Total population 40 million people; Shi’a Muslims (64-69 per cent), Sunni Muslims (29-34 per cent), Christians 1 per cent (includes Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Assyrian Church of the East) and other smaller groups such as Yazidis (1-4 per cent). There has been a decline in religious minority population: Christians numbered 1.5 million before the 2003 invasion, now reduced to 250,000 . Similarly, Yazidis also claim that their numbers have decreased to somewhere between 400,000-500,000 – 400,000 are in IDP camps. It is impossible to identify the size of the non-religious population.
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2020
Life for religious minorities has not been easy in Iraq in the last three decades. Even in what is seen as the post-Daesh phase, religious minorities such as Yazidis, Sabean-Mandaeans, Kakais, Shabaks and Turkmen, still struggle to find solace. The Mandaean community in Iraq is dwindling to such low numbers that its members fear extinction. Some 2,800 Yazidi women are missing. Iraqi courts have so far ignored the demand of Yazidi leaders to try Daesh commanders for war crimes. Both Yazidis and Christians are subject to regular violence and often blamed for the spread of COVID-19. The level of violence faced by Christians increased sharply in 2020, and the widespread instability is a catalyst for ongoing persecution.
The return of religious minorities from internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps remains a challenge. Between 30-50 per cent population of Chaldeans, Assyrians and Christians—who have mostly taken refuge in Erbil and KRG region—are likely to return, a significant number of Yazidis are still exile and present in the camps such as in Duhok. Similarly, in Alqosh, a sub-district in Tal Kaif district, according to one estimate, around 5,000 Christian IDPs have returned. In general, however, tens of thousands are yet to return.
Iranian-backed Shi’a militia groups in Northern Iraq are cited as the prime reason many internally-displaced Christians have not yet resettled. Archbishop Warda, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, called the presence of armed militias “a malignant cancer” that are “at the root of much of the corruption and never-ending civil unrest” in the country, “and the minorities continue to be abused in the middle.” He confirmed reports of physical violence or harassment of Christians, militia-armed checkpoints, and businesses requiring the backing of militias.
Displaced persons returning to their former homes creates frictions, particularly when others have moved into vacated areas. Bartella, a northern town near Mosul, once a Christian stronghold, has seen tension between returning Christians and Shabaks who have moved into the area.
COVID-19 has had a serious impact on the livelihoods of religious minorities. The Armenian minority with estimated population of 20,000, who mostly live in Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk and Kurdistan Region, are among those who are affected by COVID-19 and, as a result, lost their businesses. Christians in Alqosh experienced a dire situation during COVID-19 due to absence of protective gear and medical supplies.
The smaller groups such as Bahá’ís are not formally recognised and, as a result, their freedom to worship is sometimes undermined. Humanists, atheists and secularists are the focus of particularly pernicious repression.
There is a pattern of impunity or collusion in violence by state actors against the non-religious. They are considered to be ‘apostasizers and blasphemers’. The Iraqi Penal Code criminalises blasphemy with up to three years imprisonment. Members of other faiths and those identifying as agnostics, atheists, humanists are not able to record their faith identity on national ID cards.
FCDO Human Rights Report 2020
Iraq section has no specific mention of FoRB.
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2019
Iraq is a country of over 40 million people comprising of Shia Muslims (64-69%), Sunni Muslim (29-34%), Christians 1% (includes Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Assyrian Church of the East) and other smaller groups such as Yazidis (1-4%).
Christians in Iraq have complained that their numbers are decreasing due to mass migration and forced demographic change due to persecution. According to Christian leaders, there are fewer than 250,000 Christians in Iraq, compared with the pre-2003 figure of roughly 1.5 million.
Similarly, Yazidis also claim that their numbers have decreased to somewhere between 400,000-500,000. It is estimated that “300,000 Yazidis currently live in displacement camps or informal settlements scattered across Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region” and many more have travelled further afield.
