Minorities in Iraq

Minorities in Iraq include various ethnic and religious groups.


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 after the Arab-Islamic conquest.

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. 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 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]

Iraqi Turkmen/TurkomanEdit

Flag of the Iraqi Turkmen
A map of the so-called "Turkmeneli" region on a monument in Altun Kupri (Turkish: Altınköprü).

The Iraqi Turkmen/Turkoman are the third largest ethnic group in the country, after the Arabs and Kurds.[3][4][5][6] They mostly adhere to a Turkish heritage and identity,[6] this is because most Iraqi Turkmen/Turkoman are the descendants of the Ottoman soldiers, traders and civil servants who were brought into Iraq from Anatolia during the rule of the Ottoman Empire.[7][8][9] Since the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the Iraqi Turkmen/Turkoman have found themselves increasingly discriminated against from the policies of successive regimes, such as the Kirkuk Massacre of 1923, 1947, 1959, and in 1979 when the Ba'ath Party discriminated against the community.[10] Although the Turks were recognized as a constitutive entity of Iraq (alongside the Arabs and Kurds) in the constitution of 1925, the Iraqi Turkmen/Turkoman were later denied this status.[10]

According to the 1957 Iraqi census the Turkmen/Turkoman had a population of 567,000, accounting for 9% of the total Iraqi population.[11][9][12][13] By 2013, the Iraqi Ministry of Planning said that there were 3 million Turkmen/Turkoman, out of a population of 34.7 million, forming 8.65% of the population.[6] The Turkmen/Turkoman minority mainly reside in northern and central Iraq, in the so-called Turkmeneli region – which is a political term used by the Turkmen/Turkoman to define the vast swath of territory in which they have historically had a dominant population.[14] In particular, the Turkmen/Turkoman consider the capital of Turkmeneli to be Kirkuk and its boundaries also include Tal Afar, Mosul, Erbil, Mandali, and Tuz Khurmatu.[15][16] According to Liam Anderson and Gareth Stansfield, the Turkmen/Turkoman note that the term "Turcomania" – an Anglicized version of "Turkmeneli" – appears on a map of the region published by William Guthrie in 1785, however, there is no clear reference to Turkmeneli until the end of the twentieth century.[17] According to Khalil Osman there has been "a raft of federalist schemes" proposed by various Turkmen/Turkoman political parties.[16]

Iraqi Turkmen girl in traditional Turkish costume.
Bilingual sign (Arabic and Turkish) of a Turkmen village.

The Iraqi Turkmen/Turkoman share close cultural and linguistic ties with Turkey, particularly the Anatolian region.[18] They are predominately Muslims, formed of a majority Sunni population (about 60%-70%) but there is also a significant number of Turkmen/Turkoman practicing the Shia branch of Islam (about 30% to 40%).[19] Nonetheless, the Turkmen are mainly secular, having internalized the secularist interpretation practiced in the Republic of Turkey.[19] The minority speak their own dialect of Turkish, which is often called "Turkmen". This dialect was influenced by Ottoman Turkish from 1534 onwards, but also by Persian during the brief capture of Baghdad in 1624; thereafter, in 1640, the Turkish varieties continued to be influenced by Ottoman Turkish, as well as other languages in the region, such as Arabic and Kurdish.[20] Some linguists have suggested that the dialect spoken by Turkmen/Turkoman is similar to the South Azeri dialect used by the Turkish Yörük tribes in the Balkans and Anatolia.[21] However, the Turkmen/Turkoman dialect is particularly close to the Turkish dialects of Diyarbakır and Urfa in south-eastern Turkey[22] and Istanbul Turkish has long been the prestige dialect which has exerted a profound historical influence on their dialect. In addition, the Iraqi Turkmen/Turkoman grammar differs sharply from Irano-Turkic varieties, such as South Azeri and Afshar types.[22] In 1997 the Turkmen/Turkoman adopted the Turkish alphabet as the formal written language[23][24] and by 2005 the community leaders decided that the Turkish language would replace the Arabic script in Iraqi schools.[25] The current prevalence of satellite television and media exposure from Turkey may have also led to the standardisation of Turkmeni towards Turkish, and the preferable language for adolescents associating with the Turkish culture.[26]


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 Syriac Orthodox , Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, and are concentrated in small cities in the Nineveh Plains, such as Alqosh, Tel Keppe, and Bartella.


