About  |   Contact  |  Mongabay on Facebook  |  Mongabay on Twitter  |  Subscribe
Rainforests | Tropical fish | Environmental news | For kids | Madagascar | Photos

Iraq-Sunni-Shia Relations in Iraq

Mongabay.com seeks to raise interest in and appreciation of wild lands and wildlife, while examining the impact of emerging trends in climate, technology, economics, and finance on conservation and development (more)


Iraq Index

Until the 1980s, the dominant view of contemporary political analysts held that Iraq was badly split along sectarian lines. The claim was that the Sunnis--although a minority--ran Iraq and subjected the majority Shias to systematic discrimination. According to the prevailing belief, the Shias would drive the Sunnis from power, if once afforded an opportunity to do so.

There was some basis to this notion. For many years Iraq was ruled by-and-large by Arab Sunnis who tended to come from a restricted area around Baghdad, Mosul, and Ar Rutbah--the socalled Golden Triangle. In the 1980s, not only was President Saddam Husayn a Sunni, but he was the vice chairman of the ruling Baath Party (Arab Socialist Resurrection). One of the two deputy prime ministers and the defense minister were also Sunnis. In addition, the top posts in the security services have usually been held by Sunnis, and most of the army's corps commanders have been Sunnis. It is also true that the most depressed region of the country is the south, where the bulk of the Shias reside.

Nonetheless, the theory of sectarian strife was undercut by the behavior of Iraq's Shia community during Iran's 1982 invasion and the fighting thereafter. Although about three-quarters of the lower ranks of the army were Shias, as of early 1988, no general insurrection of Iraq; Shias had occurred.

Even in periods of major setback for the Iraqi army--such as the Al Faw debacle in 1986--the Shias have continued staunchly to defend their nation and the Baath regime. They have done so despite intense propaganda barrages mounted by the Iranians, calling on them to join the Islamic revolution.

It appears, then, that, however important sectarian affiliation may have been in the past, in the latter 1980s nationalism was the basic determiner of loyalty. In the case of Iraq's Shias, it should be noted that they are Arabs, not Persians, and that they have been the traditional enemies of the Persians for centuries. The Iraqi government has skillfully exploited this age-old enmity in its propaganda, publicizing the war as part of the ancient struggle between the Arab and Persian empires. For example, Baathist publicists regularly call the war a modern day "Qadisiyah." Qadisiyah was the battle in A.D.637 in which the Arabs defeated the pagan hosts of Persia, enabling Islam to spread to the East.

The real tension in Iraq in the latter 1980s was between the majority of the population, Sunnis as well as Shias, for whom religious belief and practice were significant values, and the secular Baathists, rather than between Sunnis and Shias. Although the Shias had been underrepresented in government posts in the period of the monarchy, they made substantial progress in the educational, business, and legal fields. Their advancement in other areas, such as the opposition parties, was such that in the years from 1952 to 1963, before the Baath Party came to power, Shias held the majority of party leadership posts. Observers believed that in the late 1980s Shias were represented at all levels of the party roughly in proportion to government estimates of their numbers in the population. For example, of the eight top Iraqi leaders who in early 1988 sat with Husayn on the Revolutionary Command Council--Iraq's highest governing body-- three were Arab Shias (of whom one had served as Minister of Interior), three were Arab Sunnis, one was an Arab Christian, and one a Kurd. On the Regional Command Council--the ruling body of the party--Shias actually predominated (see The Baath Party , ch. 4). During the war, a number of highly competent Shia officers have been promoted to corps commanders. The general who turned back the initial Iranian invasions of Iraq in 1982 was a Shia.

The Shias continued to make good progress in the economic field as well during the 1980s. Although the government does not publish statistics that give breakdowns by religious affiliation, qualified observers noted that many Shias migrated from rural areas, particularly in the south, to the cities, so that not only Basra but other cities including Baghdad acquired a Shia majority. Many of these Shias prospered in business and the professions as well as in industry and the service sector. Even those living in the poorer areas of the cities were generally better off than they had been in the countryside. In the rural areas as well, the educational level of Shias came to approximate that of their Sunni counterparts.

In summary, prior to the war the Baath had taken steps toward integrating the Shias. The war placed inordinate demands on the regime for manpower, demands that could only be met by levying the Shia community--and this strengthened the regime's resolve to further the integration process. In early 1988, it seemed likely that when the war ends, the Shias would emerge as full citizens-- assuming that the Baath survives the conflict.

