UPDATE 20151123: Apparently the JAU links don’t work. JAU has a new URL (http://www.iau-iraq.org) but I haven’t found any GIS data there. I will look into this and see if I can find a new source for GIS data.
I remember when I first came to Kurdistan and was looking for some good GIS data to use for visualization, data collection, and analysis, and I was met with a “yes I will help you find data” followed by a “no, you can’t have any soft copies, only hard copies”. The reason for not sharing data were apparently security ( but my gut feeling told me that the issue could have been solved with money), and I was told that even if I go to Erbil and meet with government officials, they will not give me access to any digital data. At a directorate I remember an irritated lady saying “Why should we share our data with academics? They just come here and take data but they never give anything back”. She seemed to have completely missed the point of universities and governmental organizations working together for the common good, and instead thought of it as a competition where the poor directorate (of meteorology or something) was being exploited by the evil soldiers of academia.
After a while I started wondering if I should just buy hard copies and digitize everything, it’s possible, just a bit time consuming. Eventually I got in touch with International Organization for Migration (IOM), who agreed to give me the data right away and had a CD prepared for me when I got there. There I also met representatives from UN-OCHA who were just as willing to help.
So my advice to researchers, students and people in general, who are interested in basic GIS data on Iraq is to contact either IOM or OCHA, as they were much more helpful than any of the government officials ever were (even though some wanted to be). A first option (that I recently found) is also to go to the the Joint Analysis Unit (JAU) website where you can download Common Operational Datasets such as administrative boundaries, settlements and roads as shapefiles.