Iraq (Arabic: al-‘Irāq, Kurdish: Êraq), officially the Republic of Iraq (Arabic: Jumhūriyyat al-‘Irāq; Kurdish: Komar-i ‘Êraq), is a country in Western Asia that borders Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, Kuwait to the southeast, Saudi Arabia to the south, Jordan to the southwest, and Syria to the west. The capital, Baghdad, is in the center of the country and its largest city.
Iraq has a narrow section of coastline measuring 58 km (36 mi) on the northern Persian Gulf and its territory encompasses the Mesopotamian Alluvial Plain, the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, and the eastern part of the Syrian Desert. Two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, run south through the center of Iraq and flow into the Shatt al-Arab near the Persian Gulf. These rivers provide Iraq with significant amounts of fertile land.
The early Neolithic human occupation of Mesopotamia is, like the previous Epipaleolithic period, confined to the foothill zones of the Taurus and Zagros Mountains and the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates valleys.
The Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) period (10,000–8700 BC) saw the introduction of agriculture, while the oldest evidence for animal domestication dates to the transition from the PPNA to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB, 8700–6800 BC) at the end of the 9th millennium BC.
This transition has been documented at sites like Abu Hureyra and Mureybet, which continued to be occupied from the Natufian well into the PPNB. The so-far earliest monumental sculptures and circular stone buildings from Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey date to the PPNA/Early PPNB and represent, according to the excavator, the communal efforts of a large community of hunter-gatherers.
The Fertile Crescent was inhabited by several distinct, flourishing cultures between the end of the last ice age (c. 10,000 BC) and the beginning of history. One of the oldest known Neolithic sites in Mesopotamia is Jarmo, settled around 7000 BC and broadly contemporary with Jericho (in the Levant) and Çatal Hüyük (in Anatolia).
Since approximately 10,000 BC, Iraq (alongside Asia Minor and The Levant) was one of centers of a Caucasoid Neolithic culture (known as Pre-Pottery Neolithic A) where agriculture and cattle breeding appeared for the first time in the world.
The following Neolithic period (PPNB) is represented by rectangular houses. At the time of the pre-pottery Neolithic, people used vessels made of stone, gypsum and burnt lime (Vaisselle blanche). Finds of obsidian tools from Anatolia are evidences of early trade relations.
Further important sites of human advancement were Jarmo (circa 7100 BC), the Halaf culture and Ubaid period (between 6500 BC and 3800 BC), these periods show ever increasing levels of advancement in agriculture, tool making and architecture.
Jarmo (Qal’at Jarmo) is an archeological site located in northern Iraq on the foothills of Zagros Mountains east of Kirkuk city. It was one of the oldest agricultural communities in the world, dating back to 7090 BCE. Jarmo is broadly contemporary with such other important Neolithic sites such as Jericho in the southern Levant and Çatal Hüyük in Anatolia.
In the earlier phases there is a preponderance of objects made from stone, silex- using older styles- and obsidian. The use of this latter material, obtained from the area of Lake Van, 200 miles away, suggests that some form of organized trade already existed, as does the presence of ornamental shells from the Persian Gulf.
Jarmo is one of the oldest sites at which pottery has been found, appearing in the most recent levels of excavation, which dates it to the 7th millennium BC. This pottery is handmade, of simple design and with thick sides, and treated with a vegetable solvent.
There are clay figures, zoomorphic or anthropomorphic, including figures of pregnant women which are taken to be fertility goddesses, similar to the Mother Goddess of later Neolithic cultures in the same region.
It as well as other early Neolithic sites, such as Samarra and Tell Halaf were in northern Mesopotamia; later settlements in southern Mesopotamia required complicated irrigation methods. The first of these was Eridu, settled during the Ubaid period culture by farmers who brought with them the Samarran culture from the north. This was followed by the Uruk period and the emergence of the Sumerians.
Tell Halaf is an archaeological site in the Al Hasakah governorate of northeastern Syria, near the Turkish border, just opposite Ceylanpınar. It was the first find of a Neolithic culture, subsequently dubbed the Halaf culture, characterized by glazed pottery painted with geometric and animal designs. The site dates to the 6th millennium BCE and was later the location of the Aramaean city-state of Guzana or Gozan.
The site is located near the city of Ra’s al-‘Ayn in the fertile valley of the Khabur River (Nahr al-Khabur), close to the modern border with Turkey. The name Tell Halaf is a local Aramaic placename, tell meaning “hill”, and Tell Halaf meaning “made of former city”; what its original inhabitants called their settlement is not known.
The Halaf culture is a prehistoric period which lasted between about 6100 and 5500 BCE. The period is a continuous development out of the earlier Pottery Neolithic and is located primarily in south-eastern Turkey, Syria, and northern Iraq, although Halaf-influenced material is found throughout Greater Mesopotamia.
The best known, most characteristic pottery of Tell Halaf, called Halaf ware, produced by specialist potters, can be painted, sometimes using more than two colors (called polychrome) with geometric and animal motifs.
Halaf pottery has been found in other parts of northern Mesopotamia, such as at Nineveh and Tepe Gawra, Chagar Bazar and at many sites in Anatolia (Turkey) suggesting that it was widely used in the region.
In addition, the Halaf communities made female figurines of partially baked clay and stone and stamp seals of stone, (see also Impression seal). The seals are thought to mark the development of concepts of personal property, as similar seals were used for this purpose in later times. The Halaf people used tools made of stone and clay. Copper was also known, but was not used for tools.
The Halaf period was succeeded by the Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period (~5500 – 5200 cal. BCE) and then by the Ubaid period (~5200 – 4000 cal. BCE). The Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period lies chronologically between the Halaf period and the Ubaid period. It is a very poorly understood period and was created to explain the gradual change from Halaf style pottery to Ubaid style pottery in North Mesopotamia
Tell Hassuna is a tell, or settlement mound, in the Nineveh Province (Iraq). It is the type site for the Hassuna culture (early sixth millennium BCE). Tell Hassuna was found in 1942 by Fuad Safar, and excavated in 1943 and 1944 by a team from the Iraqi Directorate General of Antiquities led by Seton Lloyd. Excavations revealed that there was once an advanced village culture that was spread throughout northern Mesopotamia.
At Hassuna, six different layers of houses were uncovered, revealing various vessels and pottery that date ~5600-5350 BCE, with each layer becoming more substantial. Similar vessels were found throughout the Middle East, showing that there was an extensive trade network that was present as early as the 6th Millennium BCE.
Pottery found at Hassuna can be divided into three different categories: Hassuna Archaic, Hassuna Standard, and Samarran. These also include painted, incised, and painted-incised ware.
The decoration of the Samarra Painted Fine Ware is always monochrome, but it seems as if three types of paint have been used: an ivory black, a dark violet brown, and a medium chocolate brown.
Circumstances of firing and variations in the concentration of the paint have caused color changes, so that for example an oxidizing firing of vessels painted with ivory black has produced an Indian red color.
In general, the designs of the Samarra Painted Fine Ware are carefully painted. Occasionally, however, parallel lines approach or diverge slightly, and the thickness of some lines varies, apparently due to the use of a soft painting-brush. The outside rim motifs are spaced and limited by groups of horizontal lines.
The Samarra culture is a Chalcolithic archaeological culture in northern Mesopotamia that is roughly dated to 5500–4800 BCE. It partially overlaps with Hassuna and early Ubaid. Samarran material culture was first recognized during excavations by German Archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld at the site of Samarra. Other sites where Samarran material has been found include Tell Shemshara, Tell es-Sawwan and Yarim Tepe.
At Tell es-Sawwan, evidence of irrigation—including flax—establishes the presence of a prosperous settled culture with a highly organized social structure. The culture is primarily known for its finely-made pottery decorated against dark-fired backgrounds with stylized figures of animals and birds and geometric designs.
