Road classification in Iraq


Iraq has a population of 31.1 million and an area of 438,317 (wikipedia). The country’s history goes back at least 6,000 years, and its area was home to the earliest known civilisation, the Sumerian.

Road classification usually looks at national (or regional) road networks, and more local networks. However there is a higher level road class, formed of international roads such as the Asian Highway Network.  Such networks are not necessarily new; examples from history include the Roman road network and the network of Inca trails.

International roads

In history, the Persian Royal Road was an ancient highway reorganized and rebuilt by the Persian king Darius the Great (Darius I) in the 5th century BC. The course of the road began in Asia Minor, traveled east through what is now the middle northern section of Turkey, and passed through to the old Assyrian capital Nineveh (present-day Mosul, Iraq), then turned south to Babylon (near present-day Baghdad, Iraq). From near Babylon, it is believed to have split into two routes (….) (from this wiki link).

Today, the Asian Highway , a project initiated in 1958 by the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE), aims at modernizing and linking up existing roads into a 34,000 miles network of highways that would span Asia from Turkey and Iraq to the Republic of Viet-Nam, Singapore and Indonesia. Priority Route A-2 (about 7,600 miles) runs from the Iraq border to Singapore, through Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Burma, Thailand and Malaysia, continuing into Indonesia where, after a ferry crossing from Singapore to Djakarta, it will run the whole length of the island to Java. (from this UN link)

National road classification

The Iraq “Highway design manual of 1982 (ref. 408) grouped roads into a three-level hierarchy of primary, secondary and tertiary highways. There is a secondary classification which has roads grouped into one of 4 classes (A, B, C, D). The allocation of a road to a classification determines factors such as its design speed, total width of highway and design capacity etc.

Fig. 1: Iraq road classification 1982 (from ref. 408 page II-4)

Iraq 01

The letter symbol (e.g.) A6/40 indicates:

  • A = secondary classification
  • 6 = 6 number of traffic lanes
  • 40 = total width of highway

 In 2003, a UN/World Bank working paper on Iraq joint needs assessment (ref. 390) said that:  Iraq’s  roads  are  classified  in  the  following  five  categories:

  • (i)  expressways,  with  controlled  access, grade  separated  six-lane  divided  carriageways; 
  • (ii)  primary  roads,  which  are  mostly  four-lane  divided carriageways  connecting  the  Governorates  with  Baghdad; 
  • (iii)  secondary  roads  linking  towns  with  the Governorates;
  • (iv) village roads, which provide villages and towns with access to the secondary network; and
  • (v)  military/border  roads  that  accommodate  the  movements  of  troops  and  facilitate  the  protection  of borders.

Today (2013), Iraq’s State Corporation for Roads and Bridges advise that the national road classification is:

Iraq 02

Local roads

In Hammurabi’s time (1900 BC) the city of Babylon had a regular, grid-pattern of wide, straight streets which were paved with bricks and bitumen (see link).

Today, so far no information is available yet about road classification in for example Baghdad, the capital city (but see the Comment section below). However there is a detailed discussion on the (sub)-classification of commercial streets in Baghdad city by Akram J. Al-Akkam (ref. 387, 2011). The paper looked at the classification of commercial streets into types and the exploration of the active parameters of this classification within Baghdad. The author looked at the “three variables of scale, spatial dimension and compound parameters” and, under the heading “active parameters contributing to the classification of commercial streets” identified a number of classifiers, including:

  • Hierarchy of street
  • Width of street
  • Degree of modernity
  • Geometry of the street
  • Length of the street
  • Proportion of space in the street


References suggest that in reality Iraq does not have a well-functioning road hierarchy at either a national or a local level. At the national level the Iraq national development plan 2010 – 2014 (2012, ref. 392) has a vision for road and bridge activities which hopes that:

“Iraq will have a road network with a balanced hierarchy that integrates with the other transportation systems while ensuring reduced  travel  time  and  cost,  greater  security,  and  reduced negative environmental impacts”.

For the local networks, an idea is given by the UN-Habitat report on “the state of Arab cities” (ref. 404) which says (referring to Baghdad, page 49) that:

“After  2003,  the  establishment  of  military-controlled zones and bases – including the International Zone, road-blocks and checkpoints –  interrupted  movement  along  arterial  roads linking  the  different  areas  of  Baghdad.  As  a security measure to control movements in and out of neighborhoods experiencing sectarian violence, lengthy runs of T-wall and road blocks prevent access for vehicles from the secondary roads onto the main roads. All these barriers and diversions have created widespread congestion and made regular journeys  longer  in  time  and  distance”.

These measures must surely have damaged the city’s theoretical road classification and hierarchy.

On a more fundamental level, Akram J. Al-Akkam makes the important argument that:

“it is  apparent  that  there  is  no  single  optimal  means  of classifying street types. Examples of different themes for  classification  include:  ownership  and management, traffic function (volume, composition), role in network (location and connectivity), physical form  –  dimensions,  alignment,  etc.,  physical  form  – in relation to buildings, enclosure etc., urban function, and  people’s  activities  on  the  street”.

 Many will agree that road classification cannot be a one-dimensional concept (such as class = function). Eppell and others (ref. 249), and Stephen Marshall and his colleagues (ref. 388) might suggest that there are ways round this problem. But one other (often forgotten) problem with classification is that, once you set the classification of a road you set many of its physical characteristics, as the notes from the 1982 Iraq highway design manual show.


Thanks for information are given to Ali Khudayer of the Iraq University of Technology, and to staff of Iraq’s State Corporation for Roads and Bridges.


249 – Eppell and others, “A four level road hierarchy for network planning and management” (Australia 2001)

387 – Akram J. Al-Akkam , “”The classification of commercial streets in Baghdad city” (Emirates Journal for Engineering Research, 2011)

388 – Stephen Marshall, “Artists –   A First Theoretical Approach to Classification of Arterial Streets”, (England, 2002)

390 – Iraq, UN/World Bank working paper on joint needs assessment, “transport and telecommunications” (2003)

392 – Iraq, Ministry of Planning, ” Iraq national development plan 2010 – 2014″ (2012)

404 – UN-Habitat, “-The state of Arab cities” (2012)

408 – Iraq highway design manual (1982)


About roadnotes

Robert Bartlett is an international consultant with over 30 years of professional experience as a highway and traffic engineer with leading companies and organisations in several countries, including Germany, China (Hong Kong), Qatar and the UK. Specialised in urban studies, transport and the use of GIS, research has included new ideas on subjects such as the study of social justice using GIS, the dimensions of vehicles, and comparative geometrics (highways and transport).
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