The following are excerpts from a handout that accompanied a weeklong course on Iraq's customs and history given to 25,000 U.S. Marines prior to their spring 2004 deployment to Anbar province in Iraq (the "Sunni triangle"). The course was devised by the Marine Corps Division Schools based in Camp Pendleton, California. –Editors
Handshakes given at introduction and when leaving. Handshakes may be loose or limp wristed. Iraqis will hold the handshake for longer than U.S. Do not pull away. Females may just touch the fingertips, but generally no contact between men and women.
If Arabs do not touch someone they meet, they either do not like the person or are restraining themselves because they think the person is unaccustomed to being touched.
To kiss the forehead, nose, or right hand of the person shows extreme respect.
Courtesy is valued and is not a weakness.
General rule: Treat every Iraqi as if he were a colonel.
Touching among same sex is not considered homosexual. Good friends often hold hands as a sign of friendship.
They keep no distance between individuals, even when sitting.
If you move back they will just close the distance again.
To signal a vehicle to stop, place arm in front of you, palm down, and then move entire arm up and down. If you simply face the palm toward a person, it means hello, not stop, as in America.
"That's enough, thank you"—patting heart a few times.
The thumbs-up used to be obscene, but children are accepting it and using it. They also know the thumbs-down.
The okay sign that Americans make is considered bad. It is an evil eye.
Arabs are very generous and will do anything possible to be good hosts. You may be judged on how well you accept their hospitality.
Gifts may be given when you arrive at a meeting, etc., but are not important. The host will not make a fuss over it and will never open it in front of you. A good gift has no practical value and little commercial value; a fancy gift is like saying to the recipient, "I knew you couldn't afford this, so I bought it for you."
Always accept beverages or anything offered to you.
Food is given in large proportions. Coffee being served means: meeting over.
Respect and courtesy show strength and masculinity.
Look into eyes (no sunglasses to be worn when speaking to Iraqis).
Show no fear, stand your ground.
Loyalty is important, so speaking badly about your unit, commanding officer, or America will cause you to lose their respect.
Family is the cornerstone of Arab society. Arabs value family honor, and their personal actions and achievements reflect the entire family.
Women hold the honor of the family, and therefore you should not stare or try to interact with them. A simple verbal greeting will suffice.
Do not ask men how their women are doing; instead, ask how the family is.
Showing family pictures is a good way to open relations. Arab women do not show arms or legs, and a picture of your wife in shorts will say to an Arab that you do not respect women.
Problems can often be solved by talking to the senior member of the group and asking him what he would do. For example, if your Iraqi students are falling asleep in a patrolling class, ask him what he would do if "hypothetically" his students didn't pay attention. The problem will probably go away quickly.
The group will set the tone/pace, not individual accomplishments. Arabs do not want to outdo the other guy, so they may hold back to stay with the group.
Do not shame or humiliate a man in public. Shaming a man will cause him and his family to be anti-Coalition.
The most important qualifier for all shame is for a third party to witness the act. If you must do something likely to cause shame, remove the person from the view of others.
Shame is given by placing hoods over a detainee's head. Avoid this practice.
Placing a detainee on the ground or putting a foot on him implies you are God. This is one of the worst things we can do.
Arabs consider the following things unclean:
- Feet or soles of feet.
- Using the bathroom around others. Unlike Marines, who are used to open-air toilets, Arab men will not shower/use the bathroom together.
- Bodily fluids (because of this they love tissue paper).
Spilling blood in a mosque is considered the highest crime.
The penalty for rape is death.
May exaggerate to sound more appealing. Arabs do not believe in cause and effect but rather in isolated incidents or the will of Allah. Speeding on a winding road did not cause the wreck, Allah willed it to happen, etc.
Small problems with a plan will mean terminating the entire plan.
Arabs perceive problems as someone's plot to make their life more unpleasant. We may view this as paranoia.
Arabs make group decisions. Do not try to force an individual to make a decision without consulting the group first. If forced to make a quick decision without consulting with others, they feel no commitment to abide by it.
Safety is a foreign concept (everything happens because of Allah).
Amount of facial hair is considered directly proportional to religious faith.
They never forget a wrong done to them or a good deed done for them.
 Harper's, June 2004, pp. 25-26; European Stars and Stripes (Washington, D.C.), July 10, 2004.