Geography and Environment
The region of modern Iraq and much of Syria is also known as Mesopotamia. This is a Greek word which means ‘between the rivers'. There are two main rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, and they flow through many varied landscapes. The rivers start in high mountains where there is a lot of rainfall. They then rush through grasslands which are important for growing wheat and herding sheep and cattle (ancient Assyria). Their final journey is across a very flat plain (ancient Babylonia) where the only plants are found close to the rivers. Beyond is sandy deserts or dry earth. Here the rivers split into many different streams until the water eventually flows into the sea.
In the north there is plenty of wood and stone but the further south one goes there is less and less. On the flat lands of Babylonia there was only mud, reeds and date palms. Unlike the rainy north there is very infrequent rainfall on the southern plains and farmers have to bring water from the rivers to their fields in ditches and canals. When the rain does fall it is torrential and turns the area into a sea of mud. However, the soil is very fertile once it is watered.
Water still remains an important issue. In modern times the building of several large dams across the Tigris, Euphrates and their tributaries has changed local environmental conditions and has caused large areas to be flooded.
In addition, the marsh areas of Iraq have been gradually drained, increasing the amount of available farm land but involving the resettlement of people living in that area.
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