Iraq; International Religious
Freedom Report 2005
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Nov. 08, 05
Coalition-led forces overthrew the Ba'athist regime of Saddam
Hussein in April 2003. As recognized in U.N. Security Council
Resolutions (UNSCR) 1483, 1511, and 1546, an Interim Administration--the
Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)--administered the country
until the establishment of an internationally recognized, representative
government. The Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), recognized by
UNSCR 1500 as the principal body of the Iraqi interim administration
during the period of the CPA, adopted the Law for the Administration
of the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period--the Transitional
Administrative Law (TAL)--in March 2004. The new Iraqi Interim
Government (IIG), consistent with UNSCR 1546, assumed full governmental
authority in June 2004. In January, the country held its first
free election, choosing a Transitional National Assembly, which
appointed the Transitional Government in May.
The TAL established a republican, federal, democratic, and
pluralistic system with powers shared among the federal and regional
governments, including 18 governorates, as well as municipalities
and local administrations. The TAL provides for freedom of religion,
and the Government generally respects this right in practice.
Article 7 of the TAL recognizes Islam as the official religion
of the state and mandates that it be considered a source of legislation.
Despite the ongoing insurgency and the Government's focus
on rebuilding the country's infrastructure, there were improvements
in respect for religious freedom during the reporting period.
For decades, the former regime conducted a brutal campaign of
killing, summary execution, and protracted arbitrary arrest against
the religious leaders and followers of the majority Shi'a Muslim
population and sought to undermine the identity of minority non-Muslim
groups. Since the 2003 liberation, the Government has not engaged
in the persecution of any religious group, calling instead for
tolerance and acceptance of all religious minorities.
While the Government respected the right of the individual
to worship according to conscience, conservative and extremist
Islamic elements continued to exert tremendous pressure on other
groups to conform to radical interpretations of Islam's precepts.
Although this impacted the secular population, Sunni and Shi'a
alike, non-Muslims were especially vulnerable to the pressure
of violence and terror attacks because of their minority status
and lack of a tribal structure, which often affords a layer of
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with
the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human
rights. Senior U.S. Administration and Embassy officials called
for unity in the face of sectarian violence, supported the inclusion
of religious minorities in the political and constitution drafting
processes, and facilitated interfaith discussion with all members
of the country's diverse religious communities.
Section I. Religious Demography
The country has an area of 437,072 square miles, and its population
is approximately 26 million. An estimated 97 percent of the population
is Muslim. Shi'a Muslims--predominantly Arab, but also including
Turkmen, Faili Kurds, and other groups--constitute a 60 to 65
percent majority. Sunni Muslims make up 32 to 37 percent, of
the population of whom approximately 18 to 20 percent are Sunni
Kurds, 12 to 16 percent Sunni Arabs, and the remainder Sunni
Turkmen. The remaining 3 percent comprises Chaldean (an eastern
rite of the Catholic Church), Assyrian (Church of the East),
Syriac (Eastern Orthodox), Armenian (Roman Catholic and Eastern
Orthodox), and Protestant Christians, as well as Yazidi, Sabean
(Mandaean), Baha'i, Kaka'i, and a small number of Jewish believers.
Shi'a, although predominantly located in the south, are also
a majority in Baghdad and have communities in most parts of the
country. Sunnis form the majority in the center and the north
of the country. Shi'a and Sunni Arabs are not ethnically distinct.
According to official estimates, the number of Christians
decreased from 1.4 million in 1987 to fewer than 1 million. The
majority of Christians are Catholic. Christian leaders estimate
that approximately 700,000 Iraqi Christians live abroad.
Church leaders in Erbil and Mosul say Christians in the north
account for roughly 30 percent of the country's Christian population.
Four of the five largest Christian communities are located in
Mosul (150,000), Erbil (20,000 to 25,000), Dohuk (13,000), and
Kirkuk (12,000). According to the Primate of the Armenian Diocese,
approximately 20,000 Armenian Christians remain in the country.
An estimated 12,000 reside in Baghdad, and the remainder in Mosul,
Basrah, Kirkuk, and the north. There are approximately 225,000
Assyrian Christians and an estimated 750,000 Chaldeans. Chaldean
and Assyrian Christians, who are descendants of some of the earliest
Christian communities, have the same ethnic and linguistic background
but are considered by some to be distinct ethnic groups. The
communities speak a distinct language (Syriac). Although the
former regime classified them as Arabs, both the Chaldo-Assyrians
and the Government now consider this group as an ethnicity distinct
from Arabs and Kurds; however, there are some Chaldeans and Assyrians
who consider themselves Arab. Chaldeans (Eastern Rite Catholics)
recognize the primacy of the Roman Catholic Pope, while the Assyrians,
who are not Catholic, do not.
The Yazidi are a syncretistic religious group, or a set of
several groups, with ancient origins and comprising elements
of Zoroastrianism, Manicheism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism,
and Gnostic beliefs and traditions. Yazidi do not intermarry
with outsiders or accept converts. Defined by the former regime
as Arabs, many Yazidi now consider themselves to be Kurds, while
others define themselves as both religiously and ethnically distinct
from Muslim Kurds. Most of the 700,000 Yazidi reside in the North.
