العراقي Iraqi peoples

By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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map of republic of iraq provinces capitals


Arab Shi'aSoutheastThe الشيعة Shi'a live mostly in the southeast and constitute the majority of the population of Iraq, outnumbering the اهل الشنة Sunni three to one. Under the اهل الشنة Sunni Ottoman administration of Iraq, العراقي Iraqi شيعة Shi'a were largely excluded from administration, military and government-sponsored education for these careers. Instead, الشيعة Shi'a مجتهد mujtahids in the holy cities, often Persian in origin, were influenced by events in Persia. Unsurprisingly, the الشيعة Shi'a came to be deeply alienated from government by their long exclusion from it.
Arab SunniNorth

No census has been taken that distinguishes among various Muslim groups, but عربي اهل الشنة Arab sunnis probably represent 15 - 20% of the population. They are concentrated in the north, including the Arab tribal groups of the western steppe and the عربي Arab villages fo the northern Tigris and Euphrates. Despite their minority status, the عربي اهل السنة Arab sunnis have traditionally dominated political and social life in العراق Iraq. This began with Ottoman support, but later due to the ability of اهل السنة sunnis to maintain the command posts of power.

اهل الشنة Sunni dominance has fluctuated over time, it was more pronounced at the end of the 20th century than at any time since the mandate. This dominance has given the اهل الشنة sunni community a close association and interest in the emerging العراق Iraq state. عربي اهل السنة Arab sunnis also have considerable affinity for secular Arab nationalism, which originated in neighboring and largely sunni Arab countries.

In contrast to the الشيعة Shi'a, the اهل السنة العربي Arab Sunni in Iraq tend to be more secular, and with the exception of more recently settled tribes, more urban in composition. As a result, their communal identity is less developed. Furthermore, unlike the الشيعة Shi'a, the اهل السنة Sunni do not accord special religious authority to their علماء ulama. Rather, they follow the سنة sunnah and شريعة sharia. It is to the شريعة sharia, rather to any particular leader, that the اهل السنة sunni owes adherence. This has made the اهل الشنة sunni far more loosely structured than the الشيعة Shi'a.

KurdsNortheastThe الأكوردي Kurds have been assimilated the least into العراق Iraq, due to mountain inaccessibility and cultural and language identity. They speak a distinct language, كوردي Kurdish, and have developed an ethnic -- even national -- identity of their very own. The Kurds were converted into orthodox اهل السنة sunnis, part of a vast Muslim empire and often its staunchest defenders; some Christian communities and pre-Islamic ئێزیدی Yazidi sun-worshippers still exist. In the 17th and 18th dynasties, كوردي Kurdish dynasties arose but lacked cohesion and were unable to maintain autonomy. In the 20th century, a sense of كوردي Kurdish identity arose based on language, tribal ties, customs and a shared history. Kurdish nationalist movements arose but lacked te cohesion and coordination for lasting results. Within Iraqi Kurdistan, سليماني Sleimani (née Sulaymaniyah) is the intellectual capital and هه ولير Hawler (née Arbil) is the political capital.
TurkmanNorthConcentrated in northern towns and cities along the old trade route that led from Anatolia along the foothills of the Zagros to Baghdad, the Turkman are a Turkish-speaking group comprising 2 - 3% of the poulaiton. They are most numerous in هه ولير Hawler (Arbil), and especially in Kirkuk, where they are a majority. Likely the remnants of migrations of Turkish tribes from the Seljuk Era and o the Turkman tribal dynasties of the 14th and 15th dynasties, they are mainly اهل السنة sunni and middle-class. For decades the Turkman have yielded a disproportionate number of bureaucrats and have integrated well into modenr العراق Iraq.
Persian SpeakersSouth

There exist شيعة shi'a Iraqi Persian speakers withs strong ties to Persia. Until the 1980s, they constituted 1.5 - 2% of the population, but the Iran-Iraq war caused the large expulsion of this community. Iraqi Persian speakers have frequently looked to Persian rulers to support their interests, causing them to be regarded with suspicion by Ottoman Turks and, more recently, Arab nationalists.

Distinct from the Iraqi Persian speakers are the Lurs, constituting less than 1% of all Iraqis. often called failior shi'i Kurds, they are almost all tribally organized villagers concentrated near the eastern frontiers of Iraq.

Religious groups

Hawler Erbil citadel 20140913
Christian items, Hawler

Hawler Erbil citadel 20140913
Christian and Islamic items, Hawler

Jewishبغداد BaghdadUntil 1951, the bulk of the Jews in Iraq lived in Baghdad and traced their origin to the Babylonian captivity of the 6th century BC. Overwhelmingly urban, the Jews were often prosperous and influential merchants. The establishment of Israel in 1948 lead to an untenable situation and their exodus in 1951 left only a small and persecuted handful of Jews to remain.
Christianالموصل Mosul
The largest Christian denomination is the Chaldean Church, with its followers centered in Mosul and the surrounding plains. Most Chaldeans speak Arabic, though some use a modified Syriac as a vernacular. Second to the Chaldeans are the Assyrians. The British settled about 20,000 Assyrians in the northern areas of Iraq around Zakho and Dohuk following World War I. The Assyrians are one fo the most unsettling elements in Iraq's pre-World War II history. Their uninvited intrusion via a foreign power was deeply resented by the Muslims and especially by the كوردي Kurds in whose areas areas they were settled. They have become more integrated in recent years. Other Christian groups exist, though in much smaller quantities than the Chaldeans and Assyrians. A small number of Protestants are present mainly in Baghdad and Basra, almost wholly due to 19th century Baptist and Congregational missions.
Yazidiالموصل Mosul
Racially and linguistically Kurdish, the Yazidi are village dwellers near الموصل Mosul. Their religion is a compound of several ancient and living religions, and its most notable element is a dualism likely derived from Zoroastrianism. They have resisted integration into the larger society.
SabianDeltaA sect of ancient origin inhabiting portions of the southern delta. Their faith stresses baptism and contains elements of Manicheanism, but not Islam.

Tribal populations

Settled agricultural communities divorced from tribal structure emerged in only two areas, the carefully tended date gardens of the شط العرب Shatt al-Arab and the rain-fed grain-producing plains of الموصل Mosul. Instead of love of the land, loyalty to family and tribe has dominated Iraq's social and political life. Until modern times there were few cities and they were economically and culturally unintegrated with the rural hinterland. At the end of the Ottoman era, among the only cities were البصرة Basrah, بغداد Baghdad and الموصل Mosul. Most were simply caravan stops like الزبير Zubayr; fueling stations like الكوت Kut; or religious shrines like Karbala and Najaf. At the beginning of the 19th century, about ¼ of the population of 2,000,000 were urban; and ¼ of these were in بغداد Baghdad.

In the last half of the 20th century, the rapid growth of urbanization, education and government has greatly eroded tribalism and decisively shifted the balance of power to the cities. Nonetheless, in political life, family, clan and local ties often take precedence over national loyalties and broader ideologies. For centuries this diverse medley lived in symbiotic proximity. Central governments struggled for control, but real civil conflicts based on ethnic and sectarian animosities were rare. The 20th century brought new nationalist and religious ideologies that necessitated more interaction, cooperation and even integration. Once peacefully autonomous, tribes now faced social tensions and challenges of organization and leadership not always met by the state.


An amazing, thoughtful resource.