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WikiLeaks: 2009-07-30: 09BAGHDAD2038: Minority Leaders Concerned About Iraqi Census

by WikiLeaks. 09BAGHDAD2038: July 30, 2009.

Posted: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 at 08:57 AM UT


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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
09BAGHDAD2038 2009-07-30 08:29 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad
DE RUEHGB #2038/01 2110829
P 300829Z JUL 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BAGHDAD 002038 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/29/2019 
Classified By: Classified by Political Counselor Yuri Kim for reason 1. 
4 (d). 
1. (C) As Ministry of Planning officials continue their 
preparations for a nationwide census this fall, many of 
Iraq's ethnic and religious minority leaders have raised 
concerns about how the census will be administered and 
whether it will provide an accurate reflection of their 
communities' demographics.  Christian leaders expect the 
census to reveal dramatic declines in their numbers and are 
concerned that the GOI is not being sufficiently proactive in 
extending the census to their refugee communities in Syria 
and Jordan.  Sabean-Mandean and Baha'i leaders view the 
census as an opportunity for their communities to be 
officially counted.  At the same time, Yezidi and Shabak 
leaders worry that Kurdish security forces may pressure their 
communities to declare themselves Kurds as their villages are 
located in Arab-Kurd disputed territories.  Turkmen leaders 
have threatened to boycott the census all together.  The 
census has particular significance for Iraq's various ethnic 
and religious minorities, who feel that their political 
representation is not commensurate with the size of their 
communities.  End summary. 
The Nuts and Bolts 
2. (C) In September 2008, Iraq's Parliament approved a census 
law that directed the Ministry of Planning to conduct a 
national census in October 2009.  Dr. Mehdi al-Alak, Deputy 
Minister of Planning and Head of Iraq,s Central Organization 
for Statistics and Information Technology (COSIT) told Poloff 
that that COSIT is preparing for a nation-wide census to take 
place on Oct. 24.  According to Dr. al-Alak and Dr. Georges 
Georgi of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the 
census is being supported by an Amman-based technical team 
from UNFPA and through assistance provided by the Government 
of Egypt.  In June, COSIT completed pilot census projects in 
nine provinces (Najaf, Dhi Qar, Baghdad, Diyala, Anbar, Salah 
ad Din, Ninawah, Kirkuk, Sulaimaniyah).  At the start of 
July, COSIT initiated training for census field teams. 
Al-Alak said that some 40,000 teams are currently working to 
list and map local communities across Iraq in preparation for 
the census in October.  On the day of the census, COSIT's 
plan calls for a special curfew to be imposed while some 
200,000 census workers (mainly teachers) will fan out and 
count families down to the sub-district level.  An 
interagency census committee has been formed to ensure 
coordination across GOI ministries. 
3. (C) Dr. al-Alak told Poloff that the GOI is planning to 
seek assistance from other countries in an effort to count 
Iraqis abroad.  He said that the GOI was disappointed with 
previous out-of-country census efforts because there was 
inadequate coordination, resulting in undercounting.  The 
Census Committee, in coordination with Ministry of 
Displacement and Migration and the Ministry of Human Rights, 
was working on a time frame for a census to be held abroad. 
He also stated that participation will be voluntary rather 
than required. 
Be Careful What You Ask For 
4. (C) Comment: The census has particular significance for 
Iraq's various ethnic and religious minorities, who feel that 
their political representation is not commensurate with the 
size of their communities.  At the same time, all of Iraq's 
minority communities have witnessed precipitous declines in 
their numbers since 2003 as thousands have fled the country's 
violence for the relative safety of Jordan and Syria.  Even 
Qviolence for the relative safety of Jordan and Syria.  Even 
if it includes refugee minority communities in Syria and 
Jordan, the census will force Iraq's minority communities to 
come to grips with the reduced sizes of their communities. 
End comment. 
5. (C) Since the passage of the national census law, Iraqi 
political leaders of all persuasions have sought to influence 
the Ministry of Planning on which information would be 
solicited with respect to religious sect and ethnicity.  The 
result has been numerous iterations of the census form and 
pervasive rumors as to which questions would be included. 
For example, in early May, Christian Member of Parliament 
(MP) Yonadam Kanna told Poloff that the Iraqi census would 
include a question on Iraqis' ethnic identity with the 
categories broken down to include: Arab, Kurd, Turkmen, 
Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac, Armenian, Shabak, and other.  On 
BAGHDAD 00002038  002 OF 003 
May 11, Minister of Human Rights Wijdan Salim told Poloff 
that the census would include a question on religious sect, 
asking Iraqi Muslims if they were Sunni or Shia. 
6. (C) Whether in response to the growing concerns being 
raised about the sectarian implications of asking too many 
detailed questions about ethnicity and religious sect or 
whether these questions were never in fact being seriously 
considered, the Ministry of Planning tells us that it has 
adopted a census form that keeps its requests on the issues 
of religion and ethnicity circumspect.  In the Iraqi census 
form provided to Poloff on June 27 by Minister of Human 
