Language and Religion of Iraq


Arabic is the national language and is the mother tongue of an estimated 79% of the population. Kurdish—the official language in Kurdish regions—or a dialect of it, is spoken by the Kurds and Yazidis. Aramaic, the ancient Syriac dialect, is retained by the Assyrians. The Turkomans speak a Turkic dialect. Armenian is also spoken.


Islam is the national religion of Iraq, adhered to by some 97% of the population. Though the interim constitution provided for freedom of religion, that right is restricted by the government. About 60–65% of Muslims belong to the Shia sect and 32–37% to the Sunni sect. Traditionally, the Shia majority has been governed and generally oppressed by members of the Sunni minority. There are also some syncretic Muslim groups, such as the Yazidis, who consider Satan a fallen angel who will one day be reconciled with God. They propitiate him in their rites and regard the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Koran (Quran), as sacred.

About 3% of the population are adherents to Christianity and other religions. The Assyrians (who are not descended from the ancient Assyrians) are Nestorians. In the 19th century, under the influence of Roman Catholic missions, Christian Chaldeans joined the Uniate churches, which are in communion with Rome; their patriarch has his seat in Al Mawşil. The Sabaeans, or Mandaeans, are often called Christians of St. John, but their religious belief and their liturgy contain elements of many creeds, including some of pre-Christian Oriental origin. Since baptism is their main ritual, they always dwell near water and are concentrated on the riverbanks south of Baghdād. There are a small number of Jews.