Iraq or Irak , officially Republic of Iraq, republic (2005 est. pop. 26,075,000), 167,924 sq mi (434,924 sq km), SW Asia. Iraq is situated in Southwest Asia and is bounded on the east by Iran on the south by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, on the west by Jordan and Syria and on the north by Turkey. Iraq formerly shared a neutral zone with Saudi Arabia that is now divided between the two countries. Baghdad is the capital and largest city. The country is divided into 18 provinces.
Iraq's mainly continental climate brings a wide range of temperature, with hot summers, particularly in the south, and cold winters, especially on the higher ground.
In the mountainous region of the north, summers can be a little cooler and humidity is lower than in the south. During the winter months (October to April) snow often falls on the mountains.
In the central areas of Iraq, summers are much hotter, with temperatures in Baghdad rising to about 33.3C (92F) in July and August. It is not unknown for temperatures to soar as high as 50.6C (123F) in this region. Winter in Baghdad brings a mean temperature of about 9.4C (49F). Temperatures in Basra range from 37C (98.6F) in summer to 14C (57.2F) in winter. Dust storms are an unpleasant feature of the central plains region.
The southern area around the Gulf has extremely high humidity and some of the highest temperatures recorded anywhere in the world.
Rainfall is heaviest in the north-east and falls mostly between October and May. On the central plain, however, less than 152mm (about 6 inches) falls annually. Desert areas receive virtually no rainfall.
Nearly 80% of the population of Iraq is Arabic-speaking, while over 95% is Muslim (Sunni and Shiite) in religion. There are about twice as many Shiites as Sunnis, the latter sect being more numerous throughout the majority of Arab countries. The hilly uplands of NE Iraq are primarily inhabited by Kurds, who are Sunni Muslims; other large minorities of Iraq include Turkomans (Turks), Armenians, and Assyrians (Nestorian Christians). Most of the country's once large Jewish population emigrated to Israel in the early 1950s.
Although the data are not absolutely reliable, the government estimates that 76 % of the people are Arab; 19 % are Kurds; while Turkomans, Assyrians, Armenians, and other comparatively small groups make up the rest. All but a small percentage adhere to Islam. The Islamic component is split into two main sects, Sunni and Shia, with the Shias by far the majority. Officially the government sets the number of Shias at 55 %.
The ancient Semitic peoples of Iraq, the Babylonians and Assyrians, and the non-Semitic Sumerians were long ago assimilated by successive waves of immigrants. The Arab conquests of the 7th century brought about the Arabization of central and southern Iraq. A mixed population of Kurds and Arabs inhabit a transition zone between these and Iraqi Kurdistan. More than three-fourths of Iraq's people are Arabs, about a fifth are Kurds, and the remainder consists of small minority groups.
Arabic is the official language of Iraq and is spoken by the majority of the population. The Kurds speak Kurdish. Armenian and Assyrian are spoken in rural areas in the north and west.
The dictatorship of Saddam Hussein collapsed on April 9, 2003, after U.S. and British forces invaded the country. Sovereignty was returned to Iraq on June 28, 2004.