Sabean is an ancient religion dating from the first 3 centuries
C.E. and reflects numerous religious influences, including ancient
Gnostic, Jewish, and Christian beliefs. The Sabean community
continues to decline; according to Sabean leaders, fewer than
20,000 remain in the country. While some Sabeans fled the tyranny
of the former regime, this decline could also be attributed to
the fact thatconverts are not accepted, and those Sabeans who
marry Christians or Muslims are no longer regarded as Sabean.
The Kaka'i, sometimes referred to as Ahl-e-Haqq, reside primarily
in Kirkuk, Mosul, and Kankeen in Diyala Province. Primarily Shi'a
Kurds, followers believe in the teachings of Imam Ali Bin Talib.
Most are of Kurdish ethnicity.
While there are both Muslims and non-Muslims who are of secular
orientation, there tends to be a distinct correlation between
religious differences and ethnic or political differences. Political
parties tend to be organized along religious or ethnic lines.
For example, Shi'a Islamist parties, such as the Supreme Council
for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Da'wa, as well as
some Kurdish nationalist parties, such as the Kurdistan Democratic
Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), are predominant
political forces. Other political players include the Sunni Iraqi
Islamic Party and other ethnic minority parties, such as the
Assyrian Democratic Movement and the Liberal Faili Kurds Organization.
There was no data available on active participation in religious
services or rituals; however, terrorist attacks rendered unusable
many mosques, churches, and holy sites. Additionally, many worshippers
reportedly did not attend religious services or participate in
religious events because of the threat of violence. For example,
the most important Yazidi ritual, the annual 6-day pilgrimage
to the tomb of Sheikh Adii in Lalish, still took place; however,
many Yazidi preferred to remain in local houses of worship to
celebrate this event due to security concerns. There were numerous
reports of places of worship closing due to those fears.
The Government provided significant support for the Hajj,
which is the annual 10-day pilgrimage to Mecca during the beginning
of the Islamic month of Thi-Alhejja. The Sunni and Shi'a Waqfs,
or religious endowments, accepted applications from the public
and submitted them to the Supreme Council for the Hajj. This
Council approved the list of approximately 27,000 names and covered
approximately 50 percent of the pilgrims' expenses.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The TAL provides for freedom of religion, and the Government
generally respects this right in practice. The TAL recognizes
the Islamic identity of the majority of the citizenry and guarantees
the full rights of all individuals to freedom of religious belief
and practice. Specifically, article 13(F) of the TAL recognizes
every citizen's right to freedom of thought, conscience, and
religious belief and practice, prohibiting coercion in such matters.
It is the Government's policy to protect the rights of all
religious groups to gather and worship freely; however, in practice,
the ongoing insurgency impeded the ability of many citizens to
worship freely. Additionally, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF)
were not yet operating at full capability and were unable either
to prevent or remedy effectively violations of these rights.
Article 7 of the TAL recognizes Islam as the official religion
of the state and mandates that it be considered a source of legislation.
According to this article, during the transitional period no
law may be enacted that contradicts the universally agreed tenets
of Islam, the principles of democracy, or the rights enumerated
in Chapter 2 of the TAL, which include the right to freedom of
thought, conscience, and religious belief and practice, as well
as a guarantee of equality before the law without regard to gender,
sect, opinion, belief, nationality, religion, or origin.
Many Muslim holy days are also national holidays, including,
Ashura, Arbai'n, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and the Birth of the
Prophet. Although some non-Muslim holy days, such as Christmas,
are recognized as holidays, only Muslim holidays are officiallyrecognized
as national holidays.
Non-Muslims complained that although the Government recognizes
their religious holidays by law, in practice there is general
disregard for those holidays. Schools routinely scheduled examinations
during non-Muslim holidays, and no special dispensation was given
to students wishing to observe them.
Religious groups are required to register with the Government.
According to the Christian and Other Religions Endowment, approximately
20 foreign missionaries applied to operate in the country since
the liberation; however, only 13 remain in the country. After
learning of the registration requirements, which include having
at least 500 followers, none of the organizations returned to
complete the registration process.
The Government permits religious instruction in public schools,
and in most of the country students must study Islam for approximately
3 hours daily, in both primary and secondary school, as a requirement
for graduation. Religious study is not mandatory in the north.
Non-Muslim students are not required to participate in Islamic
studies; however, some non-Muslim students reported that they
felt pressure to do so. Alternative religious study is provided
for in the curriculum of non-Muslim schools.
The law does not mention a penalty for the conversion from
Islam to non-Islamic faiths. Article 1(2) of the Personal Status
Law No. 188 of 1959, states: "If no legislative text can
be applied, then the judgment should be taken from Shari'a principles
(Islamic law) most suitable to the texts of this law." Under
Islamic law, conversion to another religion is a criminal offense
subject to the death penalty. Article 1 of the Iraqi Penal Code
No. 111 of 1969, however, mandates that criminal penalties can
only be imposed by law. Thus, despite the Shari'a punishment
for conversion, the Iraqi penal code does not import the Shari'a
penalty, nor does it contain a similar penalty. The Law of Civil
Affairs No. 65 of 1972 explicitly allows non-Muslims to convert
Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) Resolution 201 of 2001,
which prohibits the Wahhabi branch of Islam and mandates the
death penalty for adherents if the charge is proved, and Law
No. 105 of 1970, which prohibits the Baha'i Faith, are technically
still part of the law. The TAL's provisions on freedom of religion
should, by the terms of the TAL, supersede these laws; however,
at the end of the reporting period, no court had ruled on them
in relation to the TAL.
