Minority politics in Iraq
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Minority politics in Iraq are represented by its various ethnic groups. The Kurds (Muslim, Yarisan and Yezidi), Assyrians, and Iraqi Turkmen represent the three largest non-Arab minorities in the country. Other groups include Armenians, Mandeans, Roma, Persians, and 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.
After Turkey and Iran, Iraq was (and still is) the third largest concentration of Kurds in the world, estimating at roughly 4 to 6 million. Following World War I and the defeat of Ottoman Empire, the Treaty of Sèvres promised an independent nation-state to the Kurds in Anatolia. The treaty, which also promised to cede historic Armenian provinces back to Armenia and certain areas to Greece was rejected by Turkish nationalists, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who called it "unacceptable." Following the defeat of the Greek forces in the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922), the Treaty of Lausanne was signed in 1923 in Turkey's favor. The larger area known as Turkish Kurdistan was given to Turkey and the rest was accepted as part of the British Empire (except for the Iranian Kurdistan, which at time was part of Persia). Since that time, Kurdish nationalists have made attempts to gain independence in an area approximating that identified at Sèvres. Other surrounding countries (such as Iraq) that experienced uprisings in predominantly Kurdish areas also joined to reject the idea of an independent Kurdistan.
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 Kurdish 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."<ref name="kurdishindependence">Viviano, Frank. "The Kurds in Control." National Geographic, January 2006 pg 26. </ref> 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 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.<ref>"Iraq captures al Qaeda deputy". One- News, 4 September 2006</ref>
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 also claim to be Iraq's third largest ethnic group after Arabs and 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 reigns 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. <ref>http://www.chaldean.org/news/detail.asp?iData=225&iCat=80&iChannel=2&nChannel=News</ref> 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. <ref>http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/b01dbd67285e8bdc7d3b1cfbd8beae33.htm</ref>
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 lead 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, particulatly 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."<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>
 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 Baghdad, their population is estimated at 10,000.
Although historically significant, the 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.
Iraq's Roma (Qawliya) minority was looked down upon as second-class citizens under Ba'ath party rule. Gypsies had some protection from being persecuted, however. The small village safe havens of the Gypsies have vanished with Saddam's overthrow, making them an easy target for Iranian-backed religious militia groups, such as the Badr Brigade or Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army. Many of their villages have been taken over by such militias, and this has forced Gypsies to flee to the north. Iraq's Gypsies trace their roots to Spain and India, from where they migrated during the 19th century.
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 religion. This has led to Kurdish authorities forcing Yezidis to register as Kurdish during the 2005 elections. 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 2005. 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 village.
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. <ref>Template:Cite web</ref>
 See also
 External Links
- Iraqi Minorities Council
- The Constitution of Iraq: Religious and Ethnic Relations, Study by Minority Rights Group International