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2.15. Religious and ethnic minorities, and stateless persons

Last updated: January 2021

Iraq hosts a variety of religious, ethnic, cultural and linguistic minorities, however this profile focuses on the following minorities: Turkmen, Yazidi, Christians, Shabak, Kaka’i, Sabean-Mandaean, Baha’i, Bidoon, Fayli Kurds, and Palestinians. This is a non-exhaustive list of ethnoreligious minorities present in Iraq.

COI summary: overview

[Targeting, 3.4; Internal mobility, 2.4.2; COI query on minorities and stateless; COI query on Christians]

The three largest demographic groups in Iraq are Shia Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds. It is estimated that 75 - 80 % of the inhabitants are Arab and 15 - 20 % are Kurdish. Ethnic minorities make up to 5 % of the population. Islam is the country’s official religion. According to official statistics from 2020, 95-98 % of the population is Muslim (approximately 64-69 % Shia and 29-34 % Sunni) [Key socio-economic indicators 2020, 1.1]. Numerous religious, ethnic, cultural and linguistic minorities live in Iraq, in particular in the North of the country, such as Turkmen, Iraqis of African descent, Yazidi, Christians, Shabak, Kaka’i, Sabean‑Mandaean, Baha’i, Zoroastrian, Bidoon, Fayli Kurds, Roma, Palestinians, Assyrians, Jews, etc.

Some general aspects can be highlighted before looking into the different ethnic and/or religious minorities in the following sub-sections.

The Iraqi constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief and practices for Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, and Sabean-Mandaean, but not followers of other religions or atheists. In addition, the Constitution guarantees freedom from religious coercion, and states that all citizens are equal before the law, without regard to religion, sect, or belief.

The Personal Status Law recognises the following religious groups: Islam, Chaldean, Assyrian, Assyrian Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, Armenian Catholic, Roman Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Latin-Dominican Rite, National Protestant, Anglican, Evangelical Protestant Assyrian, Adventist, Coptic Orthodox, Yazidi, Sabean-Mandaean, and Jewish. The conventional (non-biometric) ID cards contain the holder’s religion but there is no distinction between Shia and Sunni Muslim, nor a designation of Christian denominations. On the electronic (biometric) national ID card introduced in 2016, information about the holder’s religion does not appear. Information about the holder’s religion is, however, stored on the biometric data chip in this card. The information in the chip contains no distinction between Shia and Sunni Muslim, nor a designation of Christian denominations (denominations meaning catholic/orthodox, etc.).

In KRI, the Kurdistan Region Law of 2015 preserved the rights of the national components (Turkmens, Chaldeans, Syrians, Assyrians, and Armenians) and religious and sectarian groups (Christians, Yazidis, Sabean-Mandaeans, Kaka’i, Shabaks, Faili Kurds, and Zoroastrians).

Individuals practicing other faiths may only receive identity cards if they self-identify as Muslim, Yazidi, Sabean-Mandaean, or Christian. The ID card is described as the most important personal document for Iraqis, because it is required for all contact with authorities, and to obtain services, such as healthcare, social welfare, education, and when buying and selling property, including houses or vehicles. It is also necessary for the issuance of other official legal documentation, such as passports. Without an official identity card, Iraqis cannot register their marriages, enrol their children in public school, acquire passports, etc. The 2015 National Identity Card Law also requires children from mixed religion marriages to be registered as Muslim. Although registering children born of rape is difficult in practice, when one of the parents is Muslim and the child is registered, they are automatically registered as Muslims. The 2015 Law also reinforces restrictions that Muslims cannot change their religious identification on their identity cards after conversion to any other religion. A new electronic and biometric ID card system is being introduced in Iraq, where information about the person’s religion is stored on the chip, but it does not appear on the ID card.

Numerous Iraqi families, and particularly IDPs and minority groups, are unable to access civil registration procedures because they lack the documentation that would prove their identity. Many Iraqis from the areas that fell under ISIL control lost their civil documentation during forced displacement or because of confiscation of the documents by ISIL and/or other parties to the conflict. Lack of knowledge of the legal requirements and procedures to obtain or renew civil documentation was reported to frequently constitute a barrier to access documentation. Other obstacles comprise high transportation cost to reach government offices in areas of origin, lengthy processing times and difficulties in obtaining security clearance to travel and to obtain documentation, as well as complex court procedures and administrative fees.


 This chapter focuses on some ethnic and/or religious minorities: