Basic Data


Official Country Name: Republic of Iraq
Region (Map name): Middle East
Population: 23,331,985
Language(s): Arabic, Kurdish, Assyrian, Armenian
Literacy rate: 58.0%
Area: 437,072 sq km
Number of Television Stations: 13
Number of Television Sets: 1,750,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 75.0
Number of Radio Stations: 74
Number of Radio Receivers: 4,850,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 207.9

Background & General Characteristics

The Republic of Iraq is home to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. Turkey borders Iraq to the north, Iran to the east, Kuwait and the Persian Gulf to the southeast, Saudi Arabia to the south and southwest, Jordan to the west and Syria to the northwest.

In 2001 it was estimated Iraq had a population of 23.33 million. Seventy-seven percent of Iraqis are Arab, 19 percent are Kurds, and the remaining 4 percent are other ethnic groups. Iraq's Kurdish population lives in the northeastern highlands.

Iraq's official religion is Islam. A little more than 50 percent of the population is Shiite Muslims but the Sunni Muslims, who make up a little more than 40 percent of the population, tend to dominate Iraq's governmental bureaucracy. Minority religions include Christianity and Judaism. More than 80 percent of the population speaks the country's official language, Arabic. English, Kurdish, Turkish and Assyrian are among the minority languages spoken in Iraq.

Almost 42 percent of Iraq's population was below the age of 14 in 2001; 55.3 percent were 15 to 64 years of age; 3 percent were over the age of 65. Iraq's literacy gender gap is significant. Only 46 percent of Iraqi adult females are literate, while 66 percent of its adult male population is literate. Iraq's female illiteracy rate is the third highest in the world.

Iraqi society is primarily urban, with more than 70 percent of Iraqis living in urban areas. In 2001 the country's major cities were Baghdad (with a population of about 4.87 million), Mosul (1.1 million) and Irbil, (1.04 million). Baghdad is the country's capital.

Iraq was admitted to the League of Nations (the predecessor of the United Nations) after becoming a sovereign state in 1932. Iraq is a single political party republic and is governed by the Revolutionary Command Council. Saddam Hussein is president of the country, leader of the Ba'ath political party, prime minister and president of the Revolutionary Command Council, the country's highest governmental authority.

Iraq's daily newspapers are Al-Baath Alryadi, Babil, Al-Iraq, Al-Jumhuriya, Al-Qadissiya, and Al-Thawra. Newspaper circulation was 20 per 1,000 persons in 1996. Individual newspaper circulation rates were not available.

Economic Framework

In modern times Iraq has been known for its repeated violations of basic human rights, particularly of its minority populations as well as those who express any sort of political opposition to its government. Before and after being admitted to the League of Nations, Iraq disputed the international boundaries set for it by League members. Consequently Iraq entered into numerous border conflicts with Iran. The most recent Iraq-Iran war ended in 1988. In 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait, another area over which it claimed ancient political rights. Iraqi military forces were expelled from Kuwait by U.S.-led international forces in the 1991 military operation called Desert Storm. Immediately after the Desert Storm cease-fire, Iraq launched a military offensive against the Kurdish population residing in the Iraqi northern highlands.

As part of the ceasefire conditions Iraq was to provide proof of the destruction of its biological, ballistic and nuclear weapons and development facilities. Iraq refused to allow UN weapons inspectors into the country and continued its abuse of Kurdish and other minority groups. As a result, the United Nations imposed import/export sanctions on Iraq in 1990.

The UN sanctions prohibit exports from Iraq and imports to Iraq with the exception of medicine and other essential civilian needs not covered by the import ban. Under the UN's 1996 "food for oil" program, Iraq is permitted to sell set amounts of oil to fund the purchase of food, medicines and other humanitarian goods, and equipment to repair the civilian infrastructure. Since 1998 Iraq has been allowed to purchase equipment and spare parts for the rehabilitation of its oil industry.

Due to Iraq's refusal to allow UN weapons inspectors into the country and its continued abuse of Kurdish and other minority groups, UN sanctions have continued. The UN Commission of Human Rights 2000 report indicated that women, children and men continued to be arrested and detained on suspicion of political or religious activities or because they were related to members of the opposition.

According to the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), the Iraqi government and the Ba'ath Party control or own all print media in Iraq. The party and the government also control the broadcast media. Iraq's publishing and broadcast media consist of six daily newspapers, one television service, one radio service and one satellite. All are state controlled.

Uday Hussein, son of the Iraqi president, heads an extensive media empire that supposedly includes more than a dozen weekly and daily newspapers as well as the most popular of the country's three television channels. Uday Hussein also heads the national press union.

