There are three main minority groups within Iraq. First are various Christians sects including Chealdeans, Assyrian Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox, Armenians, Protestants, and Evangelicals. There are also Sabean Mandeans and Yazidis. All have been targeted since 2003 for not being Muslims, not following Islamic dress code, being accused of supporting the west, and their trades. Christians and Yazidis for example own liquor stores, while Sabean Mandeans are goldsmiths and jewelers. Many have become refugees or displaced as a result of attacks, and minorities are a higher percentage of refugees than their percentage of Iraq’s population.
Minority populations have been decimated due to the violence and exodus. Half of the pre-2003 Christian community has been killed or fled. Before the U.S. invasion there were 1.4 million Christians. By 2010 there are around 500,000 left. 90% of Sabean Mandeans have fled or died. There are only around 3,500-5,000 left, compared to 50,000-60,000 in 2003. Yazidis went from 700,000 in 2005 to 500,000 in 2010. Mandeans and Yazidis are especially threatened because a person can only be born into the religion, and they can’t marry other groups. Mandean religious beliefs also bar them from carrying weapons. Christian leaders have warned about the end of their community, while Mandeans have asked that their entire population be moved to another country for their protection.
Many of the minorities that have decided to remain in Iraq reside in either Ninewa province or Kurdistan. either live in or have moved to Ninewa and Kurdistan. While Kurdistan has proven to be a safe haven for minorities, Ninewa is the exact opposition. It is one of the most violent governorates in the country. There minorities are caught in the middle of the Arab-Kurd divide over the disputed territories with both parties trying to manipulate, intimidate, and abuse minorities to either co-opt them or drive them out. Minorities for example, have accused Kurds of interfering in their voting, seizing their property, making services conditional upon support of Kurdish demands, forcing them to identify themselves as Arabs or Kurds, stopping local security forces from being formed, or sponsoring ones that are loyal to Kurdistan. Arab militants have attacked minorities throughout Ninewa. The last example was on February 2010 when 10 Christians were killed in Mosul that led to 4,300 families fleeing to the Ninewa plains, Kurdistan, or Syria. The government on the other hand has never provided protection for minorities, and never thoroughly investigated or punished the perpetrators of attacks upon them.
Iraq’s minorities find themselves in a precarious situation. The government has neglected them by not providing them adequate security and has been largely indifferent to their plight. The Kurdish Regional Government has attempted to co-opt and intimidate them so that they support Kurdish aspirations to annex sections of northern Iraq. Arab militants have attacked them for not being Muslim. Caught in between these three larger groups, and with little protection, minority populations have been devastated. Many have left the country, and will probably never come back. Their numbers will continue to drop in the future, with the smallest group, Sabean Mandeans, perhaps disappearing someday. Iraq is therefore threatened with losing part of its diverse population because of the violence and divisions that were unleashed with the overthrow of Saddam that have yet to be resolved.
Amnesty International, “Iraq Civilians Under Fire,” April 2010
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, “Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom,” May 2010