Home | Government | WikiLeaks Information

WikiLeaks: 2009-03-05: 09BAGHDAD578: Iraq's Minorities

by WikiLeaks. 09BAGHDAD578: March 05, 2009.

Posted: Monday, December 30, 2013 at 05:50 PM UT


If you are new to these pages, please read an introduction on the structure of a cable as well as how to discuss them with others. See also the FAQs
Reference ID Created Classification Origin
09BAGHDAD578 2009-03-05 17:07 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Baghdad
DE RUEHGB #0578/01 0641707
O 051707Z MAR 09
E.O. 12958: N/A 
REF: A. 07 BAGHDAD 2682 
     B. 08 BAGHDAD 3590 
     C. 08 BAGHDAD 1848 
     D. 08 BAGHDAD 3489 
     E. 08 BAGHDAD 3926 
     F. 08 BAGHDAD 1962 
     G. 08 BAGHDAD 2096 
     H. 08 BAGHDAD 1830 
(U)  This is the second in a series of messages intended to 
provide background for policy-makers on Iraq. 
1.  (U)  Summary:  Iraq's minorities have a long and colorful 
history in the "Land Between the Two Rivers."  While their 
numbers have declined significantly in recent years, those 
who remain contribute significantly to the cultural and 
political fabric of Iraq.  Most minority communities are 
located in the north, where they have resided in one form or 
another since biblical times.  Christians make up the largest 
minority group in Iraq, followed by Yezidis, Shabaks, 
Sabaean-Mandaeans, Baha'is and a handful of Jews.  All of 
these groups are subject to harassment and abuse, though the 
GOI has recently taken steps to mitigate attacks targeting 
minorities.  The USG is committed to promoting religious 
freedom and minority rights in Iraq and provides significant 
financial and political support to minority groups.  Many 
USG-sponsored NGOs work closely with Iraq's minorities, 
assisting them on a wide variety of issues.  End summary. 
Iraq's Minorities:  A Snapshot 
2.  (U)  Ninety-five percent of Iraq's 28.2 million citizens 
are Muslim.  Shi'a Muslims -- predominantly Arabs, but also 
including Turkmen, Faili Kurds and other groups -- constitute 
a 60 to 65% majority.  Sunni Muslims make up 32 to 37% of the 
population; of these, 18 to 20% of the national population 
are Kurds and one to two percent are Turkmen.  The remaining 
five percent of the population is comprised of Christians, 
Yezidis, Shabaks, Sabaean-Mandaeans, Baha'is, and a very 
small number of Jews.  (Note:  Due to internal strife, the 
lack of a comprehensive national census since 1987, and 
significant internal migration within Iraq and emigration 
from Iraq, it is difficult to provide completely accurate 
population numbers for Iraq's minorities.  The GOI has 
recently announced plans to hold a nationwide census in 
October.  End note.) 
--  CHRISTIANS:  Approximately two-thirds of Iraq's 
    550,000 to 800,000 Christians are Chaldeans (who follow 
    the Roman Catholic faith), nearly one-third are 
    Assyrians (who subscribe to the "Church of the East"), 
    and the remainder are split among Syriacs (Eastern 
    Orthodox), Armenians (Roman Catholic and Eastern 
    Orthodox), and a handful of Anglicans and other 
    Protestants.  The Chaldean and Syriac populations are 
    found both in Baghdad and in Iraq's north (in the 
    cities of Kirkuk, Mosul, Erbil and Dohuk and on the 
    Ninewah Plains).  Virtually all the Assyrian 
    Christians reside in the north, while the 
    Armenians are spread out among the cities of Baghdad, 
    Basrah, Kirkuk and Mosul.  Although some Chaldeans and 
    Assyrians consider themselves Arab, the GOI and the 
    majority of Iraqis consider them to be ethnically 
    distinct from Arabs and Kurds.  Armenians have lived 
    in Iraq since before the birth of Christ, and settled 
    in large numbers following attacks on them by 
    the Ottoman Turks in 1915. 
--  YEZIDIS:  There are approximately 500,000 to 600,000 
    Yezidis residing in Iraq, primarily in and near the 
    northern towns of Dohuk and Mosul.  The Yezidi religion 
    is monotheistic and thought to be an offshoot of 
    Zoroastrianism.  It includes elements of Manicheism, 
Q    Zoroastrianism.  It includes elements of Manicheism, 
    Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Gnostic beliefs and 
    dates back nearly 4,000 years.  Yezidis have been 
    labeled "devil worshippers" by some because of their 
    reverence for Maluk Ta'us, the "Peacock Angel," who, 
    some Muslims and Christians claim, is synonymous with 
    the devil.  They have been the target of violent 
    attacks by Al-Qaida in Iraq and other religious 
    extremist groups. 
--  SHABAKS:  Community leaders estimate their population 
    to be between 200,000 to 500,000, though other 
    reports put this number at around 60,000.  Almost all 
    Shabaks live in Ninewah Province, primarily in the 
    eastern portions of Mosul.  Shabaks combine elements 
BAGHDAD 00000578  002 OF 003 
    of Sufism with their own interpretation of divine 
    reality.  Their faith permits the consumption of 
    alcoholic beverages, which results in persecution 
    by some Muslims. 
--  SABAEAN-MANDAEANS:  Approximately 3,000 to 5,000 
    Sabaean-Mandaeans live in Iraq, mostly in Baghdad 
    and in the marsh areas of the Ninewah Plains.  The 
    Sabaean or Mandaean (Note:  The terms are often used 
    interchangeably. End note.) religion is one of the 
    oldest surviving Gnostic religions in the world and 
    predates Christianity; John the Baptist is its central 
--  BAHA'IS:  Fewer than 2,000 Baha'is reside in Iraq; they 