Data as of May 1988

BackgroundFormerly part of the Ottoman Empire, Iraq was occupied by Britain during the course of World War I; in 1920, it was declared a League of Nations mandate under UK administration. In stages over the next dozen years, Iraq attained its independence as a kingdom in 1932. A "republic" was proclaimed in 1958, but in actuality a series of strongmen ruled the country until 2003. The last was SADDAM Husayn. Territorial disputes with Iran led to an inconclusive and costly eight-year war (1980-88). In August 1990, Iraq seized Kuwait but was expelled by US-led, UN coalition forces during the Gulf War of January-February 1991. Following Kuwait's liberation, the UN Security Council (UNSC) required Iraq to scrap all weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles and to allow UN verification inspections. Continued Iraqi noncompliance with UNSC resolutions over a period of 12 years led to the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and the ouster of the SADDAM Husayn regime. US forces remain in Iraq under a UNSC mandate until 2009 and under a bilateral security agreement thereafter, helping to provide security and to support the freely elected government. In October 2005, Iraqis approved a constitution in a national referendum and, pursuant to this document, elected a 275-member Council of Representatives (CoR) in December 2005. After the election, Ibrahim al-JAAFARI was selected as prime minister; he was replaced by Nuri al-MALIKI in May 2006. The CoR approved most cabinet ministers in May 2006, marking the transition to Iraq's first constitutional government in nearly a half century. On 31 January 2009, Iraq held elections for provincial councils in all provinces except for the three provinces comprising the Kurdistan Regional Government and at-Ta'mim (Kirkuk) province.
LocationMiddle East, bordering the Persian Gulf, between Iran and Kuwait
Area(sq km)total: 438,317 sq km
land: 437,367 sq km
water: 950 sq km
Geographic coordinates33 00 N, 44 00 E
Land boundaries(km)total: 3,650 km
border countries: Iran 1,458 km, Jordan 181 km, Kuwait 240 km, Saudi Arabia 814 km, Syria 605 km, Turkey 352 km

Coastline(km)58 km

Climatemostly desert; mild to cool winters with dry, hot, cloudless summers; northern mountainous regions along Iranian and Turkish borders experience cold winters with occasionally heavy snows that melt in early spring, sometimes causing extensive flooding in central and southern Iraq

Elevation extremes(m)lowest point: Persian Gulf 0 m
highest point: unnamed peak; 3,611 m; note - this peak is neither Gundah Zhur 3,607 m nor Kuh-e Hajji-Ebrahim 3,595 m
Natural resourcespetroleum, natural gas, phosphates, sulfur
Land use(%)arable land: 13.12%
permanent crops: 0.61%
other: 86.27% (2005)

Irrigated land(sq km)35,250 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources(cu km)96.4 cu km (1997)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)total: 42.7 cu km/yr (3%/5%/92%)
per capita: 1,482 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazardsdust storms; sandstorms; floods
Environment - current issuesgovernment water control projects have drained most of the inhabited marsh areas east of An Nasiriyah by drying up or diverting the feeder streams and rivers; a once sizable population of Marsh Arabs, who inhabited these areas for thousands of years, has been displaced; furthermore, the destruction of the natural habitat poses serious threats to the area's wildlife populations; inadequate supplies of potable water; development of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers system contingent upon agreements with upstream riparian Turkey; air and water pollution; soil degradation (salination) and erosion; desertification
Environment - international agreementsparty to: Biodiversity, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection
signed, but not ratified: Environmental Modification
Geography - notestrategic location on Shatt al Arab waterway and at the head of the Persian Gulf
Population28,945,657 (July 2009 est.)
Age structure(%)0-14 years: 38.8% (male 5,709,688/female 5,531,359)
15-64 years: 58.2% (male 8,529,956/female 8,310,164)
65 years and over: 3% (male 408,266/female 456,224) (2009 est.)
Median age(years)total: 20.4 years
male: 20.3 years
female: 20.5 years (2009 est.)
Population growth rate(%)2.507% (2009 est.)
Birth rate(births/1,000 population)30.1 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Death rate(deaths/1,000 population)5.03 deaths/1,000 population (July 2009 est.)

