Iraq is an almost landlocked country lying between Turkey on the north, Iran on the east, Saudi Arabia on the south, the Gulf and Kuwait on the southeast, and Jordan and Syria on the west.
It has a very short coastline on the Gulf. Most of the country is flat and low-lying, and consists of the low plateau of the Syrian Desert to the west and, in central Iraq, the broad valleys of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates (ancient Mesopotamia). These rivers enter the Gulf in a combined stream, the Shatt-al-Arab, near Basra. The northeast of Iraq (Kurdistan) is mountainous and the climate is similar to that found in the mountains of western Iran.
The western desert region and Mesopotamia have a very harsh climate with a marked contrast between the extremely hot, sunny, and dry summers and a cooler winter during which some rain falls. Iraq experiences some of the highest temperatures anywhere in the world.
These scorching conditions are often accompanied by a persistent dusty, northwesterly wind, the shamal, which adds to the unpleasantness. Heat exhaustion and even heatstroke are hazards. There is no great difference in summer temperatures from north to south, but temperatures are distinctly lower and more pleasant at this time in the Kurdistan mountains.
Winters are very mild in the south, but become cooler towards the north. Frost and snow occasionally occur at low levels in the north and snowfall may be heavy in Kurdistan.
Most of the country has a desert or steppe climate with annual rainfall below 200 mm/8 in. Only in the northern plains around Mosul and Kirkuk and in the Kurdistan mountains is precipitation heavier.
The summer months from May to September are virtually rainless and the heaviest precipitation comes between December and March. Melting snow in spring in the mountains of Turkey, Iran, and Kurdistan causes the rivers Tigris and Euphrates to flood in a spectacular manner between March and May at a time when the long, hot, dry summer in Iraq is beginning.
The climatic table for Baghdad is representative of conditions around the year in most of lowland Iraq. That for Basra shows the higher summer humidity in the south where the summer heat is even more oppressive. Conditions in the northern plains are similar to those illustrated by the climatic table for Dayr az Zawr in Syria.
© Copyright RM, 2007. All rights reserved. Helicon Publishing is a division of RM.