    believe that Baha'u'llah, not Mohammed, was the last 
    prophet, thus putting them directly at odds with the 
    country's majority Muslim population. 
--  JEWS:  Once numbering over 150,000, there are now no 
    more than ten Jews remaining in Iraq, all of whom live 
    in Baghdad.  Most of Iraq's Jews fled to Israel 
    following its establishment in 1948 (ref A). 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
GOI/Minorities: Some Progress But More Necessary 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
5.  (U)  Iraqi law guarantees the right of all religious 
groups to gather and worship freely.  In  practice, sectarian 
violence and political instability have impeded the ability 
of many citizens to exercise this right in full.  Iraq's 
constitution provides for freedom of religion, and while the 
GOI has generally endorsed this right, many of Iraq's 
minorities remain targets for persecution by extremist and 
criminal groups.  In addition, radical Islamic elements 
outside the government continue to exert tremendous pressure 
on individuals and groups, both within and outside the GOI, 
to conform to extremist interpretations of Islamic precepts. 
For example, in October 2008, nearly 2,500 Christian families 
fled Mosul amid threats by Muslim extremists to convert to 
Islam or risk death (refs B and C).  Estimates place the 
number of Christians killed in these attacks at between eight 
and 15.  Many of these families have since returned to their 
homes, following concerted efforts on the part of the GOI to 
provide better security for them.  The GOI also coordinated 
with U.S. assistance providers and the UNHCR to provide 
humanitarian assistance to the displaced Christians during 
the crisis. 
6.  (U)  Over the past year, the GOI has become increasingly 
aware of the humanitarian challenges faced by minority 
populations -- as well as the damage these do to 
international perceptions of Iraq.  The GOI particularly 
wants to stem the embarrassing tide of minority emigration. 
Prime Minister Maliki has made several supportive public 
statements affirming that minorities are authentic Iraqis 
with equal rights.  In June 2008 he established a Minorities 
Committee to protect and advance minorities' socioeconomic 
and political interests (ref C).  Unfortunately, the 
symbolically important Committee has not been active.  Plans 
to organize a Christian Conference never materialized.  In 
November 2008, parliament voted to amend the Provincial 
Elections Law to establish six minority set-aside provincial 
council (one Christian and one Sabaean seat in Baghdad; one 
Christian, one Yezidi and one Shabak seat in Ninewah; and one 
Christian seat in Basrah).  The Non-Muslim Endowments Office, 
which finances the maintenance and restoration of Iraq's 
non-Muslim places of worship, has sponsored the drafting of a 
Christian personal status law, currently undergoing review 
QChristian personal status law, currently undergoing review 
following the High Judicial Council's rejection of a 
previously proposed version (ref E).  The Ministry of Finance 
also approved a large FY09 budget increase for the Non-Muslim 
Endowments Office.  (Note:  The GOI maintains three religious 
endowments ("waqfs"):  one Sunni, one Shi'a Endowment, and 
one for non-Muslims.  The endowments, which operate under the 
authority of the Prime Minister's Office, receive government 
funding to maintain religious facilities (ref F)  End note.) 
USG Assistance 
7.  (U)  Embassy and PRT officials meet regularly with 
representatives of all of the country's minority communities. 
 Our primary focus is on increasing minority inclusion in the 
political process through the passage of key pieces of 
legislation, such as the amendment to the Provincial 
Elections Law mentioned above.  Since 2003, more than $31 
BAGHDAD 00000578  003 OF 003 
million in U.S. assistance funds has been spent on projects 
with a direct effect on minorities who reside on the Ninewah 
Plain.  These projects include the rebuilding and 
refurbishing of schools, upgrades to the electrical 
distribution system, improvements to the local road system 
and the reconstruction of public service structures such as 
fire and police stations.  In addition, Congress earmarked 
$10 million in unobligated FY09 Economic Support Fund money 
for Iraq to be directed toward projects in the Ninewah Plains 
region that will improve the lives of thousands of Iraq's 
8.  (U)  A number of U.S.-funded NGOs work closely with 
Iraq's minorities.  The National Democratic Institute works 
with representatives of the Assyrian Democratic Movement 
(ADM) in Mosul, Erbil and Baghdad to educate and train ADM 
activists and candidates on political party development, 
campaign management and democratic institutions.  The 
International Republican Institute is currently working on a 
nationwide effort to remove the "religion" category from 
Iraqi national ID cards.  The International Institute of Law 
and Human Rights is working with minority groups to develop 
measures for the implementation of a Ninewah Plain 
Administrative Unit in accordance with Article 125 of the 
constitution.  If adopted, this would provide some measure of 
local administrative control to religious minority 
communities residing in Ninewah Province (ref H). 


Government ForumGovernment Forum

WikiLeaks InformationWikiLeaks Information

Do you have any related information or suggestions? Please email them.

AIM | Atour: The State of Assyria | Terms of Service