stick to formal courtesies. Men exchange handshakes and business cards printed in both English and Arabic. Arabs greet each other by embracing and kissing on both cheeks. There is a lot of general conversation even in business meetings in order to judge character and personality of people involved.

Women are rarely to be found in business and any greeting would have to be initiated by them. Outside of business it is normal for women to remain out of the spotlight and you are not expected to enquire or refer to them directly.

2 boys in IraqCourtesy: You are expected to address people by their family names and show respect especially when addressing seniors. Wait till you’re introduced properly before starting a conversation. You do not go directly to the business at hand but rather make small talk about affairs in general.

Gift Giving: If invited into a home, it is customary to arrive with a token gift. Chocolates, well-packaged fruits, nuts, and snacks are recommended gifts for families. Do not offer wine or any form of alcohol as gifts. If you are presented with a gift do not open it in front of your guests.

Shop in IraqDress Code: Formal occasions and business meetings will find men suited up and well-groomed. Hot summers may allow the exclusion of suits but formality needs to be observed by keeping sleeves down and shirts buttoned up. Informal situations do not require such austerities for men, however, women need to keep their shoulders, arms, knees, and legs covered regardless of occasion. Women would also do well to wear a head scarf in keeping with the dress code for local women. Make-up should be low key or minimal in order to do away with unwanted attention.

Iraqi FamilyDining Etiquette: When invited to dinner it is customary to bring a gift. Traditionally meals are often taken seated on the floor. But these days you are more likely to be seated at a table with all modern cutlery and utensils at hand.

Visiting a home: Wait till you’re shown to your seat and invited to be seated. Even if you are on friendly terms it is better to be not over-friendly and too casual, which means you do not place feet on coffee table. Always maintain decorum and this will earn you a lot of respect.

Communication Style: Seniors initiate conversation and others are expected to wait their turn and offer precise answers. Interruptions, jocularity, and raised voices are a mark of disrespect when talking to people who outrank you in age, status, and social ranking. You do not hold direct conversations with women under ordinary circumstances. Foreign women may address men directly but it is advisable to maintain the right body language, avoid direct eye contact, loud laughter, and proper use of a head scarf.

Palm Grove
Photo by Army.mil

Dos and Don’ts: Muslims have a lot of dos and don’ts that guide their lifestyles. It is a great idea to adopt these styles when in their country. While foreigners are not expected to follow these maxims it will increase their respect for you if you do so. Once you’ve earned their trust and respect life becomes a lot easier and relaxed.

Utmost importance needs to be given to their prayer times especially on Fridays. Avoid drinking, smoking and other frivolities during these times. Muslims go on rigorous fasts during the holy month of Ramadan. It would be insensitive on the part of non-Muslims to make merry during these days in their society.

Single women travelling alone invite trouble even during more peaceful times. There are extremely fundamentalist pockets where women should take extreme care to keep out of trouble. It would be a good move to take advice from locals before venturing into these spaces.

Map by ImageEditor
Column photo by markwgallagher
Shop and Colorful Girl photos by Klika100
Fish cooking photo by basrawii
Man, family, father, women, and boys photos by Army.mil

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