Rights Selim (repeated requests to get the form directly from 
the Ministry of Planning going unanswered), there is no 
question that asks Iraqis to identify their ethnic 
affiliation.  With respect to religion, the census form asks 
Iraqis if they are Muslim, Christian, Sabean, Yazidi, Jewish, 
or other, but there is no question that asks for religious 
sect (i.e., Sunni, Shia, Catholic, Orthodox). 
Are You Ready? 
7. (C) By and large, Christian leaders have reconciled 
themselves to the fact that the census will indicate a 
dramatic decrease in their numbers in Iraq.  Bishop Shlaimon 
Wardouni of the Chaldean Church, for example, admitted to 
Poloff that "our (Christian) number is very low" and 
estimated the figure at 500,000, down from 800,000 a few 
years ago.  Alex Terchanian, an Armenian Christian and the 
Speaker of Parliament's National Security Advisor, stated 
that the census could reveal the Christian community in Iraq 
to be very small, perhaps as low as 300,000.  At the same 
time, a few Iraqi Christian politicians believe that the 
census will help to provide clarity on minority demographics 
which they saw as a positive development.  Former Minister of 
Population and Migration Pascale Warda, for example, told 
Poloff that there should be a census because Iraqi Christians 
were currently counted as Arabs and should rather be counted 
as Chaldo-Assyrians.  Another political activist, Dr. Srood 
Maqdasy of the Erbil-based Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) 
stated that the census is a "must" because the lack of 
verifiable information on Iraqi demographics gives people the 
power to corrupt the system and deny minorities their due 
8. (C) Christian leaders also are concerned as to how the 
census will count Iraqi refugees living in Syria and Jordan 
since these populations include high concentrations of 
Christians.  On June 23, Christian MP Ablahad Sawa told 
Poloff that he had attended a meeting in the Parliament with 
Dr. Mehdi al-Alak from the Ministry of Planning.  In that 
meeting, Sawa said he had suggested to Dr. al-Alak that 
census employees be stationed in Iraq's embassies in Jordan, 
Syria, and other countries for a period of not less than 15 
days in order to give refugees ample opportunity to come and 
be counted.  On June 28, MP Kanna told Poloff that he had 
just returned from visiting Christian refugees in Syria and 
claimed that there was virtually no information amongst the 
community about the census or what to do in order to be 
counted.  Kanna suggested that the GOI begin a televised 
information campaign on Iraqi stations (which refugees 
continue to watch from abroad) that would let them know the 
dates and times that they should visit the Iraqi embassy to 
complete the census. 
9. (C) Smaller religious groups like the Sabean-Mandeans and 
the Baha'is are sanguine in their outlook on the census. 
Husain al-Zuhairy, the Secretary of the Mandean Council, told 
QHusain al-Zuhairy, the Secretary of the Mandean Council, told 
Poloff on June 29 that there is nothing that the Mandeans 
could do about the census given their small numbers so they 
might as well participate in order to make sure that they are 
counted.  Abdel Razzaq Abaychi, the spiritual leader of 
Iraq's Baha'i community, told Poloff that the Baha'is very 
much want to participate in the census because they are not 
sure how many members remain in their community, as their 
religion has been outlawed since the 1970s (although it was 
included in Iraq's 1957 census).  Abaychi hoped that the 
religion question on the census questionnaire would include a 
space for the Baha'is to write in their religion if it was 
not listed as one of the options. 
10. (C) Conversely, Yezidi and Shabak political 
representatives in Baghdad have expressed concern that the 
census will put their communities under enormous pressure 
from the Kurdistan Region (KRG) to declare themselves to be 
ethnic Kurds so that their territories can be annexed to the 
KRG.  Both members of Parliament Amin Farhan (Yezidi) and 
Hunein al-Qaddo (Shabak) were adamant in their statements to 
Poloff that Yezidis and Shabaks respectively were not Kurds. 
So great is their concern that al-Qaddo told Poloff on June 
20 that he was planning to ask the Ministry of Planning to 
BAGHDAD 00002038  003 OF 003 
exclude disputed boundary areas in places like Ninawah from 
the census in order to spare the Shabaks from Kurdish 
intimidation.  (Note: The recent inclusion of predominately 
Shabak and Yezidi villages in the territorial definition of 
Kurdistan in the recently passed KRG Constitution has 
reinforced minority concerns.  End note.).  Similarly, on 
July 23, Turkmen leaders publicly called for a delay in the 
census in order to determine which residents of Kirkuk should 
be counted and which should not.  The same Turkmen leaders 
have threatened to boycott the census all together if their 
concerns are not addressed. 
11. (C) Most of Iraq's minority groups have reconciled 
themselves with the fact that the census will in fact take 
place in October (with the notable exception of the Turkmen) 
and are now working to ensure that it counts as many of their 
people as possible, especially among the refugee communities 
located in Syria and Jordan.  The concerns raised by the 
Yezidis and Shabaks may be moot given that the census form is 
not expected to ask Iraqis for their ethnic identification, 
although there is the possibility that the census form is not 
set in stone.  The Embassy will continue to monitor the 
census preparations closely and to meet with minority leaders 
to ensure that their concerns are being addressed.  End 


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