HomeFeaturesDailyBriefingsRapidReconSpecial ReportsAbout Us

Note on Iraqi Geographic Nomenclature

In commenting on a recent InBrief of mine (Second Battle of Baghdad Underway), "Soldier's Dad" made an important point, but aside from the substantive issue, it raised an issue nomenclature that may need some clarification. During the course of the article I referred to six provinces which the Arab newspaper Al-Hayat indicated were under Iraqi security control. Soldier's Dad responded, in part: "The August Battlespace Map shows Dohuk, Sallahadin, Sulimaniya, Najaf, Babil, Wasit, Qadisiyah and Muthana under either IA or Provincial Iraqi control."

Part of the problem is that there is significant inconsistency between his source and mine, and I've addressed that issue in the comment. But this also emphasizes the problem of inconsistent spellings and transliterations. I've provided a standardized spelling list for Iraqi provinces and capitals below, but bear in mind that the diversity of spellings means that this list will never match exactly those used in maps or other sources elsewhere. As a helpful guide for non-Arabic proficient readers, I've developed some guidelines:

1) As a general rule, here at ThreatsWatch we usually spell names as closely to their Arabic pronunciation as possible except where a literal translation would be awkward. Thus An-Najaf becomes Al-Najaf, because the doubling of the 'n' depends upon an Arabic grammar rule irrelevant for our purposes here. But we write Muqtada rather than the more commonly used Moqtada, since it is pronounced with an 'u' in the first syllable.

2) There is no standardized spelling for many Arab names, and so while the grandson of Muhammad who was killed in the 7th century is usually called "Husayn," and the former Iraqi dictator "Hussein," these names are identical. The inconsistency can be seen in the first names of - as we spell them - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as currently used in some prominent news sources:

Washington Post - Moqtada/Nuri
New York Times - Moktada/Nuri [note that it is a 'q' in Arabic, not a 'k']
Wall Street Journal - Moqtada/Nouri [note that in Arabic the 'u' in "Nuri" is a short not a long vowel]

We drop the definite article after first mention, so "al-Maliki" becomes simply "Maliki."

3) Many place names are spelled with an "-ah" at the end where we drop the "h" (see our spelling of "Sulaymaniya", etc.). This is because in those names this last sound is the ta marbuta, which sounds just like an "a" in English with no "h." There is a hard "h" that may appear at the end of a name, but this is a different letter, and has no equivalent in English. An example of this "hard 'h'" is the Iraqi newspaper Al-Sabah (although note that they use inconsistent spellings for their own name in the website's url and the English version of their homepage).

4) We do use the ' diacritic mark to indicate the 'ayn sound, which has no equivalent in English. This is to indicate that there is a difference between, say, the first syllable in "Ba'quba" and that in "Baghdad."

5) Where there is a long vowel and some publications double the vowel in English, we do not do so, except where there is an established transliteration for a proper name, as in the famous/infamous satellite channel Al-Jazeera, based in Qatar. (Note that there is also a Saudi newspaper called Al-Jazirah, but the two have the same Arabic spelling.)

I'll probably link back to this post in the future as a reference whenever I sense a discussion may induce confusion. Below are all the provinces and their capitals; here is a link to some maps of Iraq. The province is first, then the capital (some are the same); typically we include the definite article ("al-") for provinces and personal names (e.g. Nuri al-Maliki) where relevant (not all have it), but not individual cities. Also, if we decide to change our style sheet on these spellings, I'll come back and amend this post.

So here is the province/capital list, with some brief comments to tie them to common references in the news (I've indicated the predominant ethnic/sectarian group in each, but also bear in mind that a smaller Turkmen minority of 2-3 million people stretches across Ninawa, Arbil, al-Tamim and Diyala):

1. Baghdad/ Baghdad (mixed Sunni/Shi'a)

2. Al-Anbar/ Ramadi (center of the native Iraqi insurgency)

3. Salah al-Din/ Samarra (top point in the "Sunni Triangle")

4. Diyala/ Ba'quba (mixed Sunni/Shi'a)

5. Al-Sulaymaniya/ Sulaymaniya (Sunni)

6. Al-Tamim/ Kirkuk (mixed Kurd/Sunni Arab, oil-rich flashpoint)

7. Arbil/ Arbil (Kurd-dominated)

8. Ninawa/ Mosul (mixed Kurd/Sunni Arab)

9. Dahuk/ Dahuk (Kurd-dominated)

10. Karbala/ Karbala (one of two most holy Shi'a cities, site of Husayn's martyrdom)

11. Babil/ Hilla (predominately Shi'a)

12. Wasit/ Kut (predominately Shi'a)

13. Al-Najaf/ Najaf (one of two most holy Shi'a cities, residence of most Iraqi Shi'a religious authorities)

14. Al-Muthanna/ Samawa (predominately Shi'a)

15. Al-Basra/Basra (key port city, most populous Shi'a-dominated city)

16. Maysan/ Amara (predominately Shi'a)

17. Dhiqar/ Nasiriya (predominately Shi'a)

18. Al-Qadisiya/ Diwaniya (predominately Shi'a)