Reaching the Nations

Iraq

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 438,317 square km.  Located in the heart of the Middle East, Iraq borders Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and the Persian Gulf.  Entering Iraq from the northwest and running parallel to one another, the Tigris and Euphrates are major rivers which provide fresh water to the arid desert and generate favorable conditions for agriculture that has allowed civilizations to flourish for millennia in a region historically known as Mesopotamia.  Desert plains occupy most the terrain; marshland is common in the southeast near the Iranian border and mountains straddle the Turkish and northeast Iranian borders.  Hot, dry weather occurs during the summer whereas mild, dry weather occurs in the winter.  Some mountainous areas experience greater precipitation, especially snow in the wintertime.  Dust storms, sandstorms, and flooding are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include the draining of marshlands, inadequate fresh water supplies, pollution, soil degradation, soil erosion, and desertification.  Iraq is administratively divided into 18 governorates and one region (Kurdistan).

Population: 29,671,605 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 2.449% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 3.76 children born per woman (2010)    

Life Expectancy: 68.88 male, 71.69 female (2010)

Peoples

Arab: 75-80%

Kurdish: 15-20%

other: 5%

Arabs comprise a strong majority and populate most areas.  Non-Arabs are predominantly Kurds, who are concentrated in the north in Kurdistan.  Other ethnic groups comprise five percent of the population and include Turkomans and Assyrians.  As a result of war, there were an estimated 1.5 million Iraqi refugees outside Iraq in 2010, mainly in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt.[1]

Languages: Arabic dialects (84%), Kurdish dialects (12%), Azerbaijani (2%), Farsi (1%), other (1%).  The Iraqi (also known as the Mesopotamian) dialect of Arabic is the most commonly spoken Arabic dialect and is intelligible to speakers of some Arabic dialects.  Arabic is the official language.  Kurdish is an official language in Kurdish-speaking regions.  Languages with over one million speakers include Arabic dialects (24.9 million) and Kurdish dialects (3.56 million).  

Literacy: 74.1% (2000)

History

Various ancient civilizations flourished in the Mesopotamian Cradle of Civilization, including the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Chaldeans.  Cuneiform is the oldest known form of ancient writing which was etched on clay tablets in the region as early as four millennia before the birth of Christ.  Many innovations of early civilization derive from this region.  The region was subsequently conquered by foreigners, including Persians, Greeks under Alexander the Great, Parthians, and others. Islam spread to Iraq in the seventh century A.D. and Baghdad became the capital of the Abassid caliphate in the eight century.  The Ottoman Empire annexed Iraq in the sixteenth century and Iraq remained under Ottoman control until after World War I, when it became part of the British mandate for the Middle East.  Iraq achieved independence in 1932 with a constitutional monarchy government and joined the United Nations in 1945.  Iraq was a founding member of the Arab League.  In 1956, Iraq allied with the United Kingdom, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey under the Baghdad Pact.  Iraq's membership in the alliance came to an end in 1959 as a result of a coup led by Abdul Karim Qasim which killed the king and prime minister in 1958.  The Arab Socialist Renaissance Parth (Ba'ath Party) overtook the government in 1963, assassinated Qasim, and instated Abdul Salam Arif as president and Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr as prime minister.  Arif ousted the Ba'ath government later that year but perished in a plane crash in 1966.  Arif's brother assumed power but was overthrown by followers of the Ba'ath Party who instated Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr as president and chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) in 1968.  Bakr resigned in 1979 and was followed by his cousin Saddam Hussein.  Hussein led Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988, ultimately leading Iraq to victory after suffering extensive damage to the country's infrastructure and economy.  Hussein suppressed a Kurdish rebellion in the north by releasing chemical and biological weapons on the civilian population, major atrocities that killed thousands. 

In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and the following February the United States led a coalition that expelled Iraqi forces under United Nations resolutions.  Following the liberation of Kuwait, no-fly zones were established in northern and southern Iraq and a no-drive zone was established in southern Iraq by the United States, United Kingdom, and France in an effort to protect civilian populations that were rebelling against the brutal Hussein regime.  The United Nations Security Council demanded the government deliver all weapons of mass destruction in the early 2000s.  Sanctions were imposed following the refusal of the government to fully comply with United Nations inspections.  The United States led a military coalition in 2003 which overthrew the regime and captured Hussein in late 2003, although weapons of mass destruction were never found.  Prior to the establishment of the Iraqi Interim Government in 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority governed Iraq and worked to restore order, security, and stability.  A new Iraqi constitution came into effect in 2005, but violence escalated between the various ethnic and political factions vying for power.  The United States increased the number of military personnel in 2006 as part of an operation dubbed "the surge" which facilitated the return of greater stability and peace thereafter.  In 2009, the United States agreed to depart Iraq and withdrew from urban areas.  In 2010, the United States announced the end of its major combat operations in Iraq.  The United States military is set to depart by the end of 2011.[2]  Political instability, infighting among and between various factions, ethnic and tribal divides, and severe endemic corruption at all levels, and the lack of a democratic tradition all remain major challenges.