Net migration rate(migrant(s)/1,000 population)NA (2009 est.)
Urbanization(%)urban population: 67% of total population (2008)
rate of urbanization: 1.7% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)
Sex ratio(male(s)/female)at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.03 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.03 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.9 male(s)/female
total population: 1.02 male(s)/female (2009 est.)
Infant mortality rate(deaths/1,000 live births)total: 43.82 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 49.38 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 37.98 deaths/1,000 live births (2009 est.)

Life expectancy at birth(years)total population: 69.94 years
male: 68.6 years
female: 71.34 years (2009 est.)

Total fertility rate(children born/woman)3.86 children born/woman (2009 est.)
Nationalitynoun: Iraqi(s)
adjective: Iraqi
Ethnic groups(%)Arab 75%-80%, Kurdish 15%-20%, Turkoman, Assyrian, or other 5%

Religions(%)Muslim 97% (Shia 60%-65%, Sunni 32%-37%), Christian or other 3%
Languages(%)Arabic, Kurdish (official in Kurdish regions), Turkoman (a Turkish dialect), Assyrian (Neo-Aramaic), Armenian

Country nameconventional long form: Republic of Iraq
conventional short form: Iraq
local long form: Jumhuriyat al-Iraq
local short form: Al Iraq
Government typeparliamentary democracy
Capitalname: Baghdad
geographic coordinates: 33 20 N, 44 23 E
time difference: UTC+3 (8 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions18 governorates (muhafazat, singular - muhafazah) and 1 region*; Al Anbar, Al Basrah, Al Muthanna, Al Qadisiyah, An Najaf, Arbil, As Sulaymaniyah, At Ta'mim, Babil, Baghdad, Dahuk, Dhi Qar, Diyala, Karbala', Kurdistan Regional Government*, Maysan, Ninawa, Salah ad Din, Wasit
Constitutionratified on 15 October 2005 (subject to review by the Constitutional Review Committee and a possible public referendum )

Legal systembased on European civil and Islamic law under the framework outlined in the Iraqi Constitution; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Suffrage18 years of age; universal
Executive branchchief of state: President Jalal TALABANI (since 6 April 2005); Vice Presidents Adil ABD AL-MAHDI and Tariq al-HASHIMI (since 22 April 2006); note - the president and vice presidents comprise the Presidency Council)
head of government: Prime Minister Nuri al-MALIKI (since 20 May 2006); Rafi al-ISSAWI (since 19 July 2008)
cabinet: 36 ministers appointed by the Presidency Council, plus Prime Minister Nuri al-MALIKI and Deputy Prime Ministers Barham SALIH and Rafi al-ISSAWI
elections: held 15 December 2005 to elect a 275-member Council of Representatives

Legislative branchunicameral Council of Representatives (consisting of 275 members elected by a closed-list, proportional representation system)
elections: last held 15 December 2005 to elect a 275-member Council of Representatives (next to be held on 18 January 2010); the Council of Representatives elected the Presidency Council and approved the prime minister and two deputy prime ministers
election results: Council of Representatives - percent of vote by party - Unified Iraqi Alliance 41%, Kurdistan Alliance 22%, Tawafuq Coalition 15%, Iraqi National List 8%, Iraqi Front for National Dialogue 4%, other 10%; number of seats by party (as of November 2007) - Unified Iraqi Alliance (including the Sadrist bloc with 30 and Fadilah with 15) 130, Kurdistan Alliance 53, Tawafuq Front 44, Iraqi National List 25, Fadilah 15, Iraqi Front for National Dialogue 11, other 12

Judicial branchthe Iraq Constitution calls for the federal judicial power to be comprised of the Higher Judicial Council, Federal Supreme Court, Federal Court of Cassation, Public Prosecution Department, Judiciary Oversight Commission and other federal courts that are regulated in accordance with the law

Political pressure groups and leadersSunni militias; Shia militias, some associated with political parties
Flag descriptionthree equal horizontal bands of red (top), white, and black; the Takbir (Arabic expression meaning "God is great") in green Arabic script is centered in the white band; similar to the flag of Syria, which has two stars but no script, Yemen, which has a plain white band, and that of Egypt, which has a gold Eagle of Saladin centered in the white band; design is based upon the Arab Liberation colors; Council of Representatives approved this flag as a compromise temporary replacement for Ba'athist Saddam-era flag

