Minorities in Iraq

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of

Minorities in Iraq include various ethnic and religious groups.


Main article: Iraqi Kurdistan
Flag of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq

Kurds are an Indo-European people of the Iranian branch. Ethnically and linguistically they are most closely related to Iranians and have existed in Iraq since before the Arab-Islamic conquest. They are possibly descended from the ancient Corduene.

The majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims, with Shia and Alevi Muslim minorities. There are also a significant number of adherents to native Kurdish/Iranian religions like Yarsanism. There are also minorities of Christians and Jews. Some Kurdish Communists and Socialists are Atheist.

Under the Kingdom of Iraq, Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani led a rebellion against the central government in Baghdad in 1945. After the failure of the uprising Barzānī and his followers fled to the Soviet Union. In the 1960s, when Iraqi Brigadier Abdul-Karim Qassem distanced himself from Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, he faced growing opposition from pro-Egypt officers in the Iraqi army. When the garrison in Mosul rebelled against Qassem's policies, he allowed Barzānī to return from exile to help suppress the pro-Nasser rebels. By 1961, Barzānī and the Kurds began a full-scale rebellion.

When the Ba'ath Party took power in Iraq, the new government, in order to end the Kurdish revolt, granted the Kurds their own limited autonomy. However, for various reasons, including the pro-Iranian sympathies of some Kurds during the Iran–Iraq War in the 1980s, the regime implemented anti-Kurdish policies and a de facto civil war broke out. From March 29, 1987 until April 23, 1989, the infamous Al-Anfal campaign, a systematic genocide of the Kurdish people in Iraq, was launched. For this, Iraq was widely condemned by the international community, but was never seriously punished for oppressive measures, including the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds, which resulted in thousands of deaths.

After the Persian Gulf War, the Kurds began another uprising against the Ba'athists. The revolt was violently put down. During the same year, Turkey, fighting Kurds on its on territory, bombed Kurdish areas in Northern Iraq, claiming that bases for the terrorist Kurdistan Workers Party were located in the region. However, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the fall of Saddam, brought renewed hope to the Kurds. The newly elected Iraqi government agreed to re-establish the Kurdistan Regional Government in Northern Iraq. The Kurds have since been working towards developing the area and pushing for democracy in the country. However, most Kurds overwhelmingly favor becoming an independent nation. "In the January 2005 Iraqi elections, 98.7 percent of Kurds voted for full independence rather than reconciliation with Arab Iraq."[1] Almost no other political or social group in the region is agreeable to the idea of Kurdish independence. Iraq's neighboring countries such as Turkey are particularly opposed to the movement because they fear that an independent Iraqi Kurdistan would strengthen Kurdish independence movements in their own territories.

Nouri al-Maliki was at loggerheads with the leader of ethnic Kurds, who brandished the threat of secession in a growing row over the symbolic issue of flying the Iraqi national flag at government buildings in the autonomous Kurdish north. Maliki's Arab Shi'ite-led government was locked in a dispute with the autonomous Kurdish regional government, which has banned the use of the Iraqi state flag on public buildings. The prime minister issued a blunt statement on Sunday saying: "The Iraqi flag is the only flag that should be raised over any square inch of Iraq." But Mesud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, told the Kurdish parliament the national leadership were "failures" and that the Iraqi flag was a symbol of his people's past oppression by Baghdad: "If at any moment we, the Kurdish people and parliament, consider that it is in our interests to declare independence, we will do so and we will fear no one." The dispute exposes a widening rift between Arabs and Kurds, the second great threat to Iraq's survival as a state after the growing sectarian conflict between Arab Sunnis and Shi'ites.[2]


Main article: Assyrians in Iraq

The Aramaic-speaking Assyrians are the indigenous people of Iraq and descendants of those who ruled ancient Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia. More generally speaking, the Assyrians (like the Mandeans) are descendants of the ancient Mesopotamians (Sumer, Akkad, Assyria, Babylon, Adiabene, Osroene and Hatra). They speak dialects of the Aramaic of the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires and have their own written script. They began to convert to Christianity in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD formerly having followed the ancient Sumerian-Akkadian religion (also known as Ashurism). There are believed to be no more than 500,000 Assyrians remaining in Iraq,[3] with a large concentration in the diaspora. They are Iraq's third largest ethnic group after the Arabs and the Kurds.

The Assyrian minority came under persecution during Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime. When Hussein first assumed power, the Assyrian population there numbered 2 million to 2.5 million. Many have fled to neighbouring countries such as Jordan and Syria, or have emigrated to Europe and the U.S. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees reports that half a million Iraqi Christians have registered for temporary asylum in Syria.[4] Assyrians have traditionally made good soldiers, during the Iran–Iraq War, many were recruited to the armies of both sides.

With the 2003 invasion of Iraq, some the Assyrian minority felt a renewed hope at possibly being granted their own autonomy.

