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Instructions for American Servicemen in Iraq During World War II

by United States Army and John A. Nagl

Hardcover, 44 pages, Univ of Chicago Pr, List Price: $10 |


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Instructions for American Servicemen in Iraq During World War II
United States Army and John A. Nagl

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Excerpt: Instructions For American Servicemen In Iraq During World War II



Copyright © 2007 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-84170-0


IntroductionWhat Is This Iraq?.................................3Meet The People....................................4The Country........................................6The Moslems........................................10Iraqi Customs and Manners..........................13The Language.......................................18Climate and Health.................................19Currency, Weights and Measures.....................24Some Important Do's and Don'ts.....................27Hints on Pronouncing Arabic........................31Useful Words and Phrases...........................34A Glossary.........................................39

Chapter One


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 f act, 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. Yon 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.


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, excell 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 see 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 (EE-RAHN) (Persia); and just touches the Persian Gulf at one corner. IL is about the size of the State of Montana.

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 Jabs. 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 mare ways than one.

Iraq was formerly called Mesopotamia. Its history goes back a tidy 5,00o 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 (NI-ne-ve) flourished in Bible times. You will very likely see their ruins, some of the great ruins of the world.

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 drab chieftain, Feisal (FAY-sal), as king, In 1932 Iraq became an independent state-a "limited monarchy" of the English tyke, with an elected legislature. The present king is Feisal II, the grandson of the first king. Close relations have been maintained with the British, and the country is now guarded by British troops to prevent the Germans from gaining control.

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 (MO-sul) in the oil region has a population of over 100,000, Suq al-Shu yukh (SOOQ ash-shu-OOKH) about the same, and Basrah (BAS-ra) on the Persian Gulf, the most important port, has about 70,000.

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 (TAI-gris) and Euphrates (yoo-FRAY-teez) Rivers. These two important rivers rise in the Kurdistan (KUR-di-stan) mountains of Turkey, north and west of Iraq. After flowing across the country in parallel channels, they join together and empty into the Persian Gulf through one mouth. In the valleys of these two rivers nine-tenths of the 3 1/2 million people (about the population of Chicago) live.

At the northern end of these valleys is the important oil field of Kirkuk (kir-KOOK). The field was discovered in 1927 but it was not until 1935 that production began in earnest. Twin pipe-lines have been constructed to the ports of Tripoli in Syria and Haifa (HAI-fa) in Palestine, on the Mediterranean Sea. These fields and pipe-lines are among the richest prizes Hitler would like to grab, and they are heavily guarded. Guarding or defending them may be among your most important military duties, for this oil is the source of supply for the armies of the Middle East and India, and also feeds the Mediterranean fleet.

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 (ker-be-LAA), Nejef (NE-jef), Kadhiman (KAA-di-MAYN) (near Baghdad), and Samarra. Unless you are ordered to these towns, it is advisable to stay away from them.

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 f actions 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.


MOST of the Iraqi customs and manners are religious in their origin. For example, there is the moth of fasting each year called "Ramadan" (ra-ma-DAHN). This period is similar to the Lenten period in many of the Christian Churches. In 1942 Ramadan begins September 12th. In 1943 it will be about two weeks earlier. During this period the Moslems do not eat, drink, or smoke between sunrise and sunset. Avoid offering, or asking them for food, drink, or smokes at this time, except after sunset. All hesitations and refusals at this period should be accepted without any attempts at persuasion. Any drawing of blood, during this period, even if accidental, such as a scratch or a nosebleed, may have serious consequences. Remember that Moslem tempers are very short during this month as yours would be under similar circumstances.

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 bazzars 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 aid customs.