The Spread of the English “Language” in Iraq


This essay will discuss thoroughly how the English language effects Iraq in three different dimensions; historical, educational and cultural. This is some background information about Iraq. Iraq is a nation situated in the middle, surrounded by Turkey, Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. It is made up of many ethnic groups, religions, and languages. The two largest ethnic groups are Arabs and Kurds, but there are Assyrians, Turkmen, Shabakis, Yazidis, Armenians, Mandeans, Circassians. 95% of the 36 million citizens are Muslims, although Christians, Yarsans, Yezidism and Mandeanism exists too. The capital of Iraq is Baghdad, it sits between the two rivers Euphrates and Tigris that run through all of Iraq. The area between the two rivers is historically known as Mesopotamia, or the Cradle of Civilization. Iraq is where humanity began to write, read, and create laws and live in cities within an organized government. The name of modern day Iraq translates from the original word  Uruk; an ancient city of Sumer and later Babylonia. Iraq is the first place of the world’s first writing system, this is when recorded history was created and recorded.  Also, writing first began in Iraq as well as mathematics, astronomy, astrology, written law, medicine. Also, organized religion was first recorded in Iraq.


Iraq is a place where many invasions took place; most of these invasions had been by leading western countries and this is what has brought English to Iraq. The French and British contracted a secret agreement in 1916 to split Mesopotamia/Iraq into zones of British and French. While the Ottoman Empire was falling apart. The British later went to ignore this agreement when they had control over the oil-rich province in 1918 (Global Policy Forum. (n.d.)). Through the use of airplanes and armored cars, the British tried to impose colonial rules in Iraq, using air attacks was also used to force people to pay tax (sluglett, 1976). “The aim was to turn Iraq, … Into a showpiece of the new philosophy” V.G. Kiernan. The British faced complications from the Kurdish ‘Rebels” in the north of Iraq where the expected oil. Also, they faced difficulties by Wahhabis in the south from the new neighboring Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Historian David Omissi (1996) documents how the British would bomb any village that opposed or resisted the British colonial rule. ’During one fire raid, pilots machine-gunned women and children as they fled from their homes’. Although Winston Churchill supported these methods, he later goes on to question them. In May 1920 Churchill was an outspoken supporter of applying this bombing tactic, telling a cabinet conference that poison gas “should be definitely accepted as a weapon of war.” In another incident in 1919, he said, “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas . . . I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against the uncivilized tribes.” (Ebling, 2010). Falsely creating the boundaries of Iraq, and with little thought to the different groups that are now locked within the same borders, the British continued to set up a “native” government through which they could rule the country under the terms of the League of Nations mandate. With the acceptance of the British Cabinet, Churchill conspired to place Faisal as the king of Iraq. A restricted and controlled election procedure was set, and Faisal was placed as the role of ruler of Iraq in 1 9 2 2. The issue with this was that Faisal was a Sunni which was a minority group in Iraq. Yet, the Sunni-controlled Iraq for a very long time till the dictatorship of Saddam. England sided with the Kurds because they inhabited the areas of Iraq that contained the most oil 1918-1925.

Teaching English in Iraq has been ongoing since the British entered Iraq in 1917. The British influence altered education and many Iraqis hold learning English to a high standard, noting that it is a global language and in order to succeed you must know English.

This is an interview between Arditti (2007) and an Iraqi teacher:

IRAQI: “Students start learning English at the fifth stage primary, at the age of eleven, up to the age of eighteen, the end of the secondary schooling. And then they study different programs of English according to their faculties. For instance, students of medicine study most of their courses in English. Other colleges teach for one year also, but the students of English also study four years of English.”

AA: “Is English a required course in schools?”

IRAQI: “It is required. And now, especially after the fall of the regime, many people try to learn English because now Iraq is an open country. Many people try to travel, try to pursue their study, try to communicate in English, try to find a job also while learning English.”


Learning English in Iraq is now a very normal thing to do, in fact, English learning in Iraq has been around for a very long time especially after the colonization of the British. Even though I do not have plenty of information on this through academic sources, I can see my own community and what they say about how English teaching in modern Iraq. After asking my mother about English teaching in Iraq I established that in order to enter university in Iraq students had to pass English in their last year in high school, this makes learning English very hard and very stressful. My mother recalls disliking English and having to re-sit her exam because she needed it to enter university, although she went on to study a bachelor of Arts which had nothing to do with English. AMIDEAST an English language teaching institution that has been set up in more than one country in the middle east. It established its first offices in Baghdad, Iraq 1953. later it closed in 1967 due to regional tensions. The office in Baghdad helped to promote higher American education in Iraq. The offices reopened in 2004. Also, there is the  American University of Iraq in Sulaimaniya. Oil is and has been the number one drive for foreigners to come to Iraq and pretend to come with peace but their true motive is to make business and gain money. This is why most of Iraq’s newly founded English-teaching universities are situated in areas that have been geographically known to be the richest in oil. Teaching English in Iraq is still present till today, America found it to be useful to place English-teaching universities in rich oil provinces such as Kurdistan.