Economy - overviewDecreasing insurgent attacks and an improving security environment in many parts of the country are helping to spur economic activity. Iraq's economy is dominated by the oil sector, which has traditionally provided over 90% of foreign exchange earnings. Oil exports are around levels seen before Operation Iraqi Freedom. Total government revenues have benefited from high oil prices in recent years; however, revenues have declined significantly since the oil price drop in fall 2008. Iraq is making some progress in building the institutions needed to implement economic policy. In March 2009 Iraq concluded a Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) with the IMF that details economic reforms. The SBA allows an 80% reduction of the debt owed to Paris Club creditor nations. The International Compact with Iraq was established in May 2007 to integrate Iraq into the regional and global economy, and the Iraqi government is seeking to pass laws to strengthen its economy. This legislation includes a hydrocarbon law to establish a modern legal framework to allow Iraq to develop its resources and a revenue sharing law to equitably divide oil revenues within the nation, although both are still under contentious political negotiation. Some foreign entities have expressed interest in reinvigorating Iraq's industrial sector. The government of Iraq is pursuing a strategy to gain foreign participation in joint ventures with State-owned enterprises. Provincial Councils are also using their own budgets to promote and facilitate investment at the local level. The Central Bank has been successful in controlling inflation through appreciation of the dinar against the US dollar. However, Iraq's challenge will be to use macroeconomic gains to improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis. Reducing corruption and implementing structural reforms, such as bank restructuring and developing the private sector, will be key to Iraq's economic success.
GDP (purchasing power parity)$90.23 billion (2008 est.)
$83.7 billion (2007 est.)
$82.46 billion (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP (official exchange rate)$91.45 billion (2008 est.)
GDP - real growth rate(%)7.8% (2008 est.)
1.5% (2007 est.)
6.2% (2006 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP)$3,200 (2008 est.)
$3,000 (2007 est.)
$3,100 (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP - composition by sector(%)agriculture: 5%
industry: 68%
services: 27% (2006 est.)
Labor force7.74 million (2008 est.)

Labor force - by occupation(%)agriculture: NA%
industry: NA%
services: NA%
Unemployment rate(%)18.2% (2008 est.)
18% (2006 est.)
note: official data; unofficial estimates as high as 30%
Population below poverty line(%)NA%
Household income or consumption by percentage share(%)lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
Budgetrevenues: $42.4 billion
expenditures: $49.9 billion (FY08 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices)(%)2.8% (2008 est.)
4.7% (2007 est.)

Stock of money$26.1 billion (31 December 2008)
$18.81 billion (31 December 2007)
Stock of quasi money$5.415 billion (31 December 2008)
$3.67 billion (31 December 2007)
Stock of domestic credit$NA (31 December 2008)
$NA (31 December 2007)
Market value of publicly traded shares$1.878 billion (31 March 2008)
$NA (31 December 2007)
$NA (31 December 2006)
Economic aid - recipient$21.65 billion (2005)

Agriculture - productswheat, barley, rice, vegetables, dates, cotton; cattle, sheep, poultry
Industriespetroleum, chemicals, textiles, leather, construction materials, food processing, fertilizer, metal fabrication/processing

Industrial production growth rate(%)10.5% (2008 est.)

Current account balance$14.05 billion (2008 est.)
$4.909 billion (2007 est.)
Exports$58.81 billion (2008 est.)
$36.08 billion (2007 est.)

Exports - commodities(%)crude oil 84%, crude materials excluding fuels 8%, food and live animals 5%
Exports - partners(%)US 37.3%, India 13.8%, Italy 9.4%, South Korea 6.8% (2008)
Imports$37.22 billion (2008 est.)
$25.67 billion (2007 est.)

Imports - commodities(%)food, medicine, manufactures
Imports - partners(%)Syria 26.4%, Turkey 19.7%, US 10.7%, Jordan 6.5%, China 6% (2008)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold$49.8 billion (31 December 2008 est.)
$30.66 billion (31 December 2007 est.)
Debt - external$67.74 billion (31 December 2008 est.)
$100.9 billion (31 December 2007 est.)