Culture 

Iraq boasts numerous archeological sites in ancient Mesopotamia, also known as the Cradle of Civilization.   The ancient cities of Sumer, Babylonia, Assyria, and Chaldea, such as Babylon, Ninevah and Ur, were all located within present-day Iraq.  The Minaret of Samarra is one of the largest mosques in the Arab world and was built in Samarra in 848 A.D.  Iraq is known throughout the Arab world for its many talented musicians, singers, and dance performers.  Commonly eaten foods include chicken, lamb, vegetables, yogurt, olive oil, and spices.  Tea is widely consumed daily.[3]  Cigarette consumption rates compare to the worldwide average rate of smoking whereas alcohol consumption rates are very low as most Muslims abstain from drinking.  Polygamy is permitted in accordance with Shari'a law.

Economy

GDP per capita: $3,600 (2010) [7.59% of US]

Human Development Index: N/A

Corruption Index: 1.5

Iraq's abundant oil and natural gas reserves remain underdeveloped due to past political instability, wars, and outdated oil transshipment infrastructure.  Increasing stability and the declining United States military presence in recent years has increased foreign investment in tapping Iraq's oil fields.  Oil profits account for 80% of foreign exchange earnings and 90% of total government revenues.  Economic legislation has begun to establish means for channeling oil monies into other governmental and economic sectors over the long term.  However, widespread corruption, high unemployment rates, inadequate infrastructure, and outdated business laws impede greater economic development.   Phosphates and sulfur are additional natural resources.  Services employ 60% of the labor force and generate 27% of the GDP whereas industry employs 19% of the labor force and generates 63% of the GDP.  Oil, chemicals, clothing, construction, food processing, fertilizer, and metal processing are major industries.  Agriculture employs 21% of the GDP and generates 10% of the GDP.  Common crops and agricultural goods include wheat, barley, rice, vegetables, cotton, dates, cattle, sheep, and poultry.  The United States, Turkey, Syria, India, and Italy are the primary trade partners. 

Transparency International has consistently ranked Iraq among the most corrupt nations worldwide for several years.  Corruption occurs on all areas of society and has seriously inhibited economic growth and development.  Terrorist attacks and insurgencies remain major challenges which have exacerbated corruption and instability since the fall of the Hussein regime in 2003.

Faiths

Muslim: 97%

other: 3%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  (Chaldean) 300,000

Assyrian  100,000

Armenian Orthodox  15,000

Evangelical  6,000

Latter-Day Saints  1,300  36+

Seventh-Day Adventists  172  3

Religion

The population is overwhelmingly Muslim.  Shi'a Muslims comprise 60-65% whereas Sunni Muslims constitute the remainder of the Muslim population.  Christians account for the largest non-Muslim religious group and in 2003 were estimated to number between 800,000 and 1.4 million.  However, due to emigration, the number of Christians declined to between 400,000 and 600,000 in 2010.  Associated with the Catholic Church, Chaldean Christians are the largest Christian denomination and account for two-thirds of the Christian population.   Assyrian Christians (Church of the East) are the second largest denomination and constitute approximately 20% of Iraqi Christians.  Half of the Christian population is estimated to reside in Baghdad and 30-40% are estimated to live in the north in Mosul, Irbil, Dahuk, Kirkuk, and in surrounding areas.  Found in northern areas, Yezidis and Shabaks are syncretic religious groups that incorporate indigenous religious beliefs or Christianity into Islam; each claim approximately half a million followers.  There are a couple thousand Baha'is scattered throughout Iraq.[4] 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom but recognizes Islam as the state religion.  Religious freedom has been consistently upheld by the government since 2003, but its practice has been limited by extremists, terrorists, and gangs which target religious minority groups.  Violent attacks on religious leaders and places of worship curtail the freedom of religious practice for many.  The government has issued numerous statements and has followed policies which encourage religious tolerance.  All citizens are regarded as equal according to the constitution regardless of religion, socio-economic status, nationality, and ethnicity.  Religious groups must register with the government to operate.  To register a religious group is required to have at least 500 followers in the country and receive approval from the Council of Iraqi Christian Church Leaders.  Islamic religious instruction in public schools is required for all Muslim students.  The government recognizes major Muslim holidays as national holidays and permits Christians to observe their religious customs for Easter.  There are no government restrictions on conversion and proselytism.  Societal abuse of religious freedom remains widespread in many areas, pressuring many religious minorities to conform to radical Islamist ideals.[5]

Largest Cities

Urban: 67%

Baghdad, Mosul, Basra, Irbil, Kirkuk, An-Najaf, As-Sulaymaniyah, Karbala, An-Nasiriyah, Al-Hillah, Ad-Diwaniyah, Al-Amarah, Al-Kut, Ar-Ramadi, Dahuk, As-Samawah, Baqubah, Tikrit.

