Minority politics in Iraq

Minority politics in Iraq

Minority politics in Iraq are represented by its various ethnic and religious groups. The Kurds (Muslim, Yarsan and Yezidi), Assyrians, and Iraqi Turkmen represent the three largest non-Arab minorities in the country. Other smaller ethnic groups include Armenians, Roma, and Persians. Religious groups include Sunni Arabs, Christians, Mandeans, and Iraqi Jews.

These groups have not enjoyed equal status with the majority Arab populations throughout Iraq's eighty-five year history. Like the Shi'a Muslims, the ruling Arab Socialist Ba'th Party harshly oppressed these minorities during its rule of Iraq. Under Ba'athist rule, Iraq, despite being one of the most multi-ethnic and multi-religious countries in the Near East, these groups were forced to deny their identities under Saddam Hussein's process of Arabization. The situation of the Kurds, however, has changed since the toppling of the Ba'ath party. The remainder of these ethnic groups continue to struggle against Islamic extremists, Arab nationalists, and criminal elements.


*Sunni Arabs, ca. 9.4 million
*Kurds, ca. 5 million
*Assyrians, ca. 800,000 (including Chaldean Catholics)
*Turkmen, ca. 300,000
*Yazidi, ca. 200,000
*Mandeans, 30,000 before the war, ca. 14,000 currently [ [http://www.yaledailynews.com/articles/view/20341 Yale Daily News - Iraqi minority group needs U.S. attention ] ]


The end of the Ottoman Empire

The British invasion of 1915–1918 during the First World War paved the way for Sunni Arab rule of Iraq. King Faisal, the son of the Sharif of Mecca and brother of Abdullah Hussein of Jordan became King. Turkomen were assaulted, perceived to have been leftover from the Turkish and Ottoman imperialism that controlled Iraq from the 16th century to 1917. The ethnic-cleansing began in earnest in 1933 with attacks on the Assyrian community{Assyrian Genocide) which was accused of collaborating with the British because they had served with the British army as Assyrian levies [www.aina.org/martyr.html] . Although King Faisal was opposed to the massacres, a number of communities were destroyed and thousands were killed. Chaldean Christians were also targeted and many fled to the West. Between 1949 and 1951 Iraq’s 150,000 Jews were driven from the country, an ancient community dating from before the 6th century B.C ceased to exist, accused of being collaborators with Zionism and Israel. [http://www.iraqijews.org/ Verify credibility|date=September 2007]

Nuri as-Said, the Prime Minister of Iraq was part Albanian, and herefore a minority, like Mohamed Ali of Egypt.

Baathism and minorities

The advent of Ba’athism did nothing to curb the loss of minority communities. Bedouins were rounded up and moved into developments to stop their nomadism. Communists were killed, and six of the last remaining Jews were hanged as ‘communists’ in 1967.Fact|date=September 2007 Persians were expelled from Eastern Iraq.

When Saddam Hussein embarked on a war with Iran he dredged the Shiite and Mandean inhabited swamps of Southern Iraq, destroying the ancient culture of people who had lived amongst the reeds since the time of Babylon. Saddam also began a concerted campaign against the Kurds, culminating in the gassing of Halabja in the Anfal campaign and the destruction of hundreds of villages and mass killings. Saddam set upon a policy of settling Arabs in the formerly Kurdish area, having read about Stalin’s resettling of peoples.

Post-Saddam Era

The end of Saddam’s rule in 2003 truly opened the floodgates to the creation of completely homogenous areas made up of Sunnis, Shiites or Kurds. The last remaining Chaldean, Yezidi, Mandean and Assyrian minorities, were singled out for attacks by Iraqi insurgents. Churches have been bombed through the Iraq war in Baghdad and Mosul. [www.byzantines.net/epiphany/chaldean.htm] In another case 30 members of a Yezidi community was slaughtered by neighboring Sunnis after they were accused of stoning a Yezidi girl who wanted to marry a Sunni man. Shiites were targeted by the foreigners who arrived in Iraq since 2003 under the umbrella of Al Qaida.

