See Also: Pocket Guide to Iran
[DISCLAIMER: The following text and illustrations are reproduced from a U.S. War Department booklet published in 1943. The text may be inaccurate, and no attempt has been made to update or correct the material. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]
A SHORT GUIDE TO IRAQ
YOU HAVE been ordered to Iraq
You will enter Iraq both as a soldier and as an individual, because on our side a man can be both a soldier and an individual. That is our strength—if we are smart enough to use it. It can be our weakness if we aren't. As a soldier your duties are laid out for you. As an individual, it is what you do on your own that counts—and it may count for a lot more than you think.
American success or failure in Iraq may well depend on whether the Iraqis (as the people are called) like American soldiers or not. It may not be quite that simple. But then again it could.
How To Beat Hitler. Herr Hitler knows he's licked if the peoples united against him stand their ground. So it is pretty obvious what he and his propaganda machine are trying to do. They're trying to spread disunity and discontent among their opponents whenever and wherever they can.
So what's the answer? That ought to be pretty obvious, too. One of your big jobs is to prevent Hitler's agents from getting in their dirty work. The best way you can do this is by getting along with the Iraqis and making them your friends. And the best way to get along with any people is to understand them.
That is what this guide is for. To help you understand the people and the country so that you can do the best and quickest job of sending Hitler back where he came from.
And secondly, so that you as a human being will get the most out of an experience few Americans have been lucky enough to have. Years from now you'll be telling your children and maybe your grandchildren stories beginning, "Now when I was in Baghdad—."
WHAT IS THIS IRAQ?
WHAT is Iraq, anyhow? Well, it's a lot of things, old and new. It is one of the oldest countries in the world—and one of the youngest under its present government. In Baghdad, the capital city, you will see street merchants selling exactly the same kind of pottery that their ancestors sold at the time of the Arabian Nights. Not far away you will see great dams and modern refineries equal to the best you have seen in America. If you happen to be sent to the oil fields, you will discover miracles of modern engineering construction side by side with primitive refineries built 2,000 years ago and still in operation.
Iraq Is Hot! As a matter of fact, you may be so busy when you reach Iraq that you won't see much of anything for awhile. Probably you will feel Iraq first—and that means heat. Blazing heat. And dust. In the daytime Iraq can be one of the hottest spots in the world. If you happen to travel by train in the daytime, the leather seats may get so hot that you'll have to stand up. Most work is done between 6 a.m. and noon and perhaps an hour or two in the early evening. And yet the nights of these hot days are often uncomfortably cool.
Or maybe the first thing you notice will be the smells. You have heard and read a lot about the "mysterious East." You have seen moving pictures about the colorful life of the desert and the bazaars. When you actually get there you will look in vain for some of the things you have been led to expect. You will smell and feel a lot of things the movies didn't warn you about.
MEET THE PEOPLE
But don't get discouraged. Most Americans and Europeans who have gone to Iraq didn't like it at first. Might as well be frank about it. They thought it a harsh, hot, parched, dusty, and inhospitable land. But nearly all of these same people changed their minds after a few days or weeks, and largely on account of the Iraqi people they began to meet. So will you.
That tall man in the flowing robe you are going to see soon, with the whiskers and the long hair, is a first-class fighting man, highly skilled in guerilla warfare. Few fighters in any country, in fact, excel him in that kind of situation. If he is your friend, he can be a staunch and valuable ally. If he should happen to be your enemy—look out! Remember Lawrence of Arabia? Well, it was with men like these that he wrote history in the First World War.
But you will also find out quickly that the Iraqi is one of the most cheerful and friendly people in the world. Few people you have seen get so much fun out of work and everyday living. If you are willing to go just a little out of your way to understand him, everything will be o.k.
Differences? Of Course! Differences? Sure, there are differences. Differences of costume. Differences of food. Differences of manner and custom and religious beliefs. Different attitudes toward women. Differences galore.
But what of it? You aren't going to Iraq to change the Iraqis. Just the opposite. We are fighting this war to preserve the principle of "live and let live." Maybe that sounded like a lot of words to you at home. Now you have a chance to prove it to yourself and others. If you can, it's going to be a better world to live in for all of us.