Exchange ratesNew Iraqi dinars (NID) per US dollar - 1,176 (2008), 1,255 (2007), 1,466 (2006), 1,475 (2005), 1,890 (second half, 2003)

Currency (code)New Iraqi dinar (NID) as of 22 January 2004

Telephones - main lines in use1.082 million (2008)
Telephones - mobile cellular17.529 million (2008)
Telephone systemgeneral assessment: the 2003 liberation of Iraq severely disrupted telecommunications throughout Iraq including international connections; widespread government efforts to rebuild domestic and international communications through fiber optic links are in progress; the mobile cellular market has expanded rapidly and its subscribership base approached 18 million in 2008
domestic: repairs to switches and lines destroyed during 2003 continue; additional switching capacity is improving access; cellular service is available and centered on 3 GSM networks which are being expanded beyond their regional roots, improving country-wide connectivity; wireless local loop licenses have been issued with the hope of overcoming the lack of fixed-line infrastructure
international: country code - 964; satellite earth stations - 4 (2 Intelsat - 1 Atlantic Ocean and 1 Indian Ocean, 1 Intersputnik - Atlantic Ocean region, and 1 Arabsat (inoperative)); local microwave radio relay connects border regions to Jordan, Kuwait, Syria, and Turkey; planned international fiber-optic connections to Iran (terrestrial) with a link to the Fiber-Optic Link Around the Globe (FLAG) submarine fiber-optic cable (2008)
Internet country code.iq
Internet users300,000 (2008)
Airports104 (2009)
Pipelines(km)gas 2,501 km; liquid petroleum gas 918 km; oil 5,418 km; refined products 1,637 km (2008)
Roadways(km)total: 44,900 km
paved: 37,851 km
unpaved: 7,049 km (2002)

Ports and terminalsAl Basrah, Khawr az Zubayr, Umm Qasr
Military branchesIraqi Armed Forces: Iraqi Army (includes Iraqi Special Operations Force, Iraqi Intervention Force), Iraqi Navy (former Iraqi Coastal Defense Force), Iraqi Air Force (former Iraqi Army Air Corps) (2005)
Military service age and obligation(years of age)18-49 years of age for voluntary military service (2008)
Manpower available for military servicemales age 16-49: 7,086,200
females age 16-49: 6,808,954 (2008 est.)
Manpower fit for military servicemales age 16-49: 6,203,425
females age 16-49: 6,065,009 (2009 est.)
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annuallymale: 313,500
female: 304,923 (2009 est.)
Military expenditures(% of GDP)8.6% of GDP (2006)
Disputes - internationalcoalition forces assist Iraqis in monitoring internal and cross-border security; approximately two million Iraqis have fled the conflict in Iraq, with the majority taking refuge in Syria and Jordan, and lesser numbers to Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, and Turkey; Iraq's lack of a maritime boundary with Iran prompts jurisdiction disputes beyond the mouth of the Shatt al Arab in the Persian Gulf; Turkey has expressed concern over the autonomous status of Kurds in Iraq

Refugees and internally displaced personsrefugees (country of origin): 10,000-15,000 (Palestinian Territories); 11,773 (Iran); 16,832 (Turkey)
IDPs: 2.4 million (ongoing US-led war and ethno-sectarian violence) (2007)
Electricity - production(kWh)36.92 billion kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity - production by source(%)fossil fuel: 98.4%
hydro: 1.6%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0% (2001)
Electricity - consumption(kWh)39.88 billion kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity - exports(kWh)0 kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity - imports(kWh)2.95 billion kWh (2008 est.)
Oil - production(bbl/day)2.385 million bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - consumption(bbl/day)638,000 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - exports(bbl/day)1.83 million bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - imports(bbl/day)116,900 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - proved reserves(bbl)115 billion bbl (1 January 2009 est.)
Natural gas - production(cu m)1.88 billion cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - consumption(cu m)9.454 billion cu m
note: 1.48 billion cu m were flared (2008 est.)
Natural gas - exports(cu m)0 cu m (2008)
Natural gas - proved reserves(cu m)3.17 trillion cu m (1 January 2009 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate(%)less than 0.1% (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDSfewer than 500 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deathsNA
Major infectious diseasesdegree of risk: intermediate
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever
note: highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza has been identified in this country; it poses a negligible risk with extremely rare cases possible among US citizens who have close contact with birds (2009)
Literacy(%)definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 74.1%
male: 84.1%
female: 64.2% (2000 est.)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)(years)total: 10 years
male: 11 years
female: 8 years (2005)
Education expenditures(% of GDP)NA

Copyright mongabay 2000-2013