Iraq — History and Culture
From Ancient Mesopotamia to the recent Western confrontation, Iraq’s history is truly one of the most colorful in the Arab world. It is the birthplace of history itself and home to the world’s oldest civilizations. The Iraqi culture is a rich mix of traditions from all different civilizations that have sprung up from the territory. While many Iraqis identify with the Arabs (Islam is the state religion), the Kurds in the north follow their own drummer. Other ethnic groups in various areas of the country like the Assyrians, the Chaldeans, the Turkomans, the Yazidis, the Jews, and the Armenians, have also preserved their own norms.
A cradle in time, Iraq is said to be the birthplace of the Assyrian and the Babylonian society. The territory became part of the growing Ottoman Empire by the 16th century, until the British seized control in 1918 under the Treaty of Sevres. July 14, 1958, saw the fall of the long-running Hashemite monarchy, leading to radical political reforms and the legislation of political parties. After the revolution, the Soviet Union became Iraq’s main commercial and arms supplier.
Abdul Kassem, the leader of the coup against the Hashemite monarchy, was himself overthrown in 1963, an event which shifted political power into the hands of the Ba’ath Party. Internal factions began to form until another uprising led by Ahmad Hassan al Bakr brought some stability to the parties. A rift with the Soviet Union caused Bakr to resign in July 1979 and he was succeeded by his right-hand man, Saddam Hussein.
Hussein cleaned out his enemies and established a dictatorship almost overnight, imposing a 25-year tyrannical reign on the country. Long wars plagued the country, robbing it of billions of dollars and millions of lives. Even more people died during the Kuwait invasion and the ensuing Gulf and Civil wars.
In 2003, US and UK-led forces removed Hussein from power, marked a turning point in Iraq’s history. US troops ceased combat missions in 2011, but there is still a military presence in the country to try to keep the peace. Political turmoil still plagues the country though the situation has greatly improved from a decade ago. Tourism is slowly growing, at least in the Kurdistan Region where most developments are being directed.
Iraq has one of the most colorful histories in the world and thus a rich and layered culture. Ancient Mesopotamian influences shaped most other civilizations at that time. The country has an art heritage, proof of which is the renowned Arab painters, poets and sculptors that call Iraq home. Iraqi artisans are well known for their work in both handicrafts and carpets and rugs. Iraqi architecture is also among the best in the Arab world, as seen in the cityscape of Baghdad.
The country’s traditions remain evident in many aspects of everyday life. Music is widely played even today and is characterized by the use of instruments like drums, tambourines, violins, ouds, and flutes. Young crowds listen to modern genres like pop and rap, along with fusions of old and new.
Births and marriages are important milestones in Iraq and it is not uncommon for hundreds of guests to attend weddings. While marriages are mostly arranged, they are rarely forced. Iraq also has a strong tradition of afternoon tea, which is why it’s common to find tea houses in all the major towns and cities, a time for people to retreat to their homes or a nearby shop to enjoy a cup over conversations with friends.
Iraq is predominantly an Islamic nation. The locals consider the correct reading of the Quran a rite of passage for children. Iraqi Arabs also believe that wisdom comes with old age, which is why elders are highly respected. Generosity is also valued in the local culture, a quality that is particularly apparent during Ramadan when it is considered important to give to the needy.