Iraqi women in the 1970’s during the government of General Abdul-Kareem Kasim, enjoyed their freedom and legal rights as citizens of Iraq. The blogger Weam Namou posts and talks about how her sisters during the 70s who enjoyed more freedom and had more rights during this era (Namou, 2015). The deterioration of women’s rights began when the US-UN (1990) imposed economic sanctions on Iraq’s and female illiteracy began to increase in rural areas because families could no longer send their kids to school. Iraq now is trying very hard to fit in the new cultural world. Also, Iraq is heavily connected to American television which makes them heavily influenced by American culture even after the American army leaving Iraq, the majority of Iraqis are adopting American English as the English they learn, where  the older generation believes in the British as the true and pure English. My own mother prefers British English more than American English, she claims that it is much easier to understand when people speak English with a British accent. Although, America resembles fear to some Iraqis and it also resembles a future to others. Majority of are wrapped up the in idea that the west is a much better place to live in, many Iraqis left Iraq because of Sadam Hussien’s laws.  Iraqis wish to leave Iraq for either America or Europe in the hope of finding a better life.


“This belongs to Iraq,” reads the poster held by Iraqi student Zeidoun Alkinani at the Babylonian Ishtar Gate in the Pergamon Museum of Berlin (Mascarenhas, 2013). Dug and stolen by German archaeologists in what is today Iraq, the Ishtar Gate is one of the many ancient artifacts that was taken back to Western countries before World War I as part of a larger trend that European colonizers thought was okay to do. In 2002, Iraqi officials insisted Germany to return the gate. The gate was not returned along with many other ancient artifacts that belong to Iraq. Although this fact has nothing to do with English, but it was a huge part of the spread of English to Iraq.


Also, the Iraqi dialect in Baghdad has many English words incorporated within it, such as; all these words have the same meaning and similar pronunciation. Making English much easier for Iraqis because it is heavily incorporated in their language. This is due to the colonization of the British 1916 through the Sykes and picot agreement between the British and the French.


Kettle Kitley
Cup Koob
Glass Glass
Table Tabla
Lamp Lampa
Battery pattery
Toilet towalet
Jacket Chaket
Camera Camera
Douche Doosh
Tennis Tennis
Short Short



In conclusion Iraq was a subject of foreign colonization and invasion time after time causing it to become a constantly changing nation. The learning and the use of English is a huge part of the average Iraqi’s life. Also an enormous part of the Iraqi dialect has English words incorporated within it. Iraq today is still mourning and putting back together its wounds from the American invasion of 2004, history appears to repeat itself; in 1917 lieutenant Maud came into Iraq as a “liberator”, his speech was very parallel with the George W. Bush speech in 2004 as the American forces entered Iraq ” military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people”.  English invasion has indeed changed Iraq culturally, educationally, and politically, this is why Iraq today is a very big topic in the media. It is a growing nation which recently has had English speaking television and social media introduced to it. This is creating a new Iraq.


Arditti, Avi. “English Teaching in the Arab World: Insights From Iraq and Libya.” VOA. Avi Arditti, 28 Mar. 2007. Web. 29 May 2016.

Baker, R., & Borjesson, K. (2011, February 17). TruthOut Archive. Retrieved May 29, 2016, from

Ebeling, R. M. (2010, July 05). Churchill’s Folly: How Winston Churchill Created Modern Iraq. Retrieved May 29, 2016, from

Fisk, R. (2004, June 17). Global Policy Forum. Retrieved May 29, 2016, from

Full text: George Bush’s address on the start of war. (2003). Retrieved June 23, 2016, from

Global Policy Forum. (n.d.). Retrieved June 14, 2016, from

Global Policy Forum. (n.d.). Retrieved May 29, 2016, from

Iraq/AMIDEAST. (n.d.). Retrieved May 29, 2016, from

Namou, W. (2015, January 26). Iraq’s Good Old Days. Retrieved May 29, 2016, from

Mascarenhas, H. (2013). 9 Priceless Artifacts Museums Should Return to Their Home Countries. Retrieved May 29, 2016, from

Omissi, D. (n.d.). Global Policy Forum. Retrieved May 29, 2016, from

Sluglett, P. (1976). Global Policy Forum. Retrieved May 29, 2016, from

Sluglett, P. (1976). Global Policy Forum. Retrieved May 29, 2016, from


Shadid, A. (2009). U.S. Occupation Will End, but Its Cultural Influences on Iraq Will Live on. Retrieved May 29, 2016, from





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Fadak Almashat

welcome to lala land of fools. Here, you will experience words on a different level. Enjoy.

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