What is now Iraq was once the ‘Cradle of Civilisation’ of ancient Mesopotamia; a centre of learning and trade in which Sumerian culture was developed. The recent history of Iraq has seen the country become embroiled in various upheavals and conflicts throughout most of the last three decades. It is only now that Iraq is emerging from the bloody aftermath of Saddam Hussain’s dictatorship, and the American led invasion which ousted him, into a still uncertain future.
Iraq is one of the most diverse of Middle Eastern countries and is home to people of varied heritage, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Kurds and Assyrians, which means that Iraqi culture is also very diverse. To the north of the country lies Iraqi Kurdistan; this has its own unique culture, and its own local book and film industries. Iraq has in fact only been in existence in its present form since the 1920s when the three ex-Ottoman provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra were administered together under the British mandate. Trying to combine three very different cultural and ethnic areas as one state has resulted in various ethnic conflicts and resentments coming to the fore, many of which are still in evidence today.
The literature of Iraq has often been defined by the political context in which it was produced. In the late 1970s literature was expected to galvanise support for the ruling Ba'ath Party. From the late 1980s onwards, Iraqi exile literature developed, in response to the repression which characterised Iraq during this period. Late 20th Century Iraqi literature includes prominent writers such as Saadi Youssef, Fadhil Al-Azzawi, Mushin Al-Ramli, Salah Al-Hamdani and Sherko Fatah.
The music of Iraq encompasses Arabic, Assyrian and Chaldean music and is recognisable mainly because of the use of the traditional Iraqi instruments the Oud, the Santur and the Joza. The most renowned Oudists are Ahmed Mukhtar,Naseer Shamma, Rahim Alhaj,Sahar Tahaand Munir Bashir. Kulthum and Fairouz are two woman singers renowned for their voices and especially loved in Iraq.
The first film projected in Iraq was in 1909, but it wasn't until the 20s that film became a cultural activity. The drain on national resources from the 1980 Iraq-Iran war brought film production to a near halt. The few films put into production were mainly intent on glorifying a mythical Iraqi history or celebrating Saddam Hussein's rule. The films currently produced in Iraq have strongly been influenced by the recent war and its aftermath.