Although the Personal Status Law of 1959 calls for incorporation
of Shari'a into the law in the absence of legislative text on
a matter, Article 2(1) expressly exempts from its application
individuals covered by special law. Such special law includes
British Proclamation No. 6 of 1917 and the Personal Status Law
of Foreigners, No. 38 of 1931. Proclamation No. 6 provides that
the country's civil courts consult the religious authority of
the non-Muslim parties for its opinion under the applicable religious
law and apply this opinion in court. The Personal Status Law
of Foreigners requires that courts apply the municipal law of
the foreign litigants to resolve their domestic law matters.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Government policy and practices did not interfere with the
free practice of religion; however, the ongoing insurgency had
a significant, negative impact on the ability of all religious
believers to practice their faith. Additionally, the ISF's lack
of capability and capacity resulted in deficiency in the rule
of law, which impeded the right of citizens to worship according
to their conscience.
The country's first democratically elected government was
generally representative of the country's diversity, despite
the Sunni boycott of the January elections. The Sunni Arab minority
had seats in the Transitional National Assembly (TNA) but proportionally
far fewer than their share of the overall population. Sunni Arabs
held positions in the cabinet, including senior positions, such
as minister of defense, vice president, and deputy prime minister.
Some non-Muslim minorities, such as the Sabeans, were not represented
in either the TNA or the Government.
The Government did not restrict the formation of political
parties based on a particular faith, religious beliefs, or interpretations
of religious doctrine. Although the political coalitions
created for the January elections were based predominantly on
religion or ethnicity, religious belief or ethnicity was not
a requirement for participation. For example, the Kurdish List,
which won 27 percent of the seats in the TNA, comprised Sunnis,
Shi'a, Christians, and Yazidi; the Iraqiyun List also included
different ethnicities and religions. Likewise, the winning Shi'a
Coalition, although comprising predominantly Shi'a Islamists,
also included religious and ethnic minorities, such as Sunnis,
Yazidi, Kurds, Turkmen, and Shabak. The Shi'a Coalition also
included secular Shi'a and political independents not associated
with any religious party.
The composition of the Transitional Government reflected the
majority status of the Shi'a, who were politically and economically
disadvantaged under the former regime. Although the Transitional
Government publicly supported the freedom of all individuals
to worship as they chose, there were some reports of discrimination
by Shi'a elements in the Government against Sunni and non-Muslim
The Wahhabi branch of Islam and the Baha'i Faith are technically
prohibited by law; however, the TAL's provisions on freedom of
religion should, by the terms of the TAL, supercede these laws.
Nonetheless, by the end of the reporting period, no court had
ruled on these laws in relation to the TAL.
The Personal Status Law of Foreigners requires that courts
apply the municipal law of the foreign litigants to resolve their
domestic law matters. Despite this exception in the 1959 Personal
Status Law, there are instances in which this law, based on Shari'a
principles, applies to non-Muslims, thereby overriding rules
particular to their religion. For instance, the law forbids the
marriage of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim; also, in the distribution
of inheritance, a female receives one-half of what a male receives.
Many residents on the Ninewah Plain, who are mostly non-Muslim,
were unable to vote in the January elections. According to the
Assyrian International News Agency, only 93 of 330 polling places
opened, ballot boxes were not delivered, and incidents of voter
fraud and intimidation occurred. This resulted from administrative
breakdowns on voting day and the refusal of Kurdish security
forces to allow ballot boxes to pass to predominantly Christian
villages, denying as many as 100,000 Assyrian Christians and
smaller numbers of Sabeans of their right to vote in the elections.
After an investigation of these allegations, the Independent
Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) acknowledged that the voting
facilities in Ninewah were inadequate. The IECI claimed that
these irregularities were a manifestation of the poor security
situation in Ninewah, Anbar, and other regions and not a problem
that exclusively affected a particular segment of the population.
Passports do not indicate an individual's religion; however,
religion is explicitly noted on the "jentsia," or national
Government employees were not prohibited from displaying elements
of their religion, nor were they required to take any religious
oaths as a condition for employment.
Students generally were not prohibited from practicing elements
of their faith in school; however, during the reporting period,
non-Muslim minorities and secular Arabs in some schools were
increasingly forced, often under the threat of violence, to adhere
to conservative Islamic practices. During the reporting period,
Basrah's Education Director instituted a policy requiring all
females in the schools to cover their heads. Additionally, all
female university students in Mosul, even non-Muslims, were required
to wear the hijab, or headscarf.
Disputes between Sunnis and Shi'a over mosques continued.
According to the Shi'a Waqf, approximately 25 mosques built by
the Shi'a were appropriated by the Saddam regime but have not
been returned. The Sunni Arabs claimed that the Shi'a occupied
40 Sunni mosques. Additionally, there were approximately 35 mosques
built under the former regime with state funds whose ownership
had yet to be determined. Although a commission comprising Sunni
and Shi'a representatives was established after liberation to
address the question of religious property restitution, the issue
Authorities have not permitted entry of religious pilgrims
into the country to visit religious sites since the escalation
of violence associated with the ongoing insurgency. Numerous
pilgrims, primarily from Iran and Afghanistan, were detained
during the reporting period, mainly because of security concerns.