On August 14th, 2007 a suicide bomber killed as many as 400 people and wounded 375 in villages in the district of Qahataniya(Kahtaniya). These people were members of the Yezidi sect, an ancient sect often called ‘devil worshippers’ by some Islamists.

Ethnic Iraqi minority groups make up a large percentage of the Iraqi diaspora. In the US, they are concentrated especially in the state of Michigan, California, Illinois, and Arizona. Most Iraqi Jews reside in Israel. The Kurdish diaspora resides in Germany among other places. Some Mandeans have relocated to Sweden. [www.iht.com/articles/2007/04/09/asia/mandeans.php ]


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 a 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."Viviano, Frank. " [http://www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0601/feature1/index.html The Kurds in Control] ." "National Geographic", January 2006 pg 26.] 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 enkindle 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. [" [http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/411416/825598 Iraq captures al Qaeda deputy] ". One- News, 4 September 2006]


The Aramaic-speaking Christian Assyrians are the indigenous people of Iraq and descendants of those who ruled the territory out of ancient Assyria. There are an estimated 800,000 Assyrians remaining in Iraq, the larger concentration of them is scattered worldwide (see Assyrian diaspora). They are Iraq's third largest ethnic group after the Arabs and the Kurds.

Persecution of the Assyrians began early in Iraq's history. In 1932, the British Mandate of Iraq ended and King Faisal I took the reins of power. In 1933, however, the Assyrians refused to sign a declaration of loyalty to King Faisal. This led to mass deportations and massacres of Assyrians in Northern Iraq. The death toll estimates at roughly 3,000. To this day, Assyrians mark August 7 as their martyrs day.

The Assyrians also 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 neighboring 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. [http://www.chaldean.org/news/detail.asp?iData=225&iCat=80&iChannel=2&nChannel=News] During the Iran–Iraq War, many were recruited to the armies of both sides. This resulted in Assyrians in Iraq killing Assyrians in Iran. It was estimated that 60,000 Assyrians were killed during the conflict).

With the 2003 invasion of Iraq, some Assyrians felt a renewed hope at possibly being granted their own autonomy. However, many became targets for the Iraqi insurgency, ultimately reducing their numbers even more. According to local organisations, about 150,000 Assyrians are believed to have left the country since the US occupation began in 2003. [http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/b01dbd67285e8bdc7d3b1cfbd8beae33.htm]

Still, there is a push for Assyrian autonomy in Iraq, particularly in the Ninawa region where the biblical Assyrian capital of Nineveh was located. Although little has been done so far to establish this, some voices from within the new Iraqi government appear to welcome the possibility of Assyrian autonomy. For example, on February 24, 2006, Dr. Mohammad Ihsan, Minister of Human Rights in the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq stated "We don't mind Iraqi Christians concentrating anywhere they wish, and establishing a new province for themselves in the Nineveh plain, and bringing together Iraqi Christians from all over the world and their return to their houses and towns." On January 29, 2006, a set of car bombs exploded outside four Assyrian churches in Baghdad and Kirkuk killing four worshippers and injuring many more. This led to demonstrations by Assyrians around the world demanding Assyrian autonomy in Iraq.

Iraqi Turkmen

The Iraqi Turkmen also claim to be the third largest ethnic group in Iraq, though the latest election showed that they number far less than claimed, only taking one seat in the whole of Iraq. They reside exclusively in the north, particularly in areas such as Mosul and Kirkuk. 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." [cite web| url=http://www.kurdistanweekly.dk/news.php?readmore=103| title=Talabani: Autonomy for Turkmen in Kurdistan| publisher=Kurdistan Weekly| first=Ilnur| last=Cevik| year=2006-01-30| accessdate=2006-05-20]


Mandaeans (also known as Subbi and Sabianism (Arabic: صابئية)) are one of the smallest religious groups in the world with only circa 70,000 followers worldwide. And historically speaking, the Mandaeism is one of the ancient religions of Iraq and certainly one of the first monotheistic religions.

