Background - Religious Minorities in Iraq Face Persecution

Background - Religious Minorities in Iraq Face Persecution

Within weeks of the US-led invasion in 2003, members of religious and ethnic minority communities were targeted for violent attack, including abductions and killings.

The occupations, customs and general lack of political power of members of minority groups have contributed to their vulnerability. For example, many Sabean- Mandaeans have been targeted by criminal or other armed groups or militias because of their traditional occupations as goldsmiths and jewellers. Similarly, the sale of alcohol has largely been the domain of Christians and Yazidis, making them a target for some Islamist armed groups and militias. However, survivors and witnesses of such attacks, including abductions, have frequently reported that the perpetrators "justified" their crimes on the basis of the victims' faith.

Religious or ethnic affiliation can often be discerned by knowing a person's name, and official identity cards state the religion of the holder. Several members of religious minorities told Amnesty International that they have sometimes feared to show their identity cards believing that if they did they would be attacked.

The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief stated: "Indicating a person's religious affiliation on official documents carries a serious risk of abuse or subsequent discrimination based on religion or belief, which has to be weighed against the possible reasons for disclosing the holder's religion."

The bombing in February 2006 of the al-Askari mosque in Samarra, one of Shi'a Islam's holiest sites, sparked an upsurge in sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims. The violence left every Iraqi more at risk of attack simply on account of their religious identity and affiliation. In particular, places at which people gather to express their faith have been targeted for attacks. On 1 February 2010, for example, at least 40 Shi'a pilgrims were killed in a Baghdad neighbourhood by a suicide bomber.

The Iraqi constitution of 2005 states that Iraq comprises "multiple nations, religions and sects" (article 3) and specifically lists some but not all minority groups. article 2(2) refers to the "Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people" and guarantees religious freedom to other religions, explicitly mentioning christians, sabean-Mandaeans and yazidis. the constitution also specifies arabic and kurdish as the official languages and guarantees the rights of linguistic minorities to be educated in their mother tongue (article 4(1)), referring specifically to armenian, syriac and turkoman. Religious and ethnic minorities not mentioned in the constitution include Baha'is, Jews, Kaka'is, Roma and Shabaks.

Iraqi election laws provide for parliamentary and local council seats to be reserved for representatives of minority groups. legislation passed in november 2008 provides for a few seats to be reserved in the local councils of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul for minorities, including christians, sabean-Mandaeans, Shabaks and Yazidis. The Kurdistan regional government has reserved 10 per cent of parliamentary seats for three minority groups: Assyro-chaldaeans, Armenians and Turkomans.

Among the religious minorities, Christians and Yazidis are the largest groups with several hundred thousand members each. Other sizeable religious-ethnic minority groups include the Shabaks and the Kaka'is who live mainly in northern Iraq.

The Baha'i religion was banned in Iraq by law in 1970. A 1975 ban on issuing identity cards for Iraqis adhering to the Baha'i religion was lifted in April 2007, but obstacles continue to be reported.

Only a small number of Jews remained in Iraq following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. The Iraqi nationality law (law no. 26 of 2006) effectively excludes Jews who left Iraq from regaining Iraqi nationality.

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