Iraq’s future is uncertain. With the fall of Daesh and an emerging democratic culture, things appear to be improving. However, there are still political conflicts which are erupting into sectarian violence and discrimination based on religion. In October 2019, a wave of political unrest left over 100 people dead and thousands more injured. Protesters complained that government appointments are made on the basis of sectarian or ethnic quotas (a system known as muhassasa), rather than on merit. Aggrieved Iraqis say this has allowed Shia, Kurdish, Sunni and other leaders to abuse public funds, enrich themselves and their followers and effectively pillage the country of its wealth.
An August 2019 proposal to change voting rights in the Federal Supreme Court’s 13-member judiciary, by including four Islamic clerics among their number was seen as moving the country in an Islamist direction. Opponents of the move feared it would effectively end attempts to overturn legislation seen as discriminating against non-Muslim religious groups.
Although Iraqi forces have reclaimed Daesh’s physical territory and defeated the bulk of its forces, it seems that dispersed cells are still active. Recently, these cells launched different attacks on Iraqi soldiers, police and those tribes who oppose them. Although the primary target has been security forces, these cells still show motivation to carry out violent attacks against Shia Muslims, Yazidis, Christians and others. For example, on 15 July, twin blasts targeted a Shia mosque and killed at least five people.
By November 2018, around 202 mass burial sites had been uncovered, of which 95 were in Nineveh province, by government and humanitarian organisations. These included mass graves of Yazidis and Shias, and Popular Mobilization Force (PMF) soldiers.
Conversely, some factions within the PMF have been accused of torturing and illegally detaining Sunnis who were either formerly associated with Daesh, or who allegedly have someone from their family or tribe connected with the terror group. Indeed other groups have complained about the activities of members of the PMF. Christians have accused them of several offences including the sexual harassment of Christian women.
During the reporting period, there were incidents of harassment and abuse of Yazidis and Christians by KRG Peshmerga. One report suggests that Asayish, a Kurdish security force, has greatly affected the movement of Yazidis to and from the Sinjar area. Christians from Nineveh also witnessed restrictions on free movement and there have been numerous reports of abuses being carried out by Shabak armed groups against Christians in Bakhdida and Bartella where there was an armed attack on the 2019 Palm Sunday procession.
Minorities are still unrepresented in KRG region. Yazidis do not have a reserved seat in the KRG. Kakais have one reserved seat. However, it is empty since the KRG is unable to decide on a suitable candidate that would be able to represent all Kakais, considering the identity split within the Kakai community. There is an issue of political bias In Iraq, as minorities have complained that the existing systems favour Muslims and exclude non-Muslims. For example, the government does not recognise Yarsani Kakais as a separate religious group.
One of the most important issues affecting intercommunal relations in Iraq is land disputes. Shia Turkmen have complained that their lands are still in the possession of Arab Sunnis who occupied them during Saddam Hussein’s time. Shabak-Christian tensions have also been on the rise due to the perception of Shabak mass-migration into Christian areas in pursuit of employment.
Outside of the problems in the Nineveh region there have also been issues with central government. There is the continuing problem that the only certain religions that may be listed on national identity cards, viz. Christian, Sabean-Mandean, Yazidi, and Muslim. Members of other faiths and those identifying as agnostics, atheists, humanists are not able to record their faith identity on national ID cards.
Concerns about the presentation of Islamic customs as the societal norm in the Ministry of Education’s new curriculum were raised by non-Muslim religious leaders. Textbooks for children aged 6-11 described unveiled woman as “sick.” Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako said: “I read inaccurate, inappropriate and offensives statements that incite hatred and division”.
FCO Human Rights Report 2019
Iraq section has no specific mention of FoRB.
In the UK Parliament, 2021
EARLY DAY MOTIONS
1503 Religious freedoms in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq Robert Halfon
In the UK Parliament, 2020
Lord Alton 20 July; The Marquess of Lothian 29 June; Antony Mangnall 13 May; Andrew Rosindell 25 February; Lord Alton 11 February; Lord Alton 13 January;
US State Department International Religious Freedom report 2020