Illuminating Iraq’s minority groups

Shagun Randhawa

Mokhtar Lamani, a senior visiting fellow at CIGI reported that the Iraqi minorty population is facing possible extinction due to �ethnic cleansing�. Lamani intended to display the troubles that some Iraqi people have faced since the war began in 2003

Minorities in Iraq are nearing extinction, constantly facing threats of “ethnic cleansing” from their neighbours, as the predominantly Muslim population searches to achieve a homogenous Muslim country. As such, minorities are forced to flee, leaving their homesteads in order to find a place where religious identity is not so much of a deciding factor.

The dangers and threats facing these minorities have caught the attention of a senior visiting fellow at the Waterloo-based Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), Mokhtar Lamani. A man with a renowned career in international diplomacy, Lamani has served in Iraq as a special representative for the Arab League and has been working to reconcile sectarian groups in Iraq.

The issue of minorities in the country led Lamani to compile an extensive report detailing the future prospects for minorities in Iraq, although the bleak situation that minorities currently face is far from over.
The purpose of his report is not to further divide the Iraqi people, but rather illuminate the sufferings of the minority population. The report details the widespread sectarian violence that erupted after the 2003 war in Iraq.

“While comprising less than five percent of the population, minorities do, however, make up more than 20 percent of the refugee population,” says Lamani’s report.

As there has yet to be a constitution in Iraq based on equal citizenship, the problem looks to continue in 2009.

For example, there is still a requirement in most Middle Eastern countries for citizens to declare their ethnic or religious backgrounds on identification cards.

The rise in sectarianism has reduced mixed communities into Shi’a or Sunni groups, and those who cannot find refuge in either of these groups are forced to flee the country or move to Iraqi-Kurdistan, a place where religious identity is given less importance.

Violence has been ongoing since the beginning of the war in 2003, but they have reached two heights. In 2006, the Sunni-Shi’a violence forced thousands of minority families to escape the ethnic cleansing that was taking place predominantly in and around Baghdad, in order to create a homogenous Muslim community.

In 2008, violence against Christians in Mosul saw thousands of Christian families flee the city and go to Iraqi-Kurdistan. The displacement of peoples in Iraq essentially altered the demographic makeup of some parts of the country.

In Iraqi-Kurdistan, however, these fleeing groups have caused an enormous pressure on the government to provide protection and basic services to these displaced peoples. The massive amounts of minorities escaping to this region have caused an overflow in schools and hospitals, with a lack of space in these vital institutions for all.

The fear of having to flee is of concern to specific minorities in Iraq, such as the Mandaeans, who are anxious about their religious group being spread too thinly across the world. If they are forced to spread out across the world, their religion may, in fact, die out.

According to Lamani’s report, “90 percent of the Mandaean population has been forced to flee,” thus providing evidence for the Mandaeans’ fears.

The circumstances in Iraq appear to be far from any solution. According to Lamani, “many minorities who were interviewed by my research team didn’t believe the Iraqi situation would change at all, and don’t think it will ever be respective of ethnic and religious differences.”

The threat facing minorities in Iraq is in stark contrast with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights including article 18, which states that “everyone has a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Lamani believes that without any solution, it is evident that minorities in Iraq are well on their way to extinction.