Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Iraq’s Shrinking Minorities

Two reports came out in the last few months that dealt with Iraq’s besieged minorities. The first was “Iraq Civilians Under Fire” by Amnesty International in April 2010, and the other was the Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom from May. They both documented the ongoing violence, abuses, and government neglect that minorities face, which has led many to flee their homes. Those factors are threatening their continued future in Iraq.

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


Don Cox said...

You forgot to discuss the Iraqi Jewish population, which had all been driven out of the country before US the invasion. There seem to have been more Jews in Iraq than any other minority.

Joel Wing said...

I think the US Commission report mentioned Jews but it said almost all of them have left the country. The purpose of the two reports was to discuss Thr main minority groups today in Iraq.

Twisted & Tainted said...

Er, the Assyrians (including all Christian sects) were the biggest minority group in Iraq, and still are. However, given the rise of radical Islam in Baghdad and the south, and political oppression from the Kurds in the north, their numbers are radically decreasing through murder, displacement, and expulsion. Iraqi Jews have all but been driven completely out, but Jews have collectively managed to claim some kind of home in the region.

The Assyrians have not, despite being promised one 70 years ago by the League of Nations. They still don't have any security or administrative rights. I think their plight deserves the most attention because the welfare and prosperity of the Assyrian Christian community can serve as a good barometer of freedom and democracy taking hold in a historically disfunctional country.

Anonymous said...

I am an avid reader of your blog Musings on Iraq.l I am lloking for some type of graph or data on the troop levels since 2009 tpo present on a month by month basis, showing the decrease each month stemming from the drawdown in forces and also a fairly decriptive idea on what the mission of the US troops will be in... the future after the drawdown. I have been searchign for this data for weeks and cannot get a good answer to each question. I can be rached via email at:

I hope you ar able to assit since your blog has more data than any other place on the web. Great job.


Joel Wing said...


The best place to find stats like that are from Brookings' Iraq Index found here:

From their 6/16/10 edition here are the numbers for U.S. troops in Iraq from 2009 to the present:

Jan. 142,000
Feb. 140,000
Mar. 137,000
Apr. 137,000
May 134,000
Jun. 130,000
Jul. 130,000
Aug. 130,000
Sep. 124,000
Oct. 117,000
Nov. 115,000
Dec. 110,000

Jan. 110,000
Feb. 98,000
Mar. 98,000
Apr. 95,000
May 92,000
Jun. 90,000

The job of the U.S. forces is going to be support, training, counterterrorism. They're already out of Iraqi cities, but still conduct joint raids with Iraqi forces. They also provide air support, logistics, etc. to Iraqi forces. They also have to provide protection for the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which are about to get drawndown. They are putting together new brigades as well that are specially trained for the new tasks that the U.S. is expecting in Iraq. After 2011 the Iraqi government is going to ask for some U.S. forces to stay, perhaps around 10,000 because Iraq has no air defense, no air force, no artillery, I don't know if they'll even have tanks by that time.

Security In Iraq May 15-21, 2024

The Islamic State and the Iraqi Islamic Resistance were both active in Iraq during the third week of May.