Although relatively few Iraqis receive a formal education similar to yours, they are shrewd and intelligent and tend to believe what they hear and sec with their own ears and eyes. By what you do and how you act you can do a lot to win this war and the peace after it. Right now Iraq is threatened with invasion—as America is now. The Iraqis have some religious and tribal differences among themselves. Hitler has been trying to use these differences to his own ends. If you can win the trust and friendship of all the Iraqis you meet, you will do more than you may think possible to help bring them together in our common cause.
Needless to say, Hitler will also try to use the differences between ourselves and Iraqis to make trouble. But we have a weapon to beat that kind of thing. Plain common horse sense. Let's use it.
Hitler's game is to divide and conquer. Ours is to unite and win!
First, let's have a look at the country. We can't very well talk about places and people until we know where we are.
In the center of this guide you will find a map of
what is called the "Middle East." You will see by the
map, Iraq lies south of Turkey; east of Syria and
Palestine; north of Arabia; west of Iran
A Strategic Hot Spot. Iraq is thus a strategic part of the great "land bridge" between Europe and India—the road Hitler HOPES to use to join hands with his back-stabbing allies, the laps. Also, the Persian Gulf is an important back door for us to get supplies to our Russian allies. And even more, Iraq has great military importance for its oil fields, with their pipelines to the Mediterranean Sea. Yes, Iraq is a hot spot in more ways than one.
Iraq was formerly called Mesopotamia. Its history goes
back a tidy 5,000 years. By tradition the Garden of Eden
was located in this region. Hence it is often called "the
birthplace of mankind." It is certainly one of the oldest
settled regions in the world. Here it was that the ancient
cities of Babylon and Nineveh
Before the First World War, Mesopotamia (as it was
called then) was a part of Turkey. After the war the state
of Iraq was set up as a British mandate, with an Arab
The Cities. Iraq has only a few cities. Baghdad, the
largest, has a population of around 500,000, about like that
of Minneapolis or Kansas City. Mosul
Most of Iraq is desert country. Not great sandy wastes like the Sahara in Africa, but flinty, harsh, monotonous desert, treeless but covered with a thin scrub vegetation very much like our Southwest region. The only water in this region comes from waterholes, and these are jealously guarded. Water is more valuable than anything else in the desert, and for the Iraqi, to waste water would be like throwing money away.
In contrast to the dry deserts are the great green valleys
of the Tigris
At the northern end of these valleys is the important
oil field of Kirkuk
How the People Live. Nearly all farming in Iraq is dependent on irrigation, with water taken from the two great rivers. The most important crop is dates, which not only are the chief food of the people but also shipped to other countries. Grain, especially wheat, barley, rice, and millet is grown in large quantity. Also grown are cotton, sugar cane and legumes, with small quantities of citrus fruits.
Practically the only building material is dried mud, like the adobe used in the Southwestern U.S.A. It is admirably suited to the hot climate and you will find the inside of the flat-roofed Iraqi houses cool even in the noonday heat.
The Iraqi people are divided by occupation into the tradesmen in the cities, the farmers in the irrigated areas, and the nomads, who herd their sheep and camels on the desert, moving from place to place for fresh pastures.
The nomads and farmers cling to the native dress more than the city dwellers, who are often quite "westernized."
The nomads are divided into tribes headed by sheikhs (SHAYKH). These leaders are very powerful and should be shown great consideration. Townsmen, farmers, and nomads consider themselves as equals and should be treated as such.
THERE are a few Christians and Jews and other sects among the Iraqis, but by far the most people you will meet and see are Moslems. This means that they are followers of the religion founded by Mohammed. But you should not call it the Mohammedan religion, for the Moslems do not worship Mohammed as Christians worship Christ. They believe in one god, Allah, and that Mohammed was His prophet. The religion is called Islam and the people who believe in it are called Moslems.