Iraqi Turkmen

Flag of the Iraqi Turkmen
Main article: Iraqi Turkmen

The Iraqi Turkmen also claim to be the third largest ethnic group in Iraq. In the December 2005 elections, between five and seven Turkmen candidates were elected to the Council of Representatives. This included one candidate from the ITF (its leader Sadettin Ergec), two or four from the United Iraqi Alliance, one from the Iraqi Accord Front and one from the Kurdistani Alliance.[5][6] They reside exclusively in the north, particularly in areas such as Mosul and Kirkuk. They are predominantly Sunni Muslims and are mostly secular in nature. There are a minority of Christians. When the Ba'ath party took over Baghdad, it declared in the constitution that schools were prohibited from using the Turkish language and banned Turkish-language media in Iraq. By the 1980s, Hussein prohibited the public use of the Turkish language completely. After the toppling of the Ba'athists, tensions started to rise between the Kurds and the Iraqi Turkmen. Assignations and acquisitions between the two sides made Kirkuk the only violent non-Arab city in Iraq during the aftermath of the U.S-led war. The violence has slowly died down and on January 30, 2006, the President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, said "Kurds are working on a plan to give Iraqi Turkmen autonomy in areas where they are a majority in the new constitution they're drafting for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq."[7][8] However, according to the last Iraqi census which was conducted in 1957, the Turkmens numbered 567,000 out of a population of 6.3 million; thus, they formed 9% of the total Iraqi population.[9][10]

According to the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, at least 180,000 Turkmen live in the city of Kirkuk.[8]

However, the Diyala Province and Kifri which were once mainly Turkoman cities have been heavily Kurdified and Arabified.[8]

Iraqi Turkmen are most known for folk songs, especially the "qoyrats", long songs with nearly twenty different melodious voices forming rich literary texts are typical Turkmen musical works, and make up an important part of Turkish music. The songs often are protest-like, expressing sorrow and resentment over injustice. Hoyrats are a form of uzun hava built on quatrains which often contain allusions and plays on words.

Iraqi Turkmen speak an Oghuz language that is one of the official languages of the Kirkuk region.[11] It is closest to the languages spoken in Azerbaijan.[12][13] Historically, some Iraqi Turkmen of the intelligentsia adopted the formal Ottoman Language as their written language during their rule by the Ottoman Empire.[13] Iraqi Turkmens use standard Turkish, the official language of Turkey, in writing.

Other groups


Main article: Afro-Iraqis

The Iraqis of largely African descent live mostly around the city of Basra, having been brought to the region as slaves over one thousand years ago to work the sugarcane plantations then in existence. Although they are Muslims and Arabic-speakers, Afro-Iraqis also retain some cultural and religious traditions from their ancestral homeland. They suffer considerable discrimination due to their behaviour, and, as a result, are restricted to working as entertainers or menial laborers. Moreover, they are often addressed by other Iraqis as 'abd, meaning "slave". In the mid-9th century, black slaves around Basra rose in a rebellion, conquering their former masters and ruling the city for 15 years before being put down by forces sent by the Caliph in Baghdad. After the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, Afro-Iraqis have once again begun to struggle for an improvement in their condition.[14]

Ajam (Persians)

Main article: Ajam of Iraq


Main article: Armenians in Iraq

The Armenians are Orthodox Christians. Armenians have a long history of association with Mesopotamia, going back to pre-Christian times. The Armenians have historically been a thriving community in Iraq with football clubs (Nadi Armeni) and other establishments. Armenian folk music and dance is admired in Iraq. Most Iraqi Armenians live in Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra and their population is estimated at around 10,000 down from 70,000 before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[15]


Main article: Christians

Christianity has a presence in Iraq dating to the 1st century AD. The Christian community in Iraq is relatively small, and further dwindled due to the Iraq War to just several thousands. Most Christians in Iraq belong traditionally to Greek Orthodox as well the Roman Catholic Churchs and are concentrated in major cities such as Baghdad, Basra and Mosul


Main article: Baha'is


Main article: Bedouin


Main article: Circassians in Iraq


Main article: Feylis

Feylis are a distance ethnic Kurdish group who live near the Iraq-Iran border within Iraqi Kurdistan and are considered a stateless people.


Although historically significant, the Jewish community of Iraq today numbers fewer than 4 people. Almost all Iraqi Jews were transferred to Israel in the early 1950s in Operation Ezra and Nehemiah.


Main article: Mandaeism
Mandaean house of worship in Nasiriya, southern Iraq -2016

Mandaeans (also known as Subbi and Sabians) are one of the smallest ethno-religious groups in the world with only about 75,000 followers worldwide. Historically speaking, the Mandaeism is one of the ancient religions of Mesopotamia and one of the earlier known monothestic religions, along with Abrahamic faiths and Zoroastrianism. Mandeans (like the Assyrians) are of indigenous ancient Mesopotamian heritage, and speak their own dialect of Aramaic, known as Mandaic. They are a Semitic people.

