Religious Freedom – Iraq

Jump to news clippings on religious freedom in Iraq


Islam is the official religion of Iraq. Nonetheless, in the Iraqi Council of Representatives, minority groups have eight seats reserved: five for Christians and one each for Yezidis, Sabean-Mandaeans, and Shabak.[1] In the Kurdish region, eleven seats are reserved for minorities: five seats for Christians, five for Turkmen, and one for Armenians.[2] According to the Constitution, all Iraqis are guaranteed the freedom to believe and to practice their religion.[3] However, according to the Constitution, any freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution must be compatible with Islam.[4]

Shi’a Muslims are the majority in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, and are otherwise mostly found in Iraq’s south and east. Sunnis live predominantly in Iraq’s west, center and north.[5] Sunni-Shi’a conflict is tearing the country apart and could be said to play a role in supporting ISIL’s advances in certain regions.

Sunni Muslims believe that they are victims of a Shi’a “campaign of revenge” due to alleged preferential treatment of Sunnis during the regime of Saddam Hussein.[6] Reportedly, Sunnis are currently subject to abuses such as harassment, torture, and arrests by government security forces as well as raids of Sunni businesses by Shi’a militants.[7] The government’s alleged inability to bring perpetrators to justice is fostering, in one scholar’s words, a “climate of impunity.”[8]

Religious communities must seek official registration; however, this is not possible for the majority of communities because requirements are often unreasonable. Congregations must be for example 500 people.[9] Iraq law prohibits Baha’ism and Wahhabism.[10] To receive a national identity card, Baha’is must self-identify as Muslim. Without an identity card, one cannot register one’s children in school or obtain a passport.[11]

The government has also officially recognized a Christian’s right to observe Easter and Christmas, offering to provide increased protection to churches on these holidays.[12] Students can study religion in public schools and in many regions can choose to study a religion other than Islam, though most students report that there is pressure to study Islam.[13]

While there is no legal penalty for conversion from Islam, there are nonetheless laws and regulations preventing conversion from Islam. If one parent converts to Islam and have children who are minors, their children are required to convert to Islam as well.[14]

Since 2003, at least half of Iraq’s Christians have fled the country.[15] Chaldean Christians, Assyrian Christians, Sabean Mandeans and Yezidis are fleeing their lands, seeking refuge in northern Iraq and in the Kurdish Region of Iraq or else becoming refugees across the border.[16]

This situation has only worsened since the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” was established in June 2014. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) is now posing a major threat to religious minorities in the region and around the world.  ISIS’s rampage is a denial of religious freedom for anyone who does not subscribe to its radicalized version of Islam.

Since ISIL took over Mosul in June 2014, more than half a million residents have fled[17]. Minorities like Christians and Yezidis are being forced from their homes and are being subjected to atrocities such as kidnapping, torture, rape, and murder.

For further reading:


[8] USCIRF 2014 Report, p. 63.
[16] USCIRF 2014 Report, p. 63.
[17] Multiple sources, DFATD briefing note.


Five Years After Daesh Unleashed Genocide In Iraq

By Ewelina U. Ochab | Forbes Five years ago, Daesh made an attempt at annihilating religious minorities in Syria and Iraq. One of its largest attacks began on August 3, 2014. On that day, Daesh launched a violent attack against Yazidis in ... Full Article

Yazidis in Iraq: ‘The genocide is ongoing’

Samira Shackle | Al Jazeera Khanke camp, northern Iraq – Wahda cannot sleep. During the day, she and her husband are busy caring for their 10 daughters and two sons inside Khanke camp for displaced Iraqis, located in the country’s ... Full Article

Shia pilgrims killed in two Baghdad blasts

  Al Jazeera   Two bombings in different parts of Iraq’s capital Baghdad have struck groups of Shia Muslims taking part in an annual religious pilgrimage, killing at least 15 people and injuring 38 others, Al Jazeera has learned. ... Full Article

Canada Appalled by Car Bombing in Iraq

Ottawa, Ontario – Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada Andrew Bennett, Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, today issued the following statement: “Canada strongly condemns the attack that took place in a busy market in ... Full Article

Pentagon: ISIL pushed out of 25% of its territory

Jim Michaels, USA TODAY WASHINGTON — Iraqi forces have pushed the Islamic State out of about 25% of the territory seized during the militants’ lightning advance last year, according to a Pentagon assessment released Monday. The area ... Full Article

U.N. Urges Arab World to Denounce Islamic State

By Somini Sengupta | The New York Times UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations’ top human rights official called on the Muslim world to denounce the “monstrous” crimes of the extremist group that seeks to establish an Islamic state in Iraq ... Full Article

Canada Condemns Targeting of Worshippers in Iraq

August 25, 2014 – Andrew Bennett, Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, today issued the following statement: “Canada condemns the targeted killings of Iraqi Shiite Muslim worshipers near Baghdad today and of Sunni Muslim ... Full Article