Two of the 18 cities with over 100,000 inhabitants have an LDS congregation.  49% of the national population resides in the 18 largest cities. 

LDS History

In 2000, Iraq was assigned to the Europe Central Area.[6]  The first LDS congregation was formed in April 2003 at Tallil Air Base to service LDS American military personnel.[7]  In 2008, Iraq was assigned to the Middle East/African North Area.  The organization of the Baghdad Iraq Military District in late 2009 permitted the organization of branches for LDS American military personnel.[8] 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 1,300 (2009)

There were approximately 1,300 Latter-day Saints in late 2009.[9]  With only a few exceptions, Latter-day Saints in Iraq are foreigners serving in the American military or are on government or business assignment.  Several Christian Iraqi refugees joined the Church in the mid-2000s in Jordan and returned to Iraq in 2007. In 2009, one in 22,824 was LDS.

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0 Branches: 6 Groups: 30+

Following the organization of the first group in April 2003, dozens of additional LDS military groups were formed throughout the country.  When the Baghdad Iraq Military District was organized, there were three branches included in the new district (I Z, Taji, and Camp Victory).  Three additional branches were organized in 2010 (Balad, Mosul, and Talil).  In early 2011, there were six branches and over 30 service member groups.[10]

Activity and Retention

Member activity rates are representative of the activity rates of American military personnel.  No formal LDS missionary activity had occurred in Iraq as of early 2011.  Few if any local Iraqis have joined the Church in Iraq since LDS meetings commenced among United States military personnel in 2003.  As many as 50% of known Latter-day Saints residing in the country appear to attend church meetings regularly.  Active membership is estimated at 650. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Arabic, Farsi, English.

All LDS scriptures and most church materials are translated into Arabic.  General Conference talks have been translated into Farsi at least since 2007 and audio translations are provided on the Church's website.[11]  Book of Mormon selections, Gospel Principles, Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and a few additional proselytism materials are available in Farsi. 

Meetinghouses

All LDS congregations appear to meet at military installations.

Health and Safety

Lawlessness and societal abuse of religious freedom have been extreme in many areas.  Religious minorities, Sunnis in predominately Shi'a neighborhoods, and Shi'as in predominate Sunni neighborhoods have frequently reported receiving death threats which demanded their departure.  Failure to comply to such threats often resulted in death.  The frequency of these threats has reportedly declined in recent years as stability has been restored, but remain a serious problem.  Recent acts of violence that were religiously motivated include beheadings, drive-by shootings, suicide bombings, kidnappings, and church and mosque bombings.  Islamist extremists and al-Qaeda operatives are common perpetrators of the crimes[12] but are rarely caught or brought to justice due to an inadequate and undertrained police force, widespread corruption, and endemic complicity of various ethnic and religious factions in obstructing investigation into members of their own groups.

Humanitarian and Development Work

In 1991, the Church donated 13,000 blankets, clothing, and medical supplies to Kurdish and southern Iraqi refugees.[13]  In 2003, Latter-day Saints in Oxnard, California teamed up with other Christians in the community to donate school supplies to needy Iraqi school children.[14]  A similar service project occurred in 2004 which provided school supplies including nearly 600 books to a school that accommodated children with Down syndrome.[15]  Local members in Forth Worth, Texas sent clothing, blankets, pillows, and hygiene kits to Iraq in 2004.[16]  LDS American military medical professionals performed service to needy Iraqis by providing eye care that same year.[17] Latter-day Saints in the Denver, Colorado area assembled over 3,000 school kits to donate to nine schools in Iraq in 2005.[18]  Additional humanitarian projects completed include donating wheelchairs for the disabled and emergency relief for war victims.[19]

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

In early 2011, it was unclear whether the LDS Church was officially registered with the Iraqi government.  The law does not appear to discriminate between citizens and foreigners to reach the necessary threshold of 500 members to qualify for registration, and at present the Church has enough members to apply for registration due to its strong presence among the American military and expatriates living in the country.  However, the projected withdrawal of United States military forces from Iraq at the end of 2011 may result in an inability for the Church to maintain at least 500 members in the country if official registration is not obtained.  It is uncertain whether any challenges will be presented by Council of Iraqi Christian Church Leaders granting the LDS Church a perpetual presence in Iraq over the medium term.  Notwithstanding some legal challenges, Latter-day Saints benefit from governmental support of promoting religious freedom and a lack of governmental restrictions on proselytism and conversion, although cultural intolerance and physical violence towards Christians renders such freedoms largely nominal and moot.  Societal abuse of religious freedom and violence directed towards Christians remains intense in many areas, which deter efforts to conduct coordinated missionary activity.  Consequently the LDS Church has requested local members to refrain from missionary activity among the indigenous population.

Cultural Issues

The strong ethno-religious ties of Arabs to Islam present a nearly insurmountable barrier for Latter-day Saints at present due to a lack of Muslim-oriented missionary approaches, the absence of an Iraqi Latter-day Saint community, and societal intolerance of Christian missionary activity and conversion from Islam.  Prospective missionary work targeting Kurds and Iraqi Christians may be the most productive for the Church as these groups have demonstrated greater tolerance for missionary-minded Christians and make greater accommodations to the beliefs of non-Muslims.  Iraqis engaged in a polygamous relationships must end these relations in divorce and be interviewed by a member of the area presidency to be considered for baptism.  Widespread tea drinking opposes LDS teachings. 

National Outreach

The entire native population is unreached by LDS mission outreach due to church policy, unstable political conditions, the holding of church meetings in military installations, and violence directed toward religious minorities.  In early 2011, LDS branches operated in or near cities populated by 25% of the national population.  Long-term challenges extending LDS mission outreach to Iraq include distance from currently established mission outreach centers, the lack of Iraqi Latter-day Saints, ongoing violence directed toward Christians, and the lack of developed Muslim-specific LDS missionary approaches. 

Baghdad, Mosul, Irbil, Dahuk, and Kirkuk offer the greatest opportunities to expand national outreach as most Iraqi Christians reside in these locations and these cities account for 30% of the national population.  LDS military branches in Baghdad and Mosul may increase the prospects of future missionary activity among Christians in these locations.  Preliminary LDS missionary activity in these locations may include development projects, distributing culturally-appropriate church literature explaining LDS beliefs, and holding cottage meetings.  

The Internet has been a successful tool for Arabic-speaking members to create websites detailing LDS beliefs and practices which can reach some Iraqis. Several Egyptian Latter-day Saint converts initially learned about the Church through websites created by Arabic-speaking LDS converts.  There have been no official LDS websites in Arabic. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Moderate levels of member activity are currently exhibited by the foreign Latter-day Saint population stationed or assigned to Iraq at present.  Cultural barriers to conversion and living LDS teachings for many Iraqis will require strong devotion to the Church prior to baptism and will likely ensure good convert retention and member activity rates in the long run.  The few Latter-day Saint Iraqis that reside in the country do not appear to have consistent contact with the Church and are more prone to inactivity.  A lack of Iraqi-focused mission outreach stemming from the LDS Church policy of avoiding proselytism at present further delays the development of an indigenous community of Latter-day Saints that can become self-sufficient. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Iraq experiences major ethnic integration challenges, requiring proper foresight and planning by LDS leaders to reduce potential conflicts at church.  Language barriers between Kurds and Arabs may necessitate the organization of language-specific congregations when a sizeable body of active Latter-day Saints is developed, which would reduce ethnic integration challenges on a congregational level.  Greater receptivity among a particular ethnic group may generate a demography for LDS congregations that is not representative of the Iraqi population, which could challenge the integration of other ethnic groups. 

Language Issues

Widespread use of Arabic among the Arab majority simplifies prospective Latter-day Saint mission outreach approaches in most areas.  Effective language outreach to Iraqis may require the translation of LDS materials into the Iraqi dialect of Arabic.  The Church has no materials translated into Kurdish or Azerbaijani dialects, which are spoken by over four million Iraqis.  Kurdish materials will likely be needed as Protestant groups have reported considerably greater receptivity among Kurds than among Iraqi Arabs, which combined with the greater stability in the Kurdish north, make outreach among Kurds a logical avenue if missionary work one day becomes possible.  Literacy rates are modest as nearly one-quarter of Iraqis cannot proficient read and write.  Literacy programs sponsored by the LDS Church may improve literacy rates, strengthen positive relations with local and regional governments, and provide an opportunity for proselytism that is culturally appropriate.

Missionary Service

No Iraqi Latter-day Saints appeared to have served a full-time mission as of early 2011.  No full-time missionaries or humanitarian senior missionary couples have been assigned to Iraq.  Unstable political conditions and violence targeting foreigners and religious minorities render prospects of assigning full-time missionaries unfeasible for the foreseeable future. 

Leadership

Military servicemen or non-natives staff leadership for all LDS congregations nationwide.  There appear to be no native church leaders.

Temple

Iraq is assigned to the Frankfurt Germany Temple district.  Temple trips likely occur irregularly as most members serve in the military.  Prospects of a temple closer to Iraq may come to fruition over the medium term for a small temple in the United Arab Emirates to service members in the Middle East.  

Comparative Growth

With one of the largest bodies of Latter-day Saints in the Middle East attributed to the assignment of LDS military and government personnel, Iraq had twice as many Latter-day Saints than Afghanistan in late 2009 although the Kabul Afghanistan Military District was organized more than a year earlier than the Baghdad Iraq Military District.  Iraq has no permanent community of native Latter-day Saints.  Small LDS communities exist among the native population of Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan.  Sizeable numbers of Latter-day Saints in the Gulf States such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have developed a perpetual presence capable of sustaining a stake whereas LDS populations in Iraq at present are highly itinerant.

Missionary-minded Christian groups report slow and inconsistent growth due to persecution of religious minorities and emigration of Christians abroad.  Seventh Day Adventists reported no membership growth during the 2000s and few convert baptisms. 

Future Prospects

The rapid development of an LDS Church infrastructure in Iraq is largely artificial to meet the needs of a transient military and foreign population with no meaningful long-term connections to the indigenous population.  The LDS Church in Iraq is in danger of losing the scope of its current presence upon the set departure of United States military personnel in late 2011.  Establishing church centers among communities with Iraqi Latter-day Saints and the inclusion of Iraqis among established LDS congregations will be crucial toward developing any medium-term presence in Iraq.  However, such steps appear unlikely at present due to a tenuous security situation, ongoing violence directed toward Christians, and cultural intolerance of proselytism.


[1]  "Iraq," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148821.htm

[2]  "Background Note: Iraq," Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, 17 September 2010.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/6804.htm

[3]  "Iraq," Wikipedia.org, retrieved 9 February 2011.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq

[4]  "Iraq," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148821.htm

[5]  "Iraq," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148821.htm

[6]  Lloyd, Scott.  "European continent realigned into three new areas," LDS Church News, 16 September 2000.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/38475/European-continent---realigned-into-three-new-areas.html

[7]  "LDS service group meeting in Iraq," LDS Church News, 24 May 2003.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/43789/LDS-service-group-meeting-in-Iraq.html

[8]  Askar, Jamshid.  "Military district in Iraq will be 'big difference'," LDS Church News, 21 November 2009.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/58227/Military-district-in-Iraq-will-be-big-difference.html

[9]  Askar, Jamshid.  "Military district in Iraq will be 'big difference'," LDS Church News, 21 November 2009.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/58227/Military-district-in-Iraq-will-be-big-difference.html

[10]  "Church Organization in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Isolated Areas," Resources for Military Members, retrieved 9 February 2011.  http://lds.org/pa/display/0,17884,9138-1,00.html

[11]  "General Conference Reports - Farsi (Persian)," www.lds.org, retrieved 28 August 2010.  http://lds.org/conference/display/0,5234,89-128,00.html

[12]  "Iraq," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148821.htm

[13]  "Church supplies aid Middle East refugees," LDS Church News, 20 April 1991.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/21374/Church-supplies-aid-Middle-East-refugees.html

[14]  Swensen, Jason.  "School supplies reach Iraq," LDS Church News, 19 July 2003.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/44074/School-supplies-reach-Iraq.html

[15]  "Helping Iraqi children," LDS Church News, 4 September 2004.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/46094/Helping-Iraqi-children.html

[16]  "Some 700 projects completed," LDS Church News, 30 October 2004.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/46413/Some-700-projects-completed.html

[17]  Swensen, Jason.  "Eye doc in Iraq treats eyes, wins hearts," LDS Church News, 20 November 2004.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/46502/Eye-doc-in-Iraq-treats-eyes-wins-hearts.html

[18]  "School supplies donated for Iraq," LDS Church News, 12 February 2005.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/46874/School-supplies-donated-for-Iraq.html

[19]  "Projects - Iraq," Humanitarian Activities Worldwide, retrieved 9 February 2011.  http://www.providentliving.org/project/0,13501,4607-1-2008-59,00.html