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The geography of conflict - The impact of geography on conflict

The geography of conflict

This lesson explores how physical geography has affected conflict, using Iraq as a case study.

Key questions

  • How does physical Geography affect conflict?
  • What is the physical geography of Iraq like?
  • How has physical geography affected the war in Iraq?

Key concepts

  • Place
  • Space
  • Environmental interaction
  • Human processes

The physical Geography of a place can have a major impact on conflict.

As well as conflict having an impact on Geography, Geography, and in particular physical Geography, can have a major impact on conflict.

Historically, when siting settlements, people looked for defensive sites, such as the inside bend of a river meander or the top of a hill, which could be easily defended in the event of an enemy attack. Topography also played an important part in the Battle of Hastings as Harold deployed his army on Senlac Hill and therefore had the geographical advantage over William whose army was at the bottom of the hill. However, some of Harold's army broke rank and started moving down the hill, weakening their position as they were then on a level playing field and William was victorious. Some environments though make conflict challenging. For example, desert landscapes provide little cover and the lack of landmarks makes navigation difficult. This has been one of the most notable challenges about the conflict in Iraq. Marsh land and mountainous regions are also notoriously difficult environments in which to engage in conflict as, in the former, the land is unstable and it is difficult to set up a base or equipment and, in the latter, temperatures are low and conditions harsh.

The physical Geography of Iraq has had a major impact on conflict in the country.

The physical Geography in Iraq has had a major impact on conflict in the country. The desert environment, as well as providing challenges can present some advantages. For example, the flat terrain means that the pace of advance is fast and the lack of cover favours coalition forces who possess weapons with a greater range than the insurgents. However, the Zagros Mountains to the north and the Syrian desert to the west both mean that mass migration of refugees as a result of the conflict is unlikely and instead there is likely to be small pockets of refugee movement. Also, the majority (70%) of Iraq's population live between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers where the capital, Baghdad is also located. It is these areas of dense population where the focus of the conflict is likely to remain and also means that the likelihood of civilian casualties is very high.

For further information as to how the physical Geography of Iraq has affected the conflict read the National Geographic article Geography shapes nature of war in Iraq.





Take a look at the did you know PowerPoint slide. It gives you some information about how the physical landscape influenced the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Which physical factors do you think would be advantageous to conflict?
Which physical factors do you think would be disadvantageous to conflict?

Physical factors

In the physical factors card sorting activity your task is to match the different physical factors with their descriptions to explain how they can each influence conflict.



In the map massacre interactive activity you will need to use your newfound knowledge of how physical factors can influence conflict, as well as your map skills, to engage in battle strategy.

How do physical factors influence the conflict in Iraq?

To find out how physical factors have influenced the ongoing conflict in Iraq, you are going to make a 3D model of the country.

The model of Iraq PowerPoint presentation will take you through all of the steps in making your model of Iraq, for which you will also need to download this worksheet.

Once you have made your model, you will need to annotate it with some information about how geography has influenced the conflict.

Read the article from the National Geographic website: ‘Geography shapes the nature of war in Iraq' and add some statements from the article to your model to explain the impact of the physical landscape.

If you need some help, the Iraq statements will provide you with some ideas.



Return to your physical factors cards from this lesson's starter activity.

Think back over what you have learnt this lesson. Which of the physical factors do you think has the greatest influence over a conflict? Rank the cards from the most important to the least important and share your thoughts with the person sitting next to you.

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