On May 19, in a joint press statement with the Iranian Foreign
Minister, the Government announced an amnesty for the immediate
release of Iranian pilgrims. The Prime Minister subsequently
issued the order to implement the amnesty; however, the Presidency
Council failed to do so. Nonetheless, some Iranians were released.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
The Government does not officially engage in or tolerate abuses
of an individual's right to religious freedom. However, it focused
most of its resources and attention on the ongoing insurgency
and reconstruction efforts during this reporting period; thus,
it did not have the capacity to address actively issues relating
to freedom of religion.
Many attributed the violence in the country--especially what
appeared to be an upsurge in sectarian violence in early May--to
terrorists, alleging they were responsible for killing Sunni
and Shi'a clerics in an effort to incite sectarian violence.
There were also numerous allegations that the ISF--specifically
the Ministry of Interior's (MOI) Quick Reaction Forces (Wolf
Brigade)--abducted, detained, tortured, and carried out extrajudicial
killings against members of the Sunni Arab minority. In its May
21 communiqué, the Sunni Waqf condemned the raids and
ISF's detentions of clerics and worshippers and demanded the
establishment of an independent legal committee to investigate
the alleged murder and torture of detainees. Also in May, the
Minister of Interior announced he would launch an investigation,
but no results were made public by the end of the reporting period,
and no security official was known to have been punished for
abuses of religious minorities.
The Sunni Arab community often cited ISF raids of its mosques
and religious sites as an example of targeting by the Shi'a-dominated
Government. On September 4 2004, approximately 150 police in
Baghdad surrounded the Iraqi Institute of Peace (IIP), which
is associated with the Anglican-sponsored International Center
for Reconciliation. Police, looking for an insurgent, broke down
the doors and ransacked the IIP building, stealing telephones
and money. Four individuals identified themselves as being from
the Ministry of Interior (MOI) but did not show badges. None
of the 150 police wore uniforms or insignia. The incident ended
with no serious injuries.
On May 5, ISF found the bodies of 14 Sunni farmers from Mada'in.
According to witnesses, including one farmer who managed to escape,
men in police uniforms detained, tortured, and killed the farmers.
Their bodies were found buried in a mass grave near Sadr City
in Baghdad. Because terrorists sometimes wear ISF uniforms, it
is not clear who was responsible. MOI undertook an investigation
of the incident, and the final results were pending at the end
of the reporting period.
On May 19, ISF raided Baghdad's prominent Sunni Abu Hanifa
Mosque as Friday prayers were ending, reportedly to detain alleged
terrorists. Local leaders complained that gas was used and women
were abused. The Prime Minister subsequently provided funds to
the Sunni Waqf and promised a full investigation of the incident.
On May 21, ISF broke into Amarra's Hetteen Mosque on the
grounds that it was harboring terrorists. Subsequently, the ISF
turned the mosque over to the Shi'a Endowment, which changed
the mosque's name to Fatima Al Zahraa mosque.
Reports charged that several ministries, including Health
and Communications, conducted large-scale firings of employees
who were not Shi'a, often on the grounds that the employees fired
were senior Ba'athists and/or security risks. Some non-Muslims
accused the Government of discrimination, claiming that unqualified
Shi'a applicants received preference over qualified non-Muslims.
The Yazidi, while represented in the TNA, did not hold positions
in either the Transitional Government or the Kurdistan Regional
Government (KRG) at the director general level or above.
There were allegations that the KRG engaged in discriminatory
behavior against religious minorities. Minorities such as Christians
living north of Mosul claimed that the KRG confiscated their
property without compensation and began building settlements
on their land. Assyrian Christians also alleged that the KDP-dominated
judiciary routinely discriminated against non-Muslims and failed
to enforce judgments in their favor. Despite the allegations
of KRG discrimination against religious minorities, many non-Muslims
fled north from the more volatile areas in the middle and southern
parts of the country where pressures to conform publicly to narrow
interpretations of Islamic teaching were greater.
Sunni Arab leaders accused the Badr Organization, led by a
TNA member, of assassinating Sunni clerics. Originally called
the Badr Corps, this Shi'a militia was founded in the 1980s in
Iran as a militant wing of SCIRI. It was trained and funded by
the Iranian military and previously led by current SCIRI head
Abd-al-Aziz Hakim. The group claimed it has relinquished its
weaponry and become a strictly political organization, but few
citizens believed this.
On May 20, Sunni mosque speakers and imams announced during
Friday prayers the closure of mosques for 3 days in protest of
the killing of clergy and raids against mosques. The day before,
the Muslim Ulema Council issued a statement condemning the ISF
and claiming that it had killed numerous imams and detained individuals
praying in mosques. In a May 18 press conference, the head of
the Muslim Scholars Association declared that police commandos
and the Badr Organization killed two Sunni clerics during the
week and called the series of killings "state terrorism
by the Ministry of Interior." He presented no evidence.
The Badr Organization and Shi'a Political Council subsequently
rejected the allegations. Sunni leaders claimed that the Government's
Wolf Brigade shot to death the Imam of Al-Shuhada Mosque, Hamid
Mukhlif al-Dulaimi, on May 15 in his home in Baghdad. Sunni leaders
also alleged that the Wolf Brigade detained and tortured Muslim
Scholars Association Shura Council member Sheik Hassan al-Naimi
with a drill before shooting and killing him. MOI denied the
involvement of the Wolf Brigade in these murders and promised
an investigation of the incidents. The outcome of that investigation
was pending at the end of the reporting period.
The previous regime appropriated a Sabean social club in Baghdad
for which the community was given a check for approximately $100,000
(160 million dinar). However, when the Sabeans submitted the
check to the Ministry of Finance for payment in 2003, they were
told that the signature was not legitimate, and payment on the
check was refused. The Sabeans had neither gained back their
property nor received compensation for it by the end of the reporting
The Armenian Church of Iraq was working with government officials
to obtain the return of properties that the former regime forced
it to sell. Although the church was paid fair market value for
six properties in Mosul, Basrah, Kirkuk, Baghdad, and Dohuk,
it was forced to sell the properties under pressure. Church officials
said discussions with the Transitional Government yielded no
results during the reporting period; however, they were optimistic
about the KRG's return of property in the north.
Forced Religious Conversions
There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including
of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed
from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens
to be returned to the United States. However, there were reports
that Islamic extremists threatened, kidnapped, and even killed
Mandaeans for refusing to convert to Islam.
Abuses by Terrorist Organizations
The ongoing insurgency affected every segment of the population,
Sunni, Shi'a, and non-Muslim alike. Minister of Interior Baqr
Jabr announced on June 5 that 12,000 citizens, 10,000 of them
Shi'a, perished in the previous18 months of violence. Many believe
that Sunni Arabs and former regime elements were responsible
for the violence; however, Sunnis were also often among the victims.
While the general lawlessness that permitted criminal gangs
and insurgents to victimize citizens with impunity affected Iraqis
of all ethnicities and religions, many individuals were targeted
because of their religious identity or secular leanings. Individuals
fell victim not only to harassment and intimidation but also
to kidnapping and even murder. Women and girls often were threatened,
assaulted with acid, and even killed for refusing to wear hijab
or for dressing in western-style clothing. Some women claimed
they were denied employment and educational opportunities because
they were non-Muslim, did not dress in accordance with conservative
Islamic norms, or did not sufficiently adhere to strict interpretations
of religious rules governing public behavior.
On March 17, Muqtada al-Sadr loyalists attacked picnicking
Basrah University students, claiming they were violating the
principles of Islam with their western-style clothing, singing,
and dancing. The Sadrists fired guns at the students and beat
them with sticks. University officials reported that at least
15 students were hospitalized, many with serious injuries. One
student reportedly died in the incident.
Islamist militants harassed shopkeepers for providing goods
or services they considered to be inconsistent with Islam and
sometimes killed them for failing to comply with warnings to
stop such activity. During the reporting period, leaflets were
distributed in the town of Yousifiya forbidding the sale of cigarettes
and cautioning barbers not to cut hair in the modern styles or
use thread in removing facial hair, which results in smoother,
more feminine-looking facial skin. In late December, captors
took an Armenian Christian in Mosul from his business to a nearby
mosque and told him to ask forgiveness for providing musical
entertainment at parties. Warned to cease his activities or risk
the welfare of his family, the man chose to close his business.
Liquor store owners, primarily Christians and Yazidi, were
especially hard hit in attacks by Islamic extremists during the
reporting period. In August 2004, masked gunmen shot and killed
Sabah Macardige in Baghdad during broad daylight for selling
alcohol. According to witnesses, Macardige had received warnings
to stop selling liquor. In April, liquor store owner Sabah Sadiq's
brother was kidnapped. Sadiq was shot on his way to pay the ransom
demanded by the kidnappers. In June, armed intruders broke into
Sami Tammu's liquor store in Baghdad and shot and killed him
when he tried to escape. Liquor stores in Baghdad, Mosul, and
Basrah were bombed, looted, and defaced. The Christian and Other
Religions Endowment reported that approximately 95 percent of
such establishments closed due to threats by Islamic extremists.
The Christian and Other Religions Endowment reported that,
after a series of church bombings and incidents of violence targeting
Christians during the reporting period, approximately 200,000
non-Muslims left the country or fled to the North. Many remained
in Jordan or Syria awaiting improvement in the security situation.
On August 1 2004, four churches in Baghdad and two churches
in Mosul were bombed. It was reported that 40 persons were killed
and 300 injured in the Baghdad bombings alone. Christian leaders
blamed foreign terrorists, including Al-Qaeda, for the attacks.
Reportedly, Islamic extremists broke into a Chaldean Catholic
home near Mosul on October 14 2004, and killed a 10-year-old
boy because he was a Christian. On September 27 2004, four armed
men killed seven Assyrian Christians in a terrorist attack in
A succession of car bombs on October 16 exploded near five
churches in the early morning hours; however, there were no injuries.
A November 9 car bombing at both St. George and Baghdad's St.
Matthew's Church killed three and injured 40. On November 23
2004, St. George's Catholic Church in Baghdad received its second
attack in a 2-week period.
On December 7 2004, the Armenian Catholic Church in Mosul
was destroyed in a terrorist bombing. The Government conducted
an investigation early in 2005; however, the results of that
investigation were not released, and the Government has not provided
funding to rebuild the structure as of the end of the reporting
period. Several hours after the Armenian Church bombing, a group
of armed intruders attacked the Chaldean Bishop's Palace, also
in Mosul, and detonated explosive devices. Efforts to rehabilitate
the Palace were started, but the work was halted due to lack
of funds and security concerns.
On January 17 2005, insurgents kidnapped a Syrian Catholic
Archbishop in an ambush in Mosul. The archbishop was released
unharmed 2 days later.
Although Sabean leaders stated that their community was targeted
more for its perceived wealth than for its religion, there were
reports that Islamic extremists threatened, kidnapped, and even
killed Sabeans for refusing to convert to Islam.
On January 16, the President of the Mandaean Supreme Spritual
Council, Basra Branch, was shot and killedafter being approached
by three gunmen who demanded that he convert to Islam. The Sabean
Mandaean Association in Australia reported that, on February
7, a group of Muslims approached a Sabean deacon and priest trainee
in Al Sowaira, demanding that he convert to Islam and assist
in the conversion of other Sabeans. The deacon was severely beaten
when he refused and an attempt was made to shoot him, but the
On February 15, armed men confronted Wafsi Majid Kashkul at
his Baghdad jewelry store and demanded that he convert to Islam.
When Kashkul refused, the men shot him and left without stealing
anything from the shop. On March 14, three Sabean brothers, Anweer,
Shaukai, and Amer Juhily, reportedly were kidnapped from their
Basrah home. The kidnappers demanded that the brothers convert
to Islam; they refused and were shot and killed.
In addition to targeting non-Muslims, terrorists continued
to attack both Sunni and Shi'a communities during the reporting
period. Insurgents attacked mosques in Sunni and Shi'a neighborhoods
and killed clerics, other religious leaders, and private citizens
of both sects. According to the Sunni and Shi'a Waqfs, approximately
50 Shi'a and 15 Sunni mosques were bombed during the reporting
period. There were also accusations that both insurgents and
militia wore police uniforms to incite sectarian violence and
discredit the Government in the eyes of the public.
On September 20 2004, two Sunni clerics were killed in Baghdad,
and three officials from SCIRI were also shot and killed. Sheikh
Muhammed Jadoa al-Janabi, was killed in Baghdad's predominantly
Shi'a al-Baya neighborhood, and armed men kidnapped and killed
Sheikh Hazem al-Zeidi as he left a mosque in Baghdad's Sadr City
district. Two bodyguards were also taken hostage but later released.
On November 23 2004, masked gunmen killed a Sunni cleric north
of Baghdad. Sheikh Ghalib Ali al-Zuhairi, a member of the Muslim
Scholars Association, was shot while leaving a mosque in the
town of Muqdadiyah and died in the local hospital. On November
22, Sheik Faidi Faidi, also a member of the association,
was shot and killed in Mosul.
On December 4 2004, a suicide bomber blew himself up near
a Shi'a mosque in Baghdad's Sunni district of al-Adhamiya. The
attack killed 16 persons and wounded more than a dozen others.
Al-Zarqawi's organization, Group of Jihad in the Country of Two
Rivers, claimed responsibility for the bombing on its website.
On January 12 2005, gunmen assassinated a representative of
the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's leading Shi'a
spiritual leader. Sheikh Mahmoud al-Madaini, his son, and four
bodyguards were killed in the attack, which took place in the
town of Mada'ain.
On March 10, a suicide bomber blew himself up during a funeral
ceremony for Shi'a religious leader Sayyid Hashem Araji in Mosul.
It was reported that the explosion killed between 30 and 47 people
and injured dozens more.
On May 14, the bodies of 10 Shi'a soldiers were found in Ramadi,
which is located in the largely Sunni Al Anbar Province. On May
15, 13 blindfolded and bound men, who appeared to be Sunni, were
found shot and killed in Baghdad in the same Shi'a district where
the bodies of 14 Sunni were found the previous week. Eleven bodies
were found at another Baghdad location on the same day, and another
11 bodies, reported to be those of Shi'a ambushed by Sunni guerrillas,
were discovered south of Baghdad.
On May 20, the Imam of Baghdad's Al Hamza Mosque, Sheikh
Ayad Khalid Muhammed al Samaraie, disappeared. His body subsequently
was discovered in Baghdad's Al-Shoa'ala neighborhood. Samaraie
had been shot in the head, and his body showed signs of torture.
On June 4, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a group of
Sunnis as they were participating in a religious session in a
house in central Balad. The attack killed 10 and wounded 12 persons.
Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious
Despite the tenuous security environment and the Government's
preoccupation with fighting the insurgency and rebuilding the
country's infrastructure, the Government made improvements in
respect for religious freedom during the reporting period. Although
Shi'a Arabs are the largest religious group, Sunni Arabs were
at a distinct advantage in all areas of secular life--civil,
political, military, and economic--under the former regime. The
Government for decades conducted a brutal campaign of killing,
summary execution, and protracted arbitrary arrest against the
religious leaders and followers of the majority Shi'a Muslim
population and sought to undermine the identity of minority non-Muslim
During the reporting period, the Government did not engage
in the persecution of any religious group. The largely Shi'a
Transitional Government routinely called for tolerance and the
acceptance of all religious minorities. While the Sunni minority
did not broadly participate in the January elections, resulting
in only nominal representation in the TNA, the Transitional Government
made special efforts to reach out to that community, as well
as other religious minorities, to encourage Sunni participation
in the political and constitutional development processes. Although
the Constitutional Committee comprises only TNA members, it agreed
to include a group of Sunnis to ensure adequate representation
by that community. The Government agreed to allot the Sabeans
a seat on the Committee as well.
During the reporting period, government leaders repeatedly
spoke of the need for all citizens to unite--regardless of religious
orientation--to confront terrorism and often emphasized their
commitment to equal treatment for all religions and ethnicities.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari frequently expressed his concern
over implications of the Government's involvement in violence
against the Sunni Arab minority, and Minister of Interior Baqr
Jabr undertook investigations of alleged ISF involvement in the
unlawful detention, torture, and murder of Sunnis; however, by
the end of the reporting period, no information regarding such
investigations had been released to the public. The Government
also made clear it would not exempt mosques and homes of religious
leaders from assault if they were being used as insurgent strongholds.
In his first address to the country on May 3, the Prime Minister
emphasized the diversity of his ministers but emphasized that
they would work for a unified nation. The Government also publicly
denounced all incidents of sectarian violence and, as such violence
escalated in early May, repeatedly encouraged unity among the
county's religious sects.
In a May 16 meeting with leading Shi'a cleric Grand Ayatollah
Ali al-Sistani, Prime Minister Jafari stated that the Government
would "strike with an iron fist against any criminal who
tries to harm a Sunni or Shi'a citizen."
On May 17, Minister of Defense Sad'un al-Dulaimi ordered the
ISF to cease raids against Sunni and Shi'a mosques, saying that
raids targeting mosques had increased and that they contradicted
the principles of Islam. However, Dulaimi subsequently announced
that the ISF would continue to raid mosques in which there were
terrorists and weapons caches.
On June 5, Prime Minister Jafari met with Armenian Christian
leaders to discuss the problems they faced. The Prime Minister
agreed to provide security for all mosques and churches in the
country and reaffirmed his commitment to protecting the right
of all citizens to freedom of religion.
The Government also provided assistance to rebuild religious
sites that were damaged by the insurgency. In November 2004,
the Church of Septeen, which was damaged by a car bomb in Babhdad's
Al Andules Square, received $100,000 (150 million dinar) from
the Government for reconstruction efforts.
Religious leaders reported that they generally had good relations
and worked together to promote interfaith understanding. The
Sabeans sought the assistance of the Grand Ayatollah Sistani,
SCIRI's Hakim, Prime Minister Jafari, and Muqtada al-Sadr in
supporting minority rights.
Religious leaders of all faiths condemned the terrorist acts
committed by the insurgency and urged the country's religious
communities to refrain from retaliation and join together to
end the violence.
On October 30 2004, a delegation of Chaldean Christians met with
Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani to discuss efforts for building peace
in the country.
On May 6, Sunnis and Shi'a joined together in protest of sectarian
violence at the Al-Haq Mosque, where a mass joint prayer was
held. On May 7, the Sunni Waqf in southern Iraq forbade the targeting
of ISF of different ethnicities or political affiliations, stating
that the country was suffering from a wave of distorted religious
injunctions, or fatwas.
Similarly, in a May 19 statement, SCIRI leader Hakim told
clerics, "Shi'a and Sunni alike," to unify against
terrorists who were calling for sectarian war. Muqtada al-Sadr
also called on both Sunni and Shi'a to show self-restraint in
the face of the violence that targeted both groups and condemned
The Sunni Waqf's final communiqué from its May 21 conference
stated that participants condemned sectarianism and discrimination
and emphasized brotherhood amongst all citizens. The conference
also condemned the random killings and attacks against mosques,
including Shi'a mosques, as well as churches.
On May 28, prominent Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Muslim
Scholars Association Head Sheikh Harith al-Dhari, and SCIRI Head
Abd-al-Aziz Hakim discussed ways to end sectarian violence and
agreed to form groups to discuss accusations of revenge killings
and to seek peaceful solutions to the violence. Talks subsequently
stalled over al-Dhari's accusations regarding Shi'a involvement
in Sunni killings.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
The country's cultural, religious, and linguistic diversity
is far better reflected in its political and economic structure
than prior to the 2003 liberation. Shi'a Arabs, the religious
majority of the population, were long disadvantaged economically,
politically, and socially, but now constitute the majority in
Despite these changes, conservative and extremist Islamic
elements continued to exert tremendous pressure on society to
conform to their interpretations of Islam's precepts. Although
this impacted both the Sunni and Shi'a secular Muslim population,
non-Muslims were especially vulnerable to the pressure and violence
because of their minority status and the lack of protection provided
by a tribal structure.
The Sunni claimed general discrimination--alleging revenge
by the majority for the Sunnis' favored status under the former
regime, but also because of the public's perception that the
insurgency was composed primarily of Sunni extremists and former
regime elements with whom the majority of the Sunni population
supposedly sympathized. While some within the Sunni community
supported and even assisted the insurgency, many denounced the
terrorism as vocally as their non-Sunni counterparts.
Non-Muslims, particularly Christians, complained of being
isolated by the Muslim majority because of their religious differences.
Despite their statistically proportional representation in the
National Assembly, many non-Muslims said they were disenfranchised
and their interests not adequately represented.
In an April 20 missive to the Democratic Assyrian Party,
the Kurdistan Islamic Union discouraged proselytizing, the distribution
of Bibles, and the conduct of Christian conferences as contradicting
the precepts of Islam. The letter further suggested that the
Party take appropriate measures to avoid "future tragedies"
that could result because of this "irresponsible" behavior.
The combination of discriminatory hiring practices, attacks
against non-Muslim businesses, and the overall lack of rule of
law have also had a detrimental economic impact on the non-Muslim
community and contributed to the significant numbers of non-Muslims
who left the country. The Armenian Diocese estimated that the
number of destitute Armenian Christians, for example, had grown
by 50 percent since 2003--a condition exacerbated by the inadequate
security environment, which hampers Armenian Christians' ability
to find employment. Terrorist threats have compelled tens of
thousands of Christians, including Armenian Orthodox and Chaldean
Christians, to leave the country in the wake of church bombings
There were relatively few manifestations of anti-Semitism
in the country, primarily because of the tiny size of the Jewish
population; however, anti-Semitic feeling remained a cultural
under-current. According to the head of the Christian and Other
Religions Endowment, the country's 2,700-year-old Jewish population
had dwindled to only 20 people in the Baghdad area. There were
also unverified reports of small numbers of Jews living in Kurdish
areas. Only one synagogue remained in Baghdad's once-Jewish district
of Bataween. The synagogue was unmarked and active only on high
There were unfounded rumors (sometimes spread in flyers distributed
by anti-Government extremist groups) during the reporting period
that Jewish expatriates were buying up real estate in an attempt
to reassert their influence in the country. Another sign of anti-Semitic
feeling was the hostile reaction that Sunni politician Mithal
al-Alusi generated when he attended an international conference
in Tel Aviv in September. Al-Alusi was indicted, but not prosecuted,
under Saddam-era rules prohibiting visits to "enemy countries"
and dismissed from his position in the Iraqi National Congress
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Government is committed to promoting religious freedom
and continues to work closely with the Government on this as
part of its overall policy to promote human rights. U.S. officials
at all levels, including the Secretary of State, members of Congress,
the Ambassador, and Embassy officers, regularly engaged the Government
on problems relating to freedom of religion. This took the form
of public statements calling for unity in the face of sectarian
violence, high-level meetings with government officials and religious
leaders, and working-level interaction urging representatives
of the Government and religious organizations to include minorities.
The Embassy also facilitated interfaith discussion by hosting
meetings, roundtables, and other events with all member faiths
of the country's diverse religious communities, and funded training,
seminars, conferences, and exchange programs to promote religious
understanding and tolerance. At the same time, the U.S. Government
has stressed that Coalition Forces will not forswear removing
insurgents or weapons caches stored in mosques or the homes of
religious leaders and arresting religious leaders who materially
help the insurgency.
The Embassy's primary focus during the reporting period was
on reducing sectarian violence, increasing Sunni and non-Muslim
inclusion in the political and constitutional development processes,
and increasing interfaith understanding. The U.S. worked to increase
Sunni inclusion in the political process by providing technical
assistance to Sunni leaders. U.S.-funded projects worked with
religious minorities by bringing together members of different
religious and ethnic backgrounds to discuss common issues. The
U.S. also conducted a significant amount of conflict mitigation
at the local level through its Community Action Program (CAP).
Under the CAP, community groups were formed with diverse membership,
including women and youth, in an effort to promote reconciliation.
In ethnically or religiously mixed communities, these community
groups included representatives from all segments of society.
These groups identified and prioritized their needs and developed
projects to address those needs. The projects did not specifically
target any one ethnic or religious group for assistance. Rather,
they sought opportunities to bridge differences.
At the request of leading Shi'a and Sunni clerics, the U.S.
Institute of Peace (USIP) funded the establishment of an interfaith
dialogue center to help unite religious groups against violence
and foster an environment of tolerance, particularly between
the Sunnis and Shi'a, as well as towards Christians and others.
USIP trained 113 provincial-level government and civil society
officials in interethnic facilitation. Twenty-five facilitators
received advanced training and began establishing programs in
their communities. USIP held workshops for students at the University
of Kirkuk as well as inter-communal conflict management programs
for political and civil society representatives in Baghdad. Also
implemented and featured on national television and print media
were awareness workshops on intercommunal tolerance for Shi'a
and Sunni mothers and schoolteachers in Baghdad.
Projects totaling more than $38.8 million (approximately 58
billion dinar) were completed in areas with a significant Christian
presence. Additional projects totaling approximately $272 million
were underway at the end of the period covered by this report.
Released on November 8, 2005
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