The border with Iran has been a continuing source of conflict and was partially responsible for the outbreak in 1980 of the present war. The terms of a treaty negotiated in 1937 under British auspices provided that in one area of the Shatt al Arab the boundary would be at the low water mark on the Iranian side. Iran subsequently insisted that the 1937 treaty was imposed on it by "British imperialist pressures," and that the proper boundary throughout the Shatt was the thalweg. The matter came to a head in 1969 when Iraq, in effect, told the Iranian government that the Shatt was an integral part of Iraqi territory and that the waterway might be closed to Iranian shipping.
Through Algerian mediation, Iran and Iraq agreed in March 1975 to normalize their relations, and three months later they signed a treaty known as the Algiers Accord. The document defined the common border all along the Shatt estuary as the thalweg. To compensate Iraq for the loss of what formerly had been regarded as its territory, pockets of territory along the mountain border in the central sector of its common boundary with Iran were assigned to it. Nonetheless, in September 1980 Iraq went to war with Iran, citing among other complaints the fact that Iran had not turned over to it the land specified in the Algiers Accord. This problem has subsequently proved to be a stumbling block to a negotiated settlement of the ongoing conflict.
In 1988 the boundary with Kuwait was another outstanding problem. It was fixed in a 1913 treaty between the Ottoman Empire and British officials acting on behalf of Kuwait's ruling family, which in 1899 had ceded control over foreign affairs to Britain. The boundary was accepted by Iraq when it became independent in 1932, but in the 1960s and again in the mid-1970s, the Iraqi government advanced a claim to parts of Kuwait. Kuwait made several representations to the Iraqis during the war to fix the border once and for all but Baghdad has repeatedly demurred, claiming that the issue is a potentially divisive one that could enflame nationalist sentiment inside Iraq. Hence in 1988 it was likely that a solution would have to wait until the war ended.
In 1922 British officials concluded the Treaty of Mohammara with Abd al Aziz ibn Abd ar Rahman Al Saud, who in 1932 formed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The treaty provided the basic agreement for the boundary between the eventually independent nations. Also in 1922 the two parties agreed to the creation of the diamond-shaped Neutral Zone of approximately 7,500 square kilometers adjacent to the western tip of Kuwait in which neither Iraq nor Saudi Arabia would build permanent dwellings or installations. Beduins from either country could utilize the limited water and seasonal grazing resources of the zone. In April 1975, an agreement signed in Baghdad fixed the borders of the countries. Despite a rumored agreement providing for the formal division of the Iraq-Saudi Arabia Neutral Zone, as of early 1988 such a document had not been published. Instead, Saudi Arabia was continuing to control oil wells in the offshore Neutral Zone and had been allocating proceeds from Neutral Zone oil sales to Iraq as a war payment.
Most geographers, including those of the Iraqi government, discuss the country's geography in terms of four main zones or regions: the desert in the west and southwest; the rolling upland between the upper Tigris and Euphrates rivers (in Arabic the Dijlis and Furat, respectively); the highlands in the north and northeast; and the alluvial plain through which the Tigris and Euphrates flow (see fig.5). Iraq's official statistical reports give the total land area as 438,446 square kilometers, whereas a United States Department of State publication gives the area as 434,934 square kilometers.
The desert zone, an area lying west and southwest of the Euphrates River, is a part of the Syrian Desert, which covers sections of Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The region, sparsely inhabited by pastoral nomads, consists of a wide, stony plain interspersed with rare sandy stretches. A widely ramified pattern of wadis--watercourses that are dry most of the year--runs from the border to the Euphrates. Some Wadis are over 400 kilometers long and carry brief but torrential floods during the winter rains.
The uplands region, between the Tigris north of Samarra and the Euphrates north of Hit, is known as Al Jazirah (the island) and is part of a larger area that extends westward into Syria between the two rivers and into Turkey. Water in the area flows in deeply cut valleys, and irrigation is much more difficult than it is in the lower plain. Much of this zone may be classified as desert.
The northeastern highlands begin just south of a line drawn from Mosul to Kirkuk and extend to the borders with Turkey and Iran. High ground, separated by broad, undulating steppes, gives way to mountains ranging from 1,000 to nearly 4,000 meters near the Iranian and Turkish borders. Except for a few valleys, the mountain area proper is suitable only for grazing in the foothills and steppes; adequate soil and rainfall, however, make cultivation possible. Here, too, are the great oil fields near Mosul and Kirkuk. The northeast is the homeland of most Iraqi Kurds.
The alluvial plain begins north of Baghdad and extends to the Persian Gulf. Here the Tigris and Euphrates rivers lie above the level of the plain in many places, and the whole area is a delta interlaced by the channels of the two rivers and by irrigation canals. Intermittent lakes, fed by the rivers in flood, also characterize southeastern Iraq. A fairly large area (15,000 square kilometers) just above the confluence of the two rivers at Al Qurnah and extending east of the Tigris beyond the Iranian border is marshland, known as Hawr al Hammar, the result of centuries of flooding and inadequate drainage. Much of it is permanent marsh, but some parts dry out in early winter, and other parts become marshland only in years of great flood.
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