Opposition presses such as Al-Thawra and Al-Jumhuriya operate in the northern Kurdish enclaves and on the Internet. The U.S. government has operated Radio Free Iraq since 1998.

Press Laws

Criticism of Iraq's government is prohibited and a death penalty is imposed upon anyone, including journalists, criticizing Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council or the Ba'ath party.


The Iraqi government censors all news.

State-Press Relations

The Committee to Project Journalists and the BBC independently report that Iraq's press is entirely controlled by the Iraqi state. According to BBC News, the media does not report views opposed to the Iraqi government.

Reporters Without Borders reported that Iraqi security police arrested the editor-in-chief of an Iraqi daily newspaper in 1999 after he attempted to flee the country. The editor tried to flee Iraq because Uday Hussein had reportedly threatened him when he refused the position of manager of an Iraqi magazine. In 2001 the International Press Institute reported that about 50 Iraqi journalists fled the country due to governmental press controls.

Attitude Toward Foreign Media

Foreign media, if allowed into Iraq, is closely inspected and subject to expulsion.

News Agencies

The Iraqi News Agency (INA), located in Baghdad, is controlled by the Iraqi government and is Iraq's only news agency. The INA reduced its number of foreign offices from 48 to 15 in the period following the 1990 UN sanctions.

Broadcast Media

According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, 13 television stations operated in Iraq in 1997. There were 75 televisions per 1,000 Iraqis in 1997, and 208 radios per thousand. Broadcast media, particularly radio, is the most widely used media in Iraq. According to the BBC, numerous alternative radio services are aimed at Iraq, including the U.S. government-backed Radio Free Iraq.

Electronic Media

In 2000 one Internet service provider (ISP) operated in Iraq. However, the government totally controlled access to the Internet. Numerous newspapers, such as Alef-Ba, Alwan, Al-Islam, Al-Iktisadi, Al-Ittehad, Al-Mawied, Nabdh Ashabab, Al-Raae, Al-Rafedain, Saut Alta-meem, and Al-Talabah, have Arabic language Web sites.

The Iraq Daily and the Iraqi News Agency (INA) operate Web sites with English translations. The web address for INA is .

Education and Training

Iraq's major universities are the University of Baghdad (36,000 students), the University of Mosul (20,000), the University of Basrah (18,000) and the University of Salahuddin (10,000). These Iraqi universities offer bach-elor's, master's and Ph.D. degrees. Iraq's major universities offer their courses in Arabic and in English. The University of Salahuddin, located in the northern Kurdish area, offers its courses in Arabic, English and Kurdish.

In 2001 the University of Baghdad was the only university listing journalism as a course of study.


Freedom of the press does not exist in Iraq. All mass media elements are either owned and or controlled by the Iraqi government. Iraq's broadcast media provides the greatest market penetration since newspaper circulation was estimated at 20 per 1,000 Iraqis in 1996. The low literacy rate of Iraq's population may explain some of the country's low newspaper circulation rate.

Significant Dates

  • 1990: The UN imposes import/export sanctions on Iraq.
  • 1996: The UN's "Food for Oil" program allows Iraq to sell oil to fund food, medicine and other humanitarian goods purchases and to purchase equipment to repair the civilian infrastructure.
  • 1998: Radio Free Iraq (operated by the United States) begins operation.


"Countries Ranked by Population." U.S. Census, International Data Base. Washington, DC, 2000.

"Focus International: Human Rights in Iraq Deteriorate." Foreign & Commonwealth Office. London, England, November 2000.

"Focus International: Iraq: Sanctions and the 'Oil for Food' Agreement." Foreign & Commonwealth Office. London, England, 1991.

"Focus International: The Work of the United Nations Special Commission in Iraq." Foreign & Commonwealth Office. London, England, October 1998.

"Iraq Annual Report 2002," Reporters Without Borders. Washington, DC, 2002.

"Literacy and Non Formal Education Sector Estimates and Projections of Adult Illiteracy for Population Aged 15 years Old and Above by Country." UNESCO Institute for Statistics, January 2002.

Metz, Helen Chapin, editor. "Iraq: A Country Study," Federal Research Division, U.S. Library of Congress. Washington, DC, 1988.

"World Press Freedom Review," International Press Institute. Vienna, Austria, 2002.

"Saddam Hussein's Iraq." U.S. Department of State. Washington, DC, September 1999.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Fact-book 2002. Washington, DC, 2002.

Sandra J. Callaghan

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