The Moslem bible is known as the Koran and the Moslems worship in mosques (mosks). They are very devout in their religion and do not like to have "unbelievers" (to them you are an "unbeliever") come anywhere near their mosques. You can usually tell a mosque by its high tower. Keep away from mosques. Even though you may have visited mosques in Syria or Egypt, the mosques in Iraq must not be entered. If you try to enter one, you will be thrown out, probably with a severe beating. The Iraqi Moslems even resent unbelievers coming close to mosques. If you have blundered too near a mosque, get away in a hurry before trouble starts. The Moslem religion requires a man to pray five times a day. This is done by facing the holy city of Mecca and going through a series of prostrations. Don't stare at anyone who is praying, and above all do not make fun of him. Respect his religion as he will respect yours.
No Preaching. This isn't preaching. You probably belong to a church at home, and you know how you would feel towards anyone who insulted or desecrated your church. The Moslems feel just the same way, perhaps even more strongly. In fact, their feeling about their religion is pretty much the same as ours toward our religion, although more intense. If anything, we should respect the Moslems the more for the intensity of their devotion.
There are four towns in Iraq which are particularly
sacred to the Iraqi Moslems. These are Kerbela
It is a good idea in any foreign country to avoid any religious or political discussions. This is even truer in Iraq than most countries, because it happens that here the Moslems themselves are divided into two factions something like our division into Catholic and Protestant denominations—so don't put in your two cents worth when Iraqis argue about religion. There are also political differences in Iraq that have puzzled diplomats and statesmen. You won't help matters any by getting mixed up in them. Moreover, if you discuss foreign politics with them, you might be maneuvered into making statements that could be interpreted as criticisms of our Allies.
Your move is to stay out of political and religious arguments altogether. By getting into them you'll only help the Nazi propagandists who are trying to stir up trouble among the Iraqis.
IRAQI CUSTOMS AND MANNERS
MOST of the Iraqi customs and manners are religious in
their origin. For example, there is the month of fasting
each year called "Ramadan"
The Moslem day of rest is Friday, and their stores are closed on that day. In Baghdad and the other large cities many shops are closed on Saturday, the Jewish day of rest, while Christian shops are closed on Sunday.
Moslems, Christians, and Jews all have a number of religious holidays. Some of these are solemn fasts like Ramadan, others are colorful festivals. You will be wise to respect the observance of these holidays.
The "Evil Eye". Many of the Iraqis believe in the "evil eye". This is a good deal in their minds like putting a "hex" on a person is to people in parts of our country. If you stare at people, especially children, someone may think you are the possessor of an "evil eye", and are trying to put a curse on the person you are staring at. Some of the Iraqis think that the lens of a camera is an "evil eye", and you will make enemies by taking close-up snapshots and possibly wind up with a knife in your back. General views or street scenes will cause no trouble—except mosques. Don't try to photograph mosques.
Beggars are not numerous in Iraq. Those you will see live mainly in the cities and are mostly professionals, and it is not a good idea to give them money. If you do, the word will spread to all the beggars in the city that you are an easy mark. Of course, some of them may be deserving, and if you feel moved by their plight, give them a little something—but better be prepared to repeat.
Bargaining in the shops and bazaars is a great national pastime. You will have to bargain for almost everything you buy. The price first quoted is usually one-third to two-thirds higher than what you should pay. In bargaining the important thing is not to hurry. A little American horse trading will carry you a long way in this game.
Manners Are Important. Moslems pay much attention to good manners.
Handshaking in Iraq is considered an important part of good manners. You will be greeted with a handshake on every occasion that you meet an Iraqi. His handshake is cordial and sincere. Return it in the same spirit.
But do not touch or handle an Iraqi in any other way. Do not wrestle with him in fun, and don't slap him on the back. Any such contact is offensive to his idea of good manners. Above all never strike an Iraqi.
Do your swearing in English. Avoid the native oaths—you will not know their exact meaning and they may get you into trouble. Don't under any circumstances call an Iraqi a "dog", a "devil", a "native", or a "heathen". These terms are all deadly insults to him.
They do not drink liquor or eat pork. So respect their feelings and do not drink in their presence. They do not like to see others drink and it offends them to see others drunk. Never give them pork to eat or offer it to them even in fun.
Pigs are "unclean" to Moslems. So are dogs. If you happen to have a mascot dog, be particularly careful to keep him away from mosques.