The Iraq Mandaean (and Sabian) community, in the pre 2003 war period, was the most important in the world with 30,000–50,000[16] of the 70,000 total living in the country mainly in the area around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Mandaeans although an ethnic and religious minority, consider themselves Iraqi and have supported the Iraqi nation patriotically, serving in the army during various conflicts. They were considered an economically successful community, and had achieved high levels in Iraqi society, and are held in high regard as silversmiths and goldsmiths.[17]

Marsh Arabs

Main article: Marsh Arabs

The Marsh Arabs or Ma'dãn are a group of Arabs who number 125,000 to 150,000 who live in the Mesopotamian Marshes in southern Iraq.


Main article: Yarsanism

The Kaka'is are a small Kurdish religious group who located mainly in and around Kirkuk in northern Iraq.


Flag of the Shabak
Main article: Shabak people

There are about 60,000–400,000 Shabaks in Iraq. They are an ethnic and religious minority, retaining their own distinct Pre Islamic religion. They are an Indo-European (Aryan) people and speak an Indo-European language with elements of Turkish and Arabic infused. Despite having their own language and culture unique from other groups, Kurdish authorities have attempted to Kurdify the Shabaks by occupying Shabak villages and referring to them as "Kurdish Shabaks". In 2005, two Assyrians were killed and four Shabaks were wounded by the KDP during a demonstration organized by the Democratic Shabak Coalition, a group which wants separate representation for the Shabak community.[18]

Roma (Gypsy)

Iraq's Roma (Kawliya) ethnic minority was looked down upon as second-class citizens under Ba'ath party rule.


Main article: Yazidi

Today, there are around 650,000 Yezidis in Iraq who come from northern Iraq. They have their own distinct religion which combines distinct aspects of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Mithraism, Mandaeans and Zoroastrianism, though its origins are not understood.[19] Most speak Kurdish, but some speak Arabic. They live primarily in the Nineveh Province of Iraq, and in Northern of Iraq in Dahuk Government.

Assaults on minority Groups since 2003

See also


  1. Viviano, Frank. "The Kurds in Control." National Geographic, January 2006 pg 26.
  2. "Iraq captures al Qaeda deputy". Television New Zealand. Reuters. September 4, 2006. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
  3. Guide: Christians in the Middle East". BBC News. 11 October 2011.
  4. http://www.chaldean.org/news/detail.asp?iData=225&iCat=80&iChannel=2&nChannel=News. Retrieved February 20, 2006. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. The New Iraq, The Middle East and Turkey: A Turkish View, Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, 2006-04-01, accessed on 2007-09-06
  6. Turkmen Win Only One Seat in Kerkuk, Iraqi Turkmen Front
  7. Cevik, Ilnur (2006-01-30). "Talabani: Autonomy for Turkmen in Kurdistan". Kurdistan Weekly. Retrieved 2006-05-20.
  8. 1 2 3 UNPO. "The Turkmen of Iraq: Underestimated, Marginalized and exposed to assimilation Terminology". Retrieved 2010-12-04.
  9. The Middle East Quarterly. "Who Owns Kirkuk? The Turkoman Case". Retrieved 2010-12-04.
  10. Turkish Weekly. "The Reality of the Turkmen Population in Iraq". Retrieved 2010-12-04.
  11. APA. "Kirkuk parliament passes decision to give official status to the Turkish language". Retrieved 2010-12-03.
  12. "Linguistic Convergence and Areal Diffusion". Google Books. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  13. 1 2 Mofak Salman Kerkuklu (2007). "Turkmen of Iraq" (PDF). p. 24. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
  14. "Black Iraqis in Basra Face Racism". NPR. 2008-12-03.
  15. "Իրաքում ընդհանուր առմամբ մնացել է շուրջ 10 հազար հայ [Around 10 thousand Armenians remain in Iraq]". News.am (in Armenian). 30 November 2011. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
  16. Who are the Mandaeans Archived March 15, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  17. Saddam praises Sabaeans, pledges to build temple
  18. "Kurdish Gunmen Open Fire on Demonstrators in North Iraq". AINA. 2005-08-16.
  19. "Who Are the Yazidis, the Ancient, Persecuted Religious Minority Struggling to Survive in Iraq?". National Geographic. 11 July 2014.
  20. Bomb attacks in Iraq kill dozens, BBC News website
  21. Iraq bombing kills 70; 182 injured Los Angeles Times website
  22. Kidnapped Iraqi archbishop dead, BBC World Service, March 13, 2008
  23. Death penalty over Iraq killing, BBC World Service, May 18, 2008
  24. 1 2 3 Church Bombings in Iraq Since 2004
  25. 1 2 Harrison, Frances (March 13, 2008). "Christians besieged in Iraq". BBC News. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  26. death of Father Boulos Iskander Archived May 20, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  27. Basile Georges Casmoussa, Catholic Archbishop, Taken Hostage In Iraq: Diggers Realm

External links

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