This widely-exported type of pottery, one of the first widespread, relatively uniform pottery styles in the Ancient Near East, was first recognized at Samarra. The Samarran Culture was the precursor to the Mesopotamian culture of the Ubaid period.
The Ubaid period is marked by a distinctive style of fine quality painted pottery which spread throughout Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf. During this time, the first settlement in southern Mesopotamia was established at Eridu (Cuneiform: NUN.KI), c. 5300 BCE, by farmers who brought with them the Hadji Muhammed culture, which first pioneered irrigation agriculture.
It appears this culture was derived from the Samarran culture from northern Mesopotamia. It is not known whether or not these were the actual Sumerians who are identified with the later Uruk culture.
Eridu remained an important religious center when it was gradually surpassed in size by the nearby city of Uruk. The story of the passing of the me (gifts of civilisation) to Inanna, goddess of Uruk and of love and war, by Enki, god of wisdom and chief god of Eridu, may reflect this shift in hegemony.
It appears that this early culture was an amalgam of three distinct cultural influences: peasant farmers, living in wattle and daub or clay brick houses and practicing irrigation agriculture; hunter-fishermen living in woven reed houses and living on floating islands in the marshes (Proto-Sumerians); and Proto-Akkadian nomadic pastoralists, living in black tents.
The historical period in Iraq truly begins during the Uruk period (4000 BC to 3100 BC), with the founding of a number of Sumerian cities, and the use of Pictographs, Cylinder seals and mass-produced goods.
The “Cradle of Civilization”, is thus a common term for the area comprising modern Iraq as it was home to the earliest known civilization, the Sumerian civilization, which arose in the fertile Tigris-Euphrates river valley of southern Iraq in the Chalcolithic (Ubaid period).
It was here in the late 4th millennium BC that the world’s first writing system and recorded history itself were born. The Sumerians were also the first to harness The Wheel and create City States, and whose writings record the first evidence of Mathematics, Astronomy, Astrology, Written Law, Medicine and Organised religion.
The Sumerians spoke a Language Isolate, in other words, a language utterly unrelated to any other, including the Semitic Languages, Indo-European Languages, Afro-Asiatic Languages or any other Isolates. The major city states of the early Sumerian period were; Eridu, Bad-tibira, Larsa, Sippar, Shuruppak, Uruk, Kish, Ur, Nippur, Lagash, Girsu, Umma, Hamazi, Adab, Mari, Isin, Larsa, Kutha, Der and Akshak.
Cities such as Ashur, Arbela (modern Irbil) and Arrapkha (modern Kirkuk) were also extant in what was to be called Assyria from the 25th century BC, however at this early stage they were Sumerian ruled administrative centers.
In the 26th century BC, Eannatum of Lagash created what was perhaps the first Empire in history, though this was short lived. Later, Lugal-Zage-Si, the priest-king of Umma, overthrew the primacy of the Lagash dynasty in the area, then conquered Uruk, making it his capital, and claimed an empire extending from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. It was during this period that the Epic of Gilgamesh originates, which includes the tale of The Great Flood.
From approximately 3000 BC, a Semitic people had also entered Iraq from the west and settled amongst the Sumerians. These people spoke an East Semitic language which would later come to be known as Akkadian. From the 29th century BC Akkadian Semitic names began to appear on king lists and administrative documents of various city states.
During the 3rd millennium BCE a cultural symbiosis developed between the Sumerians and the Akkadians, which included widespread bilingualism. The influences between Sumerian and Akkadian are evident in all areas including lexical borrowing on a massive scale—and syntactic, morphological, and phonological convergence.
This mutual influence has prompted scholars to refer to Sumerian and Akkadian of the 3rd millennium BCE as a Sprachbund. From this period the civilisation in Iraq came to be known as Sumero-Akkadian.
Between the 29th and 24th centuries BC, a number of kingdoms and city states within Iraq began to have Akkadian speaking dynasties; including Assyria, Ekallatum, Isin and Larsa.