Moslems do not let other people see them naked. Do not urinate in their presence. They do it squatting and dislike to see other people do it standing up. These things may seem trivial, but they are important if you want to get along well with the Iraqis.
Moslem Women. Moslem women do not mingle freely with men. The greater part of their time they spend at home and in the company of their families. Never make advances to Moslem women or try to attract their attention in the streets or other public places. Do not loiter near them when they are shopping. If a woman has occasion to lift her veil while shopping, do not stare or smile at her. Look the other way. These rules are extremely important. The Moslems will immediately dislike you and there will be trouble if you do not treat women according to their standards and customs.
These rules apply both to the cities and towns and to the villages and the desert. The village and desert women go unveiled more often than the women in the cities and seem to have more freedom. But the rules are still strict. Any advance on your part will mean trouble and plenty of it. Even when speaking to Iraqi men, no mention should be made of their female relatives. The Iraqi themselves follow this custom and would resent anyone, especially a foreigner, not doing the same.
To repeat—don't make a pass at any Moslem woman or there will be trouble. Anyway, it won't get you anywhere. Prostitutes do not walk the streets but live in special quarters of the cities.
Iraqi Hospitality. If you are entertained in an Iraqi city home, you will probably find dishes and silverware and customs somewhat like our own. But do not eat too much of the first course of a meal. There is probably more coming.
In the country there will probably be no table, plates, or silverware. You will be expected to sit on the ground as your host does. Follow his example. Roll up your right sleeve and eat with the tips of your right fingers—even if you are a southpaw. It is considered rude to eat with your left hand. If your host tears off tid-bits and hands them to you, eat them. In the country there will probably be only one course. After the meal, water will be brought to wash your hands and a towel to wipe them.
In the desert the customs are much the same as in the country, except that there is less variety in the food. You may be offered only some bread and milk or soured milk, like buttermilk. These people are poor and are offering you the best they have. You must not refuse it—but do not take too much.
Coffee drinking is equally popular in the city, country, or desert. Even a shopkeeper may offer you a small glass of coffee. Do not refuse it or throw it away half-drunk, even it it does not taste like our American coffee. If you are offered a second cup, take it, and also a third. But it is customary to refuse a fourth.
These are some general hints about manners. But the main thing is the SPIRIT of politeness and courtesy. If you show this, the Iraqis will understand and forgive any lapses you may make through not knowing their customs. If you show that you really want to be friendly, you'll get along.
THE native language of Iraq is Arabic. You will not need to know many words to get along. A few simple words will go a long way. Learn a few words and phrases—you will find a helpful list at the end of this guide—and talk to the Iraqis in their own language. They will like it even if your pronunciation is not the same as theirs. They will be especially pleased when you use their polite salutations even if you do not know any other words. When you hear one of them speak English—no matter how badly—you will understand the pleasure they feel when you speak to them in their language.
Many Iraqis speak a few words or at least understand English, especially those in the larger stores in the cities and others in the oil regions which were developed by the British, Occasionally among the wealthier classes French, Turkish, and sometimes German are spoken. In most of the Baghdad bazaars, Persian is understood. From Mosul north both Turkish and Kurdish are heard commonly.
CLIMATE AND HEALTH—SANITARY CONDITIONS
IRAQ is a hot country. This means: keep your headgear on when you are in the summer sun. In this kind of a climate it is very easy to let yourself be burned and think nothing of it. But next day you are likely to wake up with black blisters and possible fever. The headgear issued to you will be sufficient to protect you. But whatever you wear, be sure that it shades the back of your neck as well as the top of your head. If you expose the back of your neck you are inviting sunstroke. Don't, under any circumstances, take a sun bath.
In the desert, be prepared for extremes of temperature. The days are usually very hot. The nights can be uncomfortably cool.
Boil your drinking water or see that it is properly chlorinated. You will find that conditions of life in Iraq do not allow the degree of sanitation or cleanliness that we know.
Avoid eating unwashed vegetables and fruits. They may be contaminated by human excrement. Wash raw fruits and vegetables in water or alcohol or peel them before eating them, because the skins may have become contaminated by flies or by human contact. Avoid leafy vegetables altogether. Keep all food away from flies.
