Expats moving to Iraq should expect to experience elements of culture shock. Religion plays an important role in everyday life in Iraq. It's important to be sensitive to Iraqi cultural norms and make personal adjustments to best accommodate interactions with the local population.
While expat assignments in Iraq tend to be fairly short, those who make the effort to learn about local culture and engage in a meaningful way with Iraqis will find their time in the country to be a more fruitful experience.
Language barrier in Iraq
Arabic and Kurdish are the official languages of Iraq. While Arabic is the official language of business, expats will find that English is also widely spoken. In some cases, expats might want to consider arranging an interpreter to facilitate important communication. It is also wise to have any official documents and agendas translated into Arabic to ensure that communication is transparent.
Expats who make the effort to learn some basic Arabic greetings will find that their efforts are appreciated.
Religion in Iraq
Regardless of the ethnic groupings in Iraq, the vast majority of Iraqis are Muslim. The position of Islam in Iraq has altered quite markedly as the country has gone through political transitions. Although Saddam Hussein's regime was characterised as secular, the current Iraqi state has used Islam to legitimise its rule and actions.
Islam informs Iraqi society by governing political, legal and social behaviour, and most Iraqis look to the Quran for moral instruction. Expats will become familiar with the sound of the call to prayer, which happens five times a day. The country comes to a standstill on Fridays, as it's a day of congregational prayer. Accordingly, the weekend for most companies falls on Fridays and Saturdays in Iraq.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. This also means that Iraqi businesses operate on a reduced schedule. During this period, expats should refrain from eating or drinking in front of Muslim colleagues.
Family and honour in Iraq
Family is of paramount importance in Iraqi culture. The extended family is both a political and social force. Families hold their members responsible for their conduct, and any wrongdoing is thought to bring shame upon the entire family. Loyalty to the family comes before other social and business relationships.