However, the Sumerians remained generally dominant until the rise of the Akkadian Empire (2335-2124 BC), based in the city of Akkad in central Iraq.
Sargon of Akkad, originally a Rabshakeh to a Sumerian king, founded the empire he conquered all of the city states of southern and central Iraq, and subjugated the kings of Assyria, thus uniting the Sumerians and Akkadians in one state. He then set about expanding his empire, conquering Gutium, Elam, Cissia and Turukku in Ancient Iran, the Hurrians, Luwians and Hattians of Anatolia, and the Amorites and Eblaites of Ancient Syria.
After the collapse of the Akkadian Empire in the late 22nd century BC, the Gutians occupied the south for a few decades, while Assyria reasserted its independence in the north. This was followed by a Sumerian renaissance in the form of the Neo-Sumerian Empire. The Sumerians under king Shulgi conquered almost all of Iraq except the northern reaches of Assyria, and asserted themselves over the Elamites, Gutians and Amorites.
Iraq’s modern borders were mostly demarcated in 1920 by the League of Nations when the Ottoman Empire was divided by the Treaty of Sèvres. Iraq was placed under the authority of the United Kingdom as the British Mandate of Mesopotamia. A monarchy was established in 1921 and the Kingdom of Iraq gained independence from Britain in 1932. In 1958, the monarchy was overthrown and the Republic of Iraq was created.
Iraq was controlled by the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party from 1968 until 2003. After an invasion by the United States and its allies, Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party was removed from power and multi-party parliamentary elections were held. The American presence in Iraq ended in 2011 but the Iraqi insurgency continued and intensified as fighters from the Syrian Civil War spilled into the country.
People in this area have been involved in state making for thousands of year, and the area is included in the craddle of civilizations. The region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is often referred to as Mesopotamia and thought to be the birthplace of writing and the world’s oldest civilizations. The area has been home to continuous successive civilizations since the 6th millennium BC.
At different periods in its history, Iraq was the center of the indigenous Hurrian, Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian empires. It was also part of the Median, Achaemenid, Hellenistic, Parthian, Sassanid, Roman, Rashidun, Umayyad, Abbasid, Mongol, Safavid, Afsharid, and Ottoman empires, and under British control as a League of Nations mandate. There have been different cultures and languages, however, genetically the people have connections to the Armenian highland whatever their language might have been.
The largest ethnic group in Iraq are Arabs, Kurds with their own autonomous Kurdistan Region form the largest minority, and other ethnic groups include Assyrians, Turcoman, Shabaki, Armenians, Mandeans, Circassians and Kawliya. Around 95% of the country’s 36 million citizens are Shia or Sunni Muslims, with Christianity, Yarsan, Yezidism and Mandeanism also extant.
The Arabic name العراق al-ʿIrāq has been in use since before the 6th century. There are several suggested origins for the name. One dates to the Sumerian city of Uruk (Biblical Hebrew Erech) and is thus ultimately of Sumerian origin, as Uruk was the Akkadian name for the Sumerian city of Urug, containing the Sumerian word for “city”, UR.
Uruk (Cuneiform: URU UNUG; Sumerian: Unug; Akkadian: Uruk; Aramaic/Hebrew: Erech; Ancient Greek: Orchoē, Ōrugeia; Arabic: Warkā’) was an ancient city of Sumer and later Babylonia, situated east of the present bed of the Euphrates river, on the ancient dry former channel of the Euphrates River, some 30 km east of modern As-Samawah, Al-Muthannā, Iraq.
Uruk gave its name to the Uruk period, the protohistoric Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age period in the history of Mesopotamia spanning c. 4000 to 3100 BC, succeeded by the Jemdet Nasr period of Sumer proper. Uruk played a leading role in the early urbanization of Sumer in the mid 4th millennium BC.
Archaeogenetics of the Near East: Iraq (Mesopotamia)