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Iraq's mosaic of ethnic groups line up for elections

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  • Fr. John-Brian
    [Christians - of which Orthodox Christians are significant - are considered among the ethnic groups, but, as a group, they are listed last in this Turkish
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 25, 2005
      [Christians - of which Orthodox Christians are significant - are considered
      among the ethnic groups, but, as a group, they are listed last in this
      Turkish Press article]

      Iraq's mosaic of ethnic groups line up for elections
      AFP: 1/25/2005

      BAGHDAD, Jan 25 (AFP) - Iraq's mosaic of ethnic groups are lined up for
      Sunday's elections in which the Shiites as the majority community are
      expected to emerge the dominant force in the post-Saddam Hussein era.

      The following are short profiles of the main groups:

      -- SHIITES --

      The Shiites, who faced decades of repression dating back to the Ottoman
      period, make up around 60 percent of Iraq's population and are concentrated
      in the south of the country and the capital.

      Their religious leaders, especially spiritual chief Grand Ayatollah Ali
      al-Sistani, have encouraged Shiites to seize the moment and turn out in
      droves for the elections.

      Radical cleric Moqtada Sadr, however, has opted for a boycott in protest at
      polls taking place "under foreign occupation". But a truce between his
      militia and US-Iraqi forces has been holding since October.

      The Shiites have been the target of devastating attacks by Sunni insurgents
      determined to bring down the new order:

      At least 83 people, including top cleric Mohammed Baqer Hakim, were killed
      in Najaf in August 2003, and more than 170 died in March 2, 2003 attacks in
      Karbala and Baghdad during the Ashura religious holiday.

      On December 19, sixty-six people were killed in further bomb attacks in
      Najaf and Karbala, the homes of the two holiest sites of Shia Islam.

      In modern Iraqi history, the Shiites during the 1950s made up the
      rank-and-file of the Baath and communist parties, before being sidelined
      after the rise to power of Saddam's Sunni clan from Tikrit in the 1970s.

      Some Shiite religious events such as the public display of grief for Ashura
      were banned and a bloody repression targeted Shiite leaders, including
      Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer Sadr, who was executed in 1980.

      Brutal force was used to put down a Shiite uprising in the aftermath of
      Iraq's ouster from Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War.

      -- SUNNIS --

      The Sunnis, although the majority sect in the Arab world, account for only
      20 to 25 percent of the Iraqi population.

      Under Saddam's regime, they occupied the top posts in the army and police as
      well as the ruling Baath party. But since the invasion they have been
      overshadowed by the Shiites and Kurds.

      Both the radical and moderate camps in the Sunni community have opposed
      Sunday's elections, which they argue are taking place under occupation and
      with a total lack of security.

      The influential Committee of Muslim Scholars, whose members represent Sunni
      mosques across the country, and the Islamic Party pulled out of the race
      after the interim government turned down their call for a six-month delay.

      Most of the bloodiest attacks and bombings since the United States declared
      the end of major combat operations in Iraq on May 1, 2003 have taken place
      in Sunni areas.

      -- KURDS --

      In a milestone on the road to autonomy, the non-Arab Kurds of northern Iraq
      are to take part in two simultaneous elections: for a transitional National
      Assembly in Baghdad and for their own 111-member parliament.

      They are estimated to number some four to five million in Iraq, or between
      15 and 20 percent of the population.

      In the early 1970s, the Iraqi authorities forcibly displaced the Kurds as
      part of an "Arabisation" policy of strategic areas such as the oil-rich
      centre of Kirkuk, launching two decades of repression.

      After a Kurdish uprising in the aftermath of the 1991 war over Kuwait,
      hundreds of thousands of Kurdish civilians were driven across the mountains
      into Turkey and Iran.

      Under a Western security umbrella, the Kurds returned and held the first
      elections in their history, resulting in the Kurdistan Democratic Party
      (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) sharing power.

      But fighting erupted between the two factions in 1994, leaving some 3,000
      dead and paralysing fledgling Kurdish institutions.

      They buried the hatchet on the eve of the US-led invasion to overthrow
      Saddam, fighting alongside American troops in the north of the country. The
      peshmergas entered Kirkuk in April 2003.

      The Kurds, who insist on a historical claim to Kirkuk, are running a joint
      list in the elections to avoid weakening their campaign for a federated
      Iraq, as enshrined in a provisional constitution.

      -- TURCOMANS --

      The Turcoman minority, who originated in Central Asia and moved to
      Mesapotamia in the 11th century, represent between one and two percent of
      the population, with most of them living in northern Iraq.

      After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, the British occupiers of Iraq
      launched a campaign to assimilate the Turcomans with the Arab and Kurdish

      They were the victims of several massacres between 1924 and 1959, straddling
      independence in 1932.

      Like the Kurds, the Turcomans were driven out of Kirkuk during the 1970s to
      be replaced by Arabs. The two ethnic groups have clashed since Saddam's fall
      and are now in dispute over who was in the majority before the expulsions.

      Ankara has pledged to protect the interests of the Turcomans and, fearful of
      unrest among its own sizeable Kurdish minority, opposes too high a level of
      autonomy for the Kurds of Iraq.

      -- CHRISTIANS --

      The Christian community stood at 1.4 million people according to a 1987
      census but has since shrunk to 700,000 -- out of a total population of 25
      million -- during a turbulent period of war and years of crippling

      They been heavily targeted in the unrest that has swept post-Saddam Iraq.

      At the start of August, four attacks against Christian targets in Baghdad
      and two others in Mosul left 10 people dead and 50 injured, sending tens of
      thousands of Iraqi Christians into exile.

      Liquor stores, owned by Christians, have been blown up by Islamic militants.
      And Christian families, many considered wealthy by Iraqi standards, have
      been targeted by kidnappers for huge ransoms.

      The Chaldeans, whose 600,000 people represent most Christians in Iraq, are
      an oriental rite Catholic community. Iraq also has Assyrian Christians,
      Catholic and Orthodox Syriacs, and Catholic and Orthodox Armenians.

      01/25/2005 13:28 GMT - AFP
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