Flag of the Assyrians

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,[27] with a large concentration in the diaspora. They are Iraq's fourth largest ethnic group after the Arabs, the Kurds and the Iraqi Turkmen.

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 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.[28] Assyrians have traditionally made good soldiers, during the Iran–Iraq War, many were recruited to the armies of both sides.

Currently, Assyrians face persecution from Kurds, as Kurdification attempts at Assyrian cities are in progress. This was after the Kurdish takeover of Assyrian towns in the Kurdistan region (such as Zakho, Ainkawa, Aqrah, etc.) and the forceful deportation and killing of Christians in that area.[29]

The Assyrian Security force Nineveh Plain Protection Units Currently run the security in many Towns and Villages in the Nineveh plains


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.[30]

Other groupsEdit


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.[31]

Ajam (Persians)Edit





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


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


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, Mandaeism is one of the ancient religions of Mesopotamia and one of the earlier known monotheistic 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.

The Iraq Mandaean (and Sabian) community, in the pre 1990 gulf war period, was the most important in the world with 30,000–50,000[32] 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.[33]

Marsh ArabsEdit

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.


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


Flag of the Shabak

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.[34]

Roma (Gypsy)Edit

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



Today, there are around 650,000 Yezidis in Iraq who come from northern Iraq. They speak Aramaic but they also speak Kurmanji. Yezidis have their own distinct religion which combines distinct aspects of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Mithraism, Mandaeans and Zoroastrianism, though its origins are not understood.[35] Most speak Kurdish, but some speak Arabic. They live primarily in the Nineveh Province of Iraq, and in Armenia, Russia, United States and Germany.

