When dates are being dried, they exude a thick, molasses-like syrup. The Iraqi cook adds some of this syrup when making this dish, but the addition of brown sugar gives a somewhat similar flavor.
Heat half of the ghee or oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over medium-high heat and brown the lamb, in batches if necessary.
Return all of the lamb to the pan and push to one side. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of the water, the cinnamon, and dried lime or lemon rind. Season with salt, to taste, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the dates in a small saucepan with the remaining water and heat until the dates soften. Press through a sieve to purée.
Add the date purée to the stew with the apricots, prunes, sultanas, and sugar. Stir, then cover tightly and simmer until the lamb is tender, about 1 hour. Check during cooking to ensure the fruit does not stick to the pan, adding a little more water if necessary.
Remove the cinnamon and lime or lemon rind. Serve hot, with a dish of steamed rice.