Diseases: Malaria and typhoid are two very serious fevers. You should guard against them in every possible way. Malaria is carried by a particular kind of mosquito which breeds in marshy areas, uncovered wells and cisterns and in shallow water pools. If at all possible, stay away from areas in which malaria is common. When you can't do this, sleep under nets and keep your arms and legs covered, especially at dusk.
Typhoid is contracted from unboiled water and from raw foods which have not been properly cleaned or peeled. Once again, avoid them.
Sandflies, which are smaller than mosquitos and which can get through an ordinary mosquito net, carry a slight three-day fever which is not serious but is very weakening. It is known as sandfly fever. Sandflies are most prevalent in midsummer. Coating yourself with a light oil will give you some protection from them.
You should be very careful about bugs and lice, which are common. Give yourself a frequent once-over for them. Scabies is a skin infection, produced by a parasite which feeds on the skin. It is extremely annoying and difficult to get rid of. However, it can be cured by sulphur ointment.
Intestinal diseases, such as dysentery and tapeworm, are very common in Iraq. These can be avoided, or at least made less severe, by extreme care in the water you drink and the food you eat.
Trachoma, a very common disease of the eye, can be picked up almost everywhere, even from shaking hands with someone and then touching your eyes. Don't rub or touch your eyes.
Toilets such as those in America are very scarce. You will have to get used to relieving yourself outdoors at any convenient spot. Be sure to get well off the main streets and well away from mosques, and out of sight as much as possible. You will have to carry your own supply of toilet paper.
There is a good deal of venereal disease around, so don't take chances.
CURRENCY, WEIGHTS, MEASURES, ETC.
Iraqi Currency. The rate of exchange of Iraqi money to
United States currency may vary a little from time to
time, so that the table below can give only approximate
ratios. The basis of Iraqi money is the "dinar"
An easy way to remember the values of the various fils pieces is to think of each fils as being worth just a little less than ½ cent in U.S. money.
The Moslem Calendar. The Moslem calendar is used in Iraq. The main thing to know about the Moslem calendar is that it is lunar, or based on the moon. Each of the 12 months has only 28 days. This means that the Moslem year is a little shorter than our year, so that a special date, such as the fast of Ramadan, will occur a little earlier each year.
Time. There are two ways of telling time in Iraq. The
official system is the "European system." That is,
a 24-hour clock, beginning at midnight, instead of a 12-hour
clock. So in railway timetables you may see that a train
is scheduled to arrive at 14 o'clock. That means at
2 p.m. as we reckon time. Or at 23 o'clock. which is
11 p.m. to Us. 24 o'clock is midnight. However, most of
the country, goes on the same
Weights and Measures. The metric system is used for all
official measurements of distance and area in Iraq. The
unit of length in the metric system is the "meter,"
which is 39.37 inches, or a little more than our yard. The
unit of road distance is the "kilometer," which is 1,000
The metric unit of square measure is the "hectare"
The unit of weight in the metric system is the "kilogram," which equals 2.2 pounds in our system.
Liquids in the metric system are measured by the "liter." A liter is a little more than one of our quarts.
SOME IMPORTANT DO'S AND DON'TS
Keep away from mosques.
Smoke or spit somewhere else—never in front of a mosque.
If you come near a mosque, keep moving (away) and don't loiter.
Keep silent when the Moslems are praying (which they do five times a day) and don't stare.
Discuss something else—NEVER religion or politics or women—with Moslems.
Remember the fear of the "evil eye." Don't stare at anyone. Don't point your camera in anyone's face.
Avoid offering opinions on internal politics.
Shake hands with the Iraqi; otherwise don't touch them or slap them on the back.
Remember that the Iraqi are a very modest people and avoid any exposure of the body in their presence.
Keep out of the sun whenever you can. When you can't, keep your head and neck covered.
Start eating only after your host has begun.
Eat with your right hand—never with your left, even if you are a southpaw.
Always tear bread with your fingers—never cut it.
Bread to the Moslems is holy. Don't throw scraps of it about or let it fall on the ground.
In the city eat only part of the first course. There may be more coming.
In the country leave some food in the bowl—what you leave goes to the women and children.