Assaults on minority Groups since 2003Edit

  • In August 2014, ISIL attempted ethnic cleansing against the Yezidis and Assyrians.
  • In total, 40 churches have been bombed since June 26, 2004.
  • August 10, 2009: Truck bombs kill at least 28 people in the Shabak village of Khazna, in Nineveh governorate[36]
  • June 20, 2009: Truck bomb kills at least 70 people in a Turkmen village near Kirkuk[37]
  • Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was kidnapped on February 23, 2008. Three of his companions were also murdered during the kidnapping. His body was found in March, and an Iraqi Al-Qaeda leader, Ahmed Ali Ahmed, known as Abu Omar, was sentenced to death in May for this crime.[38][39]
  • January 9, 2008: 2 Assyrian churches bombed in Kirkuk.[citation needed]
  • January 6, 2008: 7 Assyrian churches bombed: three churches in Mosul and four in Baghdad.[40]
  • August 14, 2007: Bombing of Qahtaniya and Jazeera - killed 796 people and wounded 1,562, targeting the Yazidi minority.
  • June 4, 2007: 2 churches attacked, Ragheed Ganni, a priest, and three men were shot dead in church.[41]
  • October 2006: Orthodox priest, Boulos Iskander, kidnapped in Mosul and subsequently beheaded, and his arms and legs were cut off.[41][42]
  • January 29, 2006: 4 churches bombed.[citation needed]
  • January 2005: Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Basile Georges Casmoussa, kidnapped on January 17 and released.[43]
  • December 7, 2004: 2 churches bombed.[40]
  • November 8, 2004: 1 church bombed.[citation needed]
  • October 16, 2004: 5 churches bombed.[40]
  • September 10 and 11th, 2004: 2 churches bombed.[citation needed]
  • August 1, 2004: 5 Assyrian and 1 Armenian churches bombed.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Viviano, Frank. "The Kurds in Control Archived 2007-12-01 at the Wayback Machine." National Geographic, January 2006 pg 26.
  2. ^ "Iraq captures al Qaeda deputy". Television New Zealand. Reuters. September 4, 2006. Archived from the original on September 20, 2011. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
  3. ^ Sadik, Giray (2009), American Image in Turkey: U.S. Foreign Policy Dimensions, Rowman & Littlefield, p. 13, ISBN 978-0-7391-3380-4, the Turkmen are Iraq's third-largest ethnic group after the Arabs and Kurds
  4. ^ Barker, Geoff (2012), Iraq, Britannica, p. 23, ISBN 978-1-61535-637-9, The Turkish-speaking Turkmen are the third-largest ethnic group in Iraq after the Arabs and the Kurds.
  5. ^ "Minorities in Iraq Pushed to the brink of existence" (PDF). European Parliamentary Research Service. 2015. pp. 3–4. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  6. ^ a b c Triana, María (2017), Managing Diversity in Organizations: A Global Perspective, Taylor & Francis, p. 168, ISBN 978-1-317-42368-3, Turkmen, Iraqi citizens of Turkish origin, are the third largest ethnic group in Iraq after Arabs and Kurds, and they are said to number about 3 million of Iraq's 34.7 million citizens according to the Iraqi Ministry of Planning.
  7. ^ Taylor, Scott (2004), Among the Others: Encounters with the Forgotten Turkmen of Iraq, Esprit de Corps, p. 31, ISBN 1-895896-26-6, The largest number of Turkmen immigrants followed the army of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent when he conquered all of Iraq in 1535. Throughout their reign, the Ottomans encouraged the settlement of immigrant Turkmen along the loosely formed boundary that divided Arab and Kurdish settlements in northern Iraq.
  8. ^ Jawhar, Raber Tal'at (2010), "The Iraqi Turkmen Front", in Catusse, Myriam; Karam, Karam (eds.), Returning to Political Parties?, The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, pp. 313–328, ISBN 978-1-886604-75-9, There’s a strong conflict of opinions regarding the origins of Iraqi Turkmen, however, it is certain that they settled down during the Ottoman rule in the northwest of Mosul, whence they spread to eastern Baghdad. Once there, they became high ranked officers, experts, traders, and executives in residential agglomerations lined up along the vast, fertile plains, and mingled with Kurds, Assyrians, Arabs, and other confessions. With the creation of the new Iraqi state in 1921, Iraqi Turkmen managed to maintain their socioeconomic status.
  9. ^ a b International Crisis Group (2008), Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds: Conflict or Cooperation?, Middle East Report N°81 –13 November 2008: International Crisis Group, archived from the original on 12 January 2011, Turkomans are descendents of Ottoman Empire-era soldiers, traders and civil servants... The 1957 census, Iraq’s last reliable count before the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958, put the country’s population at 6,300,000 and the Turkoman population at 567,000, about 9 per cent...Subsequent censuses, in 1967, 1977, 1987 and 1997, are all considered highly problematic, due to suspicions of regime manipulation.CS1 maint: location (link)
