Assyrian exodus from Iraq

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The Assyrian exodus from Iraq refers to the mass flight and expulsion of ethnic Assyrians from Iraq, a process which was initiated from the beginning of Iraq War in 2003 and continues to this day. Leaders of Iraq's Assyrian community estimate that over two-thirds of the Iraqi Assyrian population may have fled the country or been internally displaced since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 until 2011. Reports suggest that whole neighborhoods of Assyrians have cleared out in the cities of Baghdad and Basra, and that Sunni insurgent groups and militias have threatened Assyrians.[1] Following the campaign of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in northern Iraq in August 2014, one quarter of the remaining Iraqi Assyrians fled the Jihadists, finding refuge in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.[2]

The Guardian published that the violence faced by Assyrians has led to a drop in their numbers in Iraq from at least 800,000 in 2003 to 400,000 in 2011.[3] The 2009 Catholic Almanac puts the numbers much higher—a drop from 1.5 million mostly Assyrians in Iraq in 2003 to just 500,000 in 2009.[4] Some estimate the updated number of Assyrians in Iraq at just 300,000. The UN High Commission for Refugees estimated in 2007 that one third of 1.8 million Iraqi refugees were Assyrians.[5] A similar percentage of the 1.6 million internally displaced within Iraq in 2007 were likely Assyrians, many of whom had fled Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul to the relatively stable Northern Iraq.[5]


A 1950 CIA report on Iraq showed that Assyrians comprised 4.9% of the Iraqi population during the 1940s.[6]

Total population Chaldean Catholic Syriac Catholic Syriac Orthodox Nestorian
165,000 98,000 25,000 12,000 30,000

The report goes on and states 20% of the Assyrians live in Baghdad and 60% in Mosul.

The Iraqi Minorities Council and the Minority Rights Group International estimated that Iraq's pre-war Assyrian population was 800,000.[7]


During Iraq War (2003–2011)[edit]

Assyrians in post-Saddam Iraq have faced high rate of persecution by Fundamentalist Sunnis since the beginning of the Iraq War. By early August 2004 this persecution included church bombings, and fundamentalist groups' enforcement of Muslim codes of behavior upon Christians, e.g., banning alcohol, forcing women to wear hijab.[8] The violence against the community has led to the exodus of perhaps as much as half of the community. While Assyrians only made just over 5% of the total Iraqi population before the war, according to the United Nations, Assyrians are over-represented among the Iraqi refugees (as much as 13%) who are stranded in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.[9][10][11]

The gravity of the situation prompted Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to ask Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi to take steps to protect the Christian community. Sunni imams[who?] in Baghdad have made similar statements to their congregations in Friday Prayer sermons.[citation needed]

During Iraqi insurgency (2011–present)[edit]

Widescale ethnic cleansing of the Assyrian people (otherwise known as Chaldean or Syriac)[12][13][14] in Iraq and Syria by the jihadist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) was begun following their Northern Iraq offensive in mid 2014.[15] Unfortunately, most of the land that ISIS conquered in Northern Iraq was part of the Nineveh Plains, and was the only area left that was safe for the Assyrians in Iraq. By August 2014, the Nineveh plains was reduced by 60%, and almost all of the main population centers of the region were lost to ISIS.

Accommodation of displaced and refugees[edit]

A large number of Assyrians have found refuge in their villages in Nineveh plains and the Kurdish Autonomous Region.[16][better source needed][17] This led some Assyrians and Iraqi and foreign politicians to call for an Assyrian autonomous region in those areas.[18]


  1. ^ "Population 'under attack', Radio Free Europe". Archived from the original on 2012-09-07. Retrieved 2012-06-18. 
  2. ^ "Iraq Christians flee as Islamic State takes Qaraqosh". BBC News. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  3. ^ Mardean Isaac. "The desperate plight of Iraq's Assyrians and other minorities". the Guardian. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  4. ^ "2009 Catholic Almanac". Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  5. ^ a b [1]
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on October 15, 2012. Retrieved October 31, 2013. 
  7. ^ Jackson, Patrick (2007-07-13). "Middle East | Crushing Iraq's human mosaic". BBC News. Retrieved 2012-06-18. 
  8. ^ "Analysis: Iraq's Christians under attack". BBC News. 2004-08-02. Retrieved 2010-04-25. 
  9. ^ Qais al-Bashir (2006-12-25). "Iraqi Christians celebrate Christmas". Yahoo! News. Associated Press. Retrieved 2007-01-07. [dead link]
  10. ^ (PDF);_ylu=X3oDMTByMDhrMzdqBHNlYwNzcgRwb3MDNQRjb2xvA2FjMgR2dGlkAw--/SIG=12dpb27io/EXP=1247948212/**http%3a// Retrieved October 31, 2013.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  11. ^ (PDF);_ylu=X3oDMTBybnZlZnRlBHNlYwNzcgRwb3MDMQRjb2xvA2FjMgR2dGlkAw--/SIG=12cuifo46/EXP=1247949139/**http%3a// Retrieved October 31, 2013.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  12. ^ Rodriguez, Meredith (August 8, 2014). "Chicago-area Assyrians march against ISIS, others protest airstrikes". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on August 9, 2014. Retrieved August 8, 2014. 
  13. ^ Bowcott, Owen; Jones, Sam (August 8, 2014). "Isis persecution of Iraqi Christians has become genocide, says religious leaders". The Guardian. Archived from the original on August 9, 2014. Retrieved August 8, 2014. 
  14. ^ McQuade, Romsin (July 30, 2014). "Iraq's persecuted Assyrian Christians are in limbo". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on August 9, 2014. Retrieved August 8, 2014. 
  15. ^ Levs, Josh (August 7, 2014). "Will anyone stop ISIS?". CNN. Archived from the original on August 7, 2014. Retrieved August 7, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Worthy Christian News » Iraqi Christians speed exodus to Kurdistan". 2011-02-08. Retrieved 2012-06-18. 
  17. ^ Rizan, Ahmed. "Displaced Mosul Christians celebrate Easter in Nineveh Plain". Archived from the original on 4 May 2011. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  18. ^ Timmerman, Kenneth (1 March 2011). "TIMMERMAN: Iraqi Christians to Congress: Please help". The Washington Times. Retrieved 5 June 2011.