Don't offer Moslems food containing pork, bacon, or lard, or cooked in pork products. All such food is religiously "unclean" to them.
Don't eat pork or pork products in front of Moslems.
Be pleasant if Moslems refuse to eat meat you offer.
Don't offer Moslems alcoholic drinks. Drink liquor somewhere else—never in the presence of Moslems.
Knock before entering a private house. If a woman answers, wait until she has had time to retire.
Always respect the Moslem women. Don't stare at them. Don't smile at them. Don't talk to them or follow them. If you do any of these things, it means trouble for you and your unit.
In a house or tent, follow the rule of your host. If he takes off his shoes on entering, do the same.
If you are required to sit on the floor in an Iraqi house or tent, cross your legs while doing so.
When visiting, don't overstay your welcome. The third glass of tea or coffee is the signal to leave unless you are quartered there.
If you should see grown men walking hand in hand, ignore it. They are not "queer."
Be kind and considerate to servants. The Iraqis consider all people equals.
Avoid any expression of race prejudice. The people draw very little color line.
Talk Arabic if you can to the people. No matter how badly you do it, they will like it.
Shake hands on meeting and leaving.
On meeting an Iraqi, be sure to inquire after his health.
If you wish to give someone a present, make it sweets or cigarettes.
If you are stationed in the country, it is a good idea to take sweets and cigarettes with you when you visit an Iraqi's home.
Show respect toward all older persons. If serving food, the eldest person should be served first.
Be polite. Good manners are important to the Iraqis. Be hospitable.
Bargain on prices. Don't let shopkeepers or merchants overcharge you; but be polite.
Be generous with your cigarettes.
Above all, use common sense on all occasions. And remember that every American soldier is an unofficial ambassador of good will.
HINTS ON PRONOUNCING ARABIC
THESE are pronunciation hints to help you in listening to the Arabic language records which have been supplied to your troop unit. They will also help you with the pronunciation of additional words and phrases given in the vocabulary below, which are not included in the records.
Arabic is spoken over a great area in North Africa and the Near East. There are some differences between regions, both in pronunciation and the use of words. The dialect you are going to hear on this set of records is the Baghdad variety and you will be understood all over Iraq, except in the extreme north, and in most of Trans-Jordania. If you should go on to other regions, you will be given further information at that time. Don't worry about that now.
There is nothing very difficult about Arabic—except that you won't be able to read Arabic signs and newspapers you will see. That is because they use a different alphabet from ours. Therefore, the instructions and vocabulary below are not based on the written Arabic language, but are a simplified system of representing the language as it sounds. This system contains letters for all the sounds you must make to be understood. It does not contain letters for some of the sounds you will hear, but it will give you enough to get by on, both listening and speaking.
Here are a few simple rules to help you:
1. Accents. You know what the accented syllable of a word is, of course. It is the syllable which is spoken louder than the other syllables in the same word. We will show accented (loud) syllables in capital letters and unaccented syllables in small letters.
2. Vowels. These are the kinds of sounds we represent in English by a, e, i, o, u, ah, ay, ei, ai, au, ow, etc. Just follow the key below and you will have no trouble.
3. Consonants. The consonants are all the sounds that are not vowels. Pronounce them just as you know them in English. All consonants should be pronounced. Never "slight" them. Here are some special consonant sounds to learn.
LIST OF MOST USEFUL WORDS AND PHRASES
HERE is a list of the most useful words and phrases you will need in Arabic. You should learn these by heart. They are the words and phrases included on the Arabic language records, and appear here in the order they occur on the records.
[English—Simplified Arabic Spelling]
Greetings and General Phrases
If your are driving and ask the distance to another town, it will be given you in kilometers as often as miles.
One kilometer equal 5/8 of a mile. You need to know the numbers.
When you use the numbers with other words, you just say the number and add the other word.
But two kilometers you say "couple of kilometers" all in one word.
For "twenty-one", "thirty-two" and so forth, you put the number before the words for "twenty" and "thirty," just as we sometimes say "one and twenty," thus:
Days of the Week
ADDITIONAL WORDS AND PHRASES
House and Furniture
Food and Drink—Tobacco
Trades and Occupations
Phrases for Everyday
U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE: 1943
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