  10. ^ a b Stansfield, Gareth R. V. (2007), Iraq: People, History, Politics, Polity, p. 72, ISBN 978-0-7456-3227-8
  11. ^ Taylor 2004, 28.
  12. ^ Knights, Michael (2004), Operation Iraqi Freedom And The New Iraq: Insights And Forecasts, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, p. 262, ISBN 0-944029-93-0, The 1957 Iraqi census — the last in which the Turkmens were permitted to register — counted 567,000 Turkmens.
  13. ^ Güçlü, Yücel (2007), Who Owns Kirkuk? The Turkoman Case (PDF), Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2007, p. 79, The last reliable census in Iraqi – and the only one in which participants could declare their mother tongue – was in 1957. It found that Turkomans were the third largest ethnicity in Iraq, after Arabs and Kurds. The Turkomans numbered 567,000 out of a total population of 6,300,000.
  14. ^ Strakes, Jason E. (2009), "Current Political Complexities of the Iraqi Turkmen", Iran & the Caucasus, Brill Publishers, 13 (2): 369, doi:10.1163/157338410X12625876281505
  15. ^ Anderson, Liam; Stansfield, Gareth (2009), Crisis in Kirkuk: The Ethnopolitics of Conflict and Compromise, University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 57, ISBN 978-0-8122-0604-3
  16. ^ a b Osman, Khalil (2015), Sectarianism in Iraq: The Making of State and Nation Since 1920, Routledge, p. 243, ISBN 978-1-317-67487-0
  17. ^ Anderson & Stansfield 2009, 56.
  18. ^ BBC (June 18, 2004). "Who's who in Iraq: Turkmen". Retrieved 2011-11-23. The predominantly Muslim Turkmen are an ethnic group with close cultural and linguistic ties to Anatolia in Turkey.
  19. ^ a b Oğuzlu, Tarik H. (2004), "Endangered community:The Turkoman identity in Iraq", Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Routledge, 24 (2): 313, doi:10.1080/1360200042000296681, hdl:11693/49129
  20. ^ Bulut, Christiane (2000), "Optative constructions in Iraqi Turkmen", in Göksel, Aslı; Kerslake, Celia (eds.), Studies on Turkish and Turkic Languages, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 3-447-04293-1
  21. ^ Boeschoten, Hendrik (1998), "Speakers of Turkic Languages", in Johanson, Lars; Csató, Éva Ágnes (eds.), The Turkic Languages, Routledge, p. 5, There is a Turkish – or rather Azerbaijanian-speaking part of the population of northern Iraq which is sometimes called "Turkmen", similar to the Yuruk tribes in the Balkans and in Anatolia.
  22. ^ a b Johanson, Lars (2001), Discoveries on the Turkic Linguistic Map (PDF), Stockholm: Svenska Forskningsinstitutet i Istanbul, pp. 15–16, The modern Turkish influence was strong until Arabic became the new offıcial language in the 1930s. A certain diglossia Turkish vs. Iraqi Turkic is still observable. Turkish as a prestige language has exerted profound influence on Iraqi Turkic. Thus, the syntax differs sharply from neighboring Irano-Turkic varieties.
  23. ^ Türkmeneli İşbirliği ve Kültür Vakfı. "Declaration of Principles of the (Iraqi?) Turkman Congress". Archived from the original on 2012-03-08. Retrieved 2011-11-25.
  24. ^ Nissman, David (5 March 1999), "The Iraqi Turkomans: Who They Are and What They Want", Iraq Report, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 2 (9)
  25. ^ Shanks, Kelsey (2016), Education and Ethno-Politics: Defending Identity in Iraq, Routledge, p. 57, ISBN 978-1-317-52043-6
  26. ^ Shanks 2016, 58.
  27. ^ Guide: Christians in the Middle East". BBC News. 11 October 2011.
  28. ^ http://www.chaldean.org/news/detail.asp?iData=225&iCat=80&iChannel=2&nChannel=News. Retrieved February 20, 2006. Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  29. ^ [http:// uk.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-gharawi-spe- cial-report-idUSKCN0I30Z820141014 http:// uk.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-gharawi-spe- cial-report-idUSKCN0I30Z820141014] Check |url= value (help). Missing or empty |title= (help)
  30. ^ "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.
  31. ^ "Black Iraqis in Basra Face Racism". NPR. 2008-12-03.
  32. ^ Who are the Mandaeans Archived March 15, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  33. ^ Saddam praises Sabaeans, pledges to build temple
  34. ^ "Kurdish Gunmen Open Fire on Demonstrators in North Iraq". AINA. 2005-08-16.
  35. ^ "Who Are the Yazidis, the Ancient, Persecuted Religious Minority Struggling to Survive in Iraq?". National Geographic. 11 July 2014.
  36. ^ Bomb attacks in Iraq kill dozens, BBC News website
  37. ^ Iraq bombing kills 70; 182 injured Los Angeles Times website
  38. ^ Kidnapped Iraqi archbishop dead, BBC World Service, March 13, 2008
  39. ^ Death penalty over Iraq killing, BBC World Service, May 18, 2008
  40. ^ a b c Church Bombings in Iraq Since 2004
  41. ^ a b Harrison, Frances (March 13, 2008). "Christians besieged in Iraq". BBC News. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  42. ^ death of Father Boulos Iskander Archived May 20, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  43. ^ Basile Georges Casmoussa, Catholic Archbishop, Taken Hostage In Iraq: Diggers Realm

External linksEdit