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The Iraqi people (Arabic: العراقيون ʿIrāqīyūn, Kurdish: گهلی عیراق Îraqîyan, Aramaic: ܥܡܐ ܥܝܪܩܝܐ ʿIrāqāyā, Turkish: Iraklılar) are the citizens of the modern country of Iraq. Arabs have been the majority in Mesopotamia since the Sassanid Empire (224-637 AD) Arabic was spoken by the majority in the Iraqi Kingdom of Araba in the 1st and 2nd centuries, and by Arabs in Al-Hirah from the 3rd century. Arabs were common in Mesopotamia at the time of the Seleucids (3rd century BC). The first Arab kingdom outside of Arabia was established in Iraq's Al-Hirah in the 3rd century. Arabic was a minority language in northern Iraq in the 8th century BC, from the 8th century following the Muslim conquest of Persia it became the dominant language of Iraqi Muslims, due to Arabic being the language of the Qur'an and the Caliphate. Kurdish Iraqi citizens live in the mountainous Zagros region of northeast Iraq to the east of the upper Tigris. Modern genetic studies indicate that Iraqi Arabs and Kurds are distantly related. Arabic and Kurdish are Iraq's national languages. Read More
Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq was ruled by a mostly secular Sunni Arab elite, which viciously suppressed the Shiite Arab majority and the Kurdish minority. But the toppling of Saddam's regime has altered the power balance between those groups, who are waging an increasingly bitter power struggle. Read More
Shiites and Sunnis: Origins of Differences
The divide between Sunni and Shiite Arabs is currently Iraq's most volatile. The distinction between the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam dates back to a 7th Century split over who would inherit the leadership of Muslims after the passing of the Prophet Muhammad. The Shiites believe that the Prophet had passed the mantle of leadership to his own descendants, first to his cousin and son-in-law, Imam Ali, who in turn passed it to his own son (and the Prophet's beloved grandson) Imam Hussein. They rejected the three Caliphs chosen by consultation among the Prophet's followers after his death — those recognized by the Sunnis, who constitute about three quarters of the world's Muslims today — and instead followed a series of 12 imams who were direct descendants of Muhammad. The schism originated as a violent power struggle, with both Ali and Hussein murdered by rivals. The latter, killed at the battle of Karbala in Iraq, came to symbolize the cult of martyrdom in the Shiite tradition, with followers still today flagellating themselves during the annual Ashura festival for their failure to rally to Hussein and prevent his death. Read More
Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen
Almost 80% of Iraqis are Arab, while some 15-20% are Kurds — a distinct ethnic group with its own language, history and culture, concentrated in northern Iraq, eastern Turkey, northeastern Syria, northern Iran and southern Georgia. Kurds have struggled for their rights as a cultural minority in all of those societies, often suffering vicious repression, but have enjoyed de facto independence in northern Iraq under U.S. protection since the 1991 Gulf War. Although they participate in Iraqi national politics and one of their key leaders, Jalal Talabani, is currently Iraq's president, the vast majority of Iraqi Kurds have signaled their desire for formal independence from Iraq. The Kurds are predominantly Sunni Muslim, although there is a Shiite minority, but Kurdish identity politics are dominated by secular nationalism, although an Islamist party made a surprisingly strong showing in January's election. Read More