The Iraq Mandaean community, in the pre 2003 war period, was the most important in the world with 30,000–50,000 [ [http://www.mandaeanworld.com/who.html Who are the Mandaeans ] ] of the 70,000 total living in the country mainly in the area around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Given the peaceful ethos of Mandaeans and lack of missionary movement within the faith they had traditionally formed a successful community with their Sunni and Shia neighbors and were considered “people of the book” which Islamically speaking allows them to practice religion and integrate into Iraq society even though technically this is incorrect as they are neither Jews nor Christians.

Mandaeans consider themselves Iraqi and have supported the Iraqi patriotically and served in the army during various conflicts. They were considered an economically successful community, and had achieved high levels in Iraqi society like gaining a high regard as silversmiths and goldsmiths. [ [http://www.hrwf.net/religiousfreedom/news/iraq2001.html#SaddampraisesSabaeans Saddam praises Sabaeans, pledges to build temple] ]

During the Saddam administration

For Mandaeans the rule of Saddam was a period of mixed fortune. From his rise to power in 1979 the Mandaean community was viewed with suspicion, as other non Sunni citizens, and were kept out of the political sphere. Mandaeans also suffered during Saddam's 1991-1993 purge of the marshlands between Basra, Amara and Nasiriya which reduced the Mandaean population there from circa 6,000 to fewer than 2,000 [ [http://www.gfbv.de/inhaltsDok.php?id=694 Mandaeans in Iraq ] ] .

The government of Saddam though oppressive was fundamentally a secular movement and had a degree of religious tolerance, and due to the strict rule of law this offered a degree of protection to the Mandaean and other minority groups.

"We will set up a temple for you," Saddam told Hilo and his followers. "Iraqis have religious freedom, whether they are Muslims, Christians or Sabaeans,” Saddam Hussein 2001.

Post Saddam and the Iraq war of 2003

Following the removal of the government of Saddam Hussein the plight of the Mandaean community has been international news.

Being such a small community the Mandaeans do not enjoy the same militia protection and this has left them vulnerable to the extremist elements in both the Sunni and Shia communities. This has led to numerous instances of torture, rape, theft and murder. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4260170.stm, Iraq chaos threatens ancient faith] ]

These very real threats coupled with the inability of the US and Iraqi government to offer protection has resulted in the Mandaean population falling from circa 50,000 to less than 13,000 (September 2005) and 5,000 (March 2007) [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6412453.stm BBC NEWS | Middle East | Iraq's Mandaeans 'face extinction' ] ] ethnically cleansing them from Iraqi society.

There is no plan to protect the Mandaean community within Iraq with much of the remaining population expected to seek asylum which at present is the only viable assistance the coalition can offer.

At present the Iraq Mandaean refugees are mostly located in Syria, Jordan and Turkey and many are expected to join other small communities in Europe and the US, this Diaspora coupled with the restrictive conversion and marriage traditions threatens to end the viability of the world’s oldest Gnostic religion.

Other groups

Iraq is also home to several other minorities, though their numbers have shrunk over the course of the country's rocky history.

The Armenians, like their Assyrian neighbors, are Christians. As a result, many have become targets for the insurgency as well, forcing many to flee to Syria or Lebanon. The Armenian community was once a thriving community with football clubs (Nadi Armeni) and other contribution to Iraq's young history. Today, there is only one Armenian village left in Northern Iraq, while most Armenians in live in Baghdad, their population is estimated at 20,000.

Although historically significant, the Iraqi Jewish community of Iraq currently numbers only about 100 people. Many fled to Israel during persecutions in the 1950s and '60s due to the Arab-Israeli Conflict (see also History of the Jews in Iraq).

There are very few Persians in Iraq, though they once constituted a sizeable number. Many were expelled since the 1960s and even more so during the Iran–Iraq War. Many Iraqi Persians returned to Iraq after Iraq war in 2003.

Iraq's Roma (Qawliya) minority was looked down upon as second-class citizens under Ba'ath party rule. Qawliya had some protection from being persecuted, however. The small village safe havens of the Qawliya have vanished with Saddam's overthrow, making them an easy target for Iranian-backed Fact|date=November 2007religious militia groups, such as the Badr Organization or Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi ArmyFact|date=November 2007. Many of their villages have been taken over by such militias, and this has forced Qawliya to flee to the north.

Today, there are around 650,000 Yezidis in Iraq. Yezidis are ethnically Kurdish, but many of those in Iraq do not see themselves as Kurdish in terms of ethnicity, culture, and religionFact|date=February 2007. This has led to Kurdish authorities forcing Yezidis to register as Kurdish during the 2005 electionsFact|date=February 2007. Peshmerga troops have controlled Yezidi areas near Mosul since 2003. A predominant Yezidi politician that spoke out against Kurdish leaders was assassinated in the spring of 2005Fact|date=February 2007. Last year, Yezidi representatives complained that the $12 million approved for projects in Yezidi areas in Sinjar had been blocked by the intervention of Kurdish political leaders in Mosul and instead was used for a smaller Kurdish villageFact|date=February 2007.

There are about 60,000–400,000 Shabaks in Iraq. 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. [cite web| url=http://www.aina.org/news/20050816114539.htm| title=Kurdish Gunmen Open Fire on Demonstrators in North Iraq| publisher=AINA| year=2005-08-16| ]

Assaults on minority Groups since 2003

* In total 40 churches have been bombed since June 26th, 2004

* Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was kidnapped on February 23rd, 2008. Three of his companions were also murdered during the kidnapping. His body was found later and he was buried in Kremlis in Iraq on March 14th, 2008. [ [http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23378734-38201,00.html Kidnapped Iraqi archbishop buried | NEWS.com.au ] ]

* January 9th, 2008, 2 churches bombed in Kirkuk.

* January 6th, 2008, 7 churches bombed: three Chaldean and Assyrian churches in Mosul and four in Baghdad. [http://www.aina.org/news/20080107163014.htm Church Bombings in Iraq Since 2004 ] ]

* June, 2007, Priest Ragheed Ganni, was shot dead in his church along with three of his companions.

* June 4th, 2007, 2 churches attacked, Ragheed Ganni, a priest and three men were shot dead in church. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7295145.stm BBC NEWS | World | Middle East | Christians besieged in Iraq ] ]

* October 2006, Orthodox priest, Boulos Iskander, kidnapped in Mosul and beheaded him, his arms and legs were also been cut off. [ [http://www.oikoumene.org/en/news/news-management/a/sp/browse/6/article/1722/tragic-death-of-father-bo.html Tragic death of Father Boulos Iskander ] ]

* January 29th, 2006, 4 churches bombed.

* January 2005, Syrian Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Basile Georges Casmoussa, kidnapped on Januar 17th and released. [ [http://www.diggersrealm.com/mt/archives/000638.html Basile Georges Casmoussa, Catholic Archbishop, Taken Hostage In Iraq : Diggers Realm ] ]

* December 7th, 2004, 2 churches bombed.

* November 8th, 2004, 1 church bombed.

* October 16th, 2004, 5 churches bombed.

* September 10th and 11th, 2004, 2 churches bombed.

* August 1st, 2004, 5 Assyrian and 1 Armenian churches bombed.

ee also

*Politics of Iraq
*Demographics of Iraq
*History of Iraq

External links

* [http://www.minoritiescouncil.org/ Iraqi Minorities Council]
* [http://www.minorityrights.org/?lid=2805 Assimilation, Exodus, Eradication: Iraq's minority communities since 2003] , Report by Minority Rights Group International
* [http://www.minorityrights.org/?lid=957 The Constitution of Iraq: Religious and Ethnic Relations] , Study by Minority Rights Group International
* [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/26/AR2007082601004.html Iraq's Endangered Minorities]
* [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/02/AR2007090200937.html Mr. Bush Has Forsaken Iraq's Minorities]
* [http://www.minorityrights.org/admin/Download/pdf/MRGIraqReport.pdf Assimilation, Exodus, Eradication: Iraq’s minority communities since 2003] London, Minority Rights Group, 2007


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