Iraq’s history and culture has deep roots, deeper than almost any other nation or people in the world.
Iraq has been host to human beings for millennia. In about the year 4,000 BC – think about that for a moment – the country was host to the Sumerian people. Their kingdom lasted until about 1,700 BCE, at which time Hammurabi established the Babylonian empire. In 323 BCE Babylonia was conquered by the Persian empire, which ruled it until the Arab invasions came along in the middle of the sixth century CE. Since then, Iraq has been largely Arab in nature – Arabs make up three-fourths of its population, with the rest comprised of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomans, Chaldeans, Armenians, Yazidis, and Jews.
As a result of this history, Arabic is the dominant language of the country. There are dialects and varieties of Arabic everywhere; the form of Arabic spoken in daily life in Iraq is very much the same as that spoken in nearby Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. In the areas of the country dominated by the Kurds, Kurdish is the prevailing language although many Kurds do speak Arabic out of simple practicality. Kurdish is not a Semitic language like Arabic. On a much smaller scale you’ll find Aramaic, Turkic, Armenian, and Persian being spoken in Iraq.
Arab Culture and Sectarianism
The impact of the Arab conquest remains the single most important historical factor in Iraq. Iraq remains an Arabic nation, and most of the population is Muslim. Unfortunately, the Muslim population is split into two sects, the Sunnis and the Shiites. The Sunni religion is the majority religion in the overall Muslim world, but is a minority in Iraq. Under the boot of a repressive government such as Saddam Hussein’s, the rivalry between these two groups was kept in check, but in the chaos that has dominated Iraq since the war the rising violence between these two groups has become a daily fact of life. This is exacerbated by the fact that the Sunnis dominated the regime of Hussein despite being the minority, and the resentment felt by Shiites over this unfairness continues to simmer into open anger.
Today Iraq is a country in turmoil, but still rooted in the epic history that goes back to the earliest moments of mankind’s story.