Cross Cultural Communication with Iraqis

The Iraqi people were denied from Cross-Cultural Communication with the rest of the world for about 30 years for several reasons.

 The consecutive wars, UN sanctions and the old Saddam Husain regime policies. All that resulted in poor Cross-Cultural communications with foreigners in a wide variety of sectors.
We can summaries the problem in that “Iraqis did not have contact with Foreign Cultures for three decades”.

For the following reasons: 

1) Iraq had four wars in the past three decades, Iraq-Iran war, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Desert Saber, and Operation Iraq Freedom. These wars kept the Iraqi people occupied and didn’t give the chance to mingle with rest of the world.

2) The Iraq sanctions were a near-total financial and trade embargo imposed by the United Nations Security Council on Iraq. They began August 6, 1990, four days after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, stayed l until May 2003, certain portions persisting later until they were completely suspended two months ago. These sanctions prevented Iraqis from the many Cross-Cultural privileges and involvements like studies, art festivals participations, sports events, trade, foreign investments and many other aspects that could give them an idea about other nations.

3) The fallen Saddam Husain regime applied several laws and procedures to prevent Iraqis from communicating with the rest of the world to preserve his position and maintain his control over the country, he forbid using cell phones, internet connections and satellite TV depriving Iraqis from the simplest ways of contacting to other cultures. Only recently (after 2003) Iraqis were able to obtain such services.

4) Some of the Iraq's neighboring countries which in known with for their hostility /opposition to Western civilizations took advantage of the Iraqis situation in the lack of Cross Cultural Communications and picturing Foreigners as enemies pushing Iraqis away and reducing the possibilities of any kind of cultural communication, this shows specially in the influential religious parties working in Iraq which takes its orders from the neighboring countries.

These circumstances applies on Iraqis who are currently with age range of 5 to 40 years old, the oldest of this portion was born in the late seventies, that means when the Iraq – Iran war started in 1980 they were only children, the rest were born later during the same war and during the siege that ended in 2003.

Several international organizations took part in the development process in Iraq, Cultural communication was a big challenge that they confronted and still confronting, unable to understand a particular behavior sign or a move Leads to unpredictable problems which considered an obstacle for doing the job right.

The language barrier has always been something to think of when conducting the simplest training course for Iraqis, not many foreigners are fluent in Arabic, few Iraqis knows English and who knows English will not understand the dialect and so on.

Here are some simple points and behaviors that you might want to consider to help you improve your cross cultural communication skills with Iraqis:

Have a Good Greeting
Muslims are 85% to 90% of the Iraqi people, their official greeting is Al-Salam Alikoum, pronounced as (Assalam Alikoum) it means Peace Be Upon You, when you greet them with it you announce that you came to them with peace and you don’t intend them with any means of harm or you don’t have a grudge in your heart. Performing this greeting a good Muslim is obliged to greet you with the same greeting or better, he is also committed (by Islam) to go through with the peace offer that you announced in the greeting.

Slow Down When you Talk
If the other party knows some English, you should not speak  fast or at normal speed. slow down, speak clearly and ensure your pronunciation is intelligible, give your listener a chance to keep up. 

Separate Questions Individually
Do not ask multiple questions at a time, in such situation you will not get all of the answers, mostly one of these question may have been comprehended and will be answered. Let your listener answer one question at a time.

Take Turns in Talking
Cross cultural communication is enhanced through taking turns to talk, making a point and then listening to the response, trying to understand his opinion.

Write Words Down
If you are not sure whether something has been understood from both sides write it down and check it at a later time, learning two or three words a day will enhance your ability to obtain new understanding to the Iraqi culture/language within one month.

Be Encouraging & Supportive
Effective cross cultural communication is all about being comfortable. Giving encouragement to those with weak English gives them confidence, support and a trust in you.

Check Meanings
When communicating across cultures never assume the other party has understood. Be an active listener. Summarize what has been said in order to verify it. This is a very effective way of ensuring accurate cross cultural communication has taken place.

Avoid Negative Questions
Many cross cultural communication misunderstandings have been caused by the use of negative questions and answers. In English we answer 'yes' if the answer is affirmative and 'no' if it is negative. In other cultures a 'yes' or 'no' may only be indicating whether the questioner is right or wrong. For example, the response to "Are you not coming?" may be 'yes', meaning 'Yes, I am not coming.'

Avoid Iraqi Slang
Even the most well educated foreigner will not have a complete knowledge of the Iraqi slang, idioms and sayings. The danger is that the words will be understood but the meaning missed.  Most Iraqis knows Good Arabic which is used in education they will understand.

Be Sure of your Interpreter
Translators and interpreters have the habit of summarizing their translated words, while you’re trying to explain your point in length, the interpreter might jump some words to save time. In this case some of the details will not reach the listener. Make sure of that you interpreter fully understands that you want him to translate the full sentence;  if he didn’t (Change him), the best translator who can pass a joke from a culture to another culture and make the other side laugh, that is the most capable interpreter in my opinion.

Watch the Humor
Humor is most difficult to interpret in cross cultural communications, Iraqis are fun people they like jokes and laughter, but unless you’re very confident of your interpreter and you know that he/she is very, very capable Do Not make any jokes, there is a big chance that you will be embarrassed because nobody laughed or your humor was miss understood. That doesn’t mean that you have to be stiff; a simple smile would be more than enough.

Give Rest for your Interpreter
In most cases interpreters work for one hour after that they lose their concentration and efficiency, it is very helpful that give him rest or maybe replace him for some time. You might consider arranging additional interpreters in advance if you know that you have breakaway groups, extra interpreters is determined depending on the project size, duration and number of the breakaway sessions/groups.

Cross-cultural awareness is not limited with the above points, these are only simple remarks that you should be aware of in your trainings or meetings, dealing with different cultures requires professionals and more advanced cross cultural awareness.


If you would like to know more about Cross-cultural Communication with Iraqis, or you need  Cross-cultural training in Iraq for you or your staff, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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