Iraq's mosaic of ethnic groups line up for elections
- [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
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