Mesopotamian Arabs are the largest ethnic group in Iraq, while Kurds are the largest ethnic minority. Turkmens are the third largest ethnic group in the country. The population was estimated to be 40,194,216 in 2018 (residing in Iraq) and over 10 million living in the diaspora, with most of the population being Shia Arabs (15 million), Sunni Arabs (9 million), followed by Kurds (4.7 million), Turkmen (3 million), Afro-Iraqis (1 million), Assyrians and Armenians (500,000), Yazidis (500,000) and Shabaks (250,000). Other minorities include Mandeans (3,000), Roma (50,000) and Circassians (2,000). The most spoken languages are Mesopotamian Arabic, Kurdish, Iraqi Turkmen dialects and Syriac. The percentages of different ethno-religious groups residing in Iraq vary from source to source due to the last Iraqi census having taken place over 30 years ago. A new census of Iraq was planned to take place in 2020.
In ancient and medieval times Mesopotamia was the political and cultural centre of many great empires, such as the Akkadian Empire, Assyria, and Babylonia. The ancient Mesopotamian civilization of Sumer is the oldest known civilization in the world, and thus Iraq is widely known as the cradle of civilization. Iraq remained an important centre of civilization for millennia, up until the Abbasid Caliphate (of which Baghdad was the capital), which was the most advanced empire of the medieval world (see Islamic Golden Age).
One study found that Haplogroup J-M172 originated in northern Iraq. In spite of the importance of this region, genetic studies on the Iraqi people are limited and generally restricted to analysis of classical markers due to Iraq's modern political instability, although there have been several published studies displaying a genealogical connection between all Iraqi peoples and the neighboring countries, across religious, ethnic and linguistic barriers. Studies indicate the different ethno-religious groups of Iraq and Mesopotamia share significant similarities in genetics, and that Iraqi Mesopotamian Arabs are more genetically related to other non-Arab populations in the region such as Assyrians, Kurds, Iranians and Turks, as well as Levantines, than they are to Arabs of the Arabian peninsula. There are also significant differences in genetics between Mesopotamian Arabs compared to Arabs from Arabia and from countries like Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Semitic peoples of Iraq and the region, such as Iraqi Arabs and Assyrians are also more genetically related to each other than to non-Semitic populations such as the Indo-European populations like Iranians and Kurds, who are more genetically related, however they are all more closely genetically related that than they are to other members from other countries who speak the same language. The majority of Mesopotamian Arabs are also largely descendants of pre-Islamic indigenous peoples until they adopted the Arab identity in the 7th century during the Islamic conquest, and although Arab migrations may have taken place, they were minor and largely insignificant to the genetic demography of the region. Scientific studies on genetics of the peoples of the region has indicated:
In the 7th century A.D., after the conversion to Islam, the Arabs of the Arabian peninsula conquered large areas, including Mesopotamia and adjacent regions. Arabic became the major language of the region and an Arab nation was established there under Islam. But again, the pre-existing indigenous population, mainly Christian (including Assyrians), did not physically disappear, and the majority must have become part of the Arab population. Looking at the figure, one sees a very large genetic separation between the Arabs of the South - Saudis, Yemenites - and those in the region of Mesopotamia - Jordanian, Iraqi. The latter two groups are much closer genetically to the four non-Arab people of the region that we are interested in (Turk, Iranian, Kurd, Assyrian) than to the Arabs of the Arabian peninsula. As in the case of the Turks in Anatolia, these findings provide a clue that a relatively small number of Arabs from the Arabian peninsula may have carried out the conquest of a region with a much larger population, which included a number of cities, and that although the dominant language, religion and culture changed, the genes of the previous population may not have been significantly diluted and were transmitted to the present population of that region.
The results of these scientific studies lead to the startling realization that Turks, Iranians, Kurds, Iraqis, Jordanians, Lebanese are more closely related genetically to Assyrians than they are to other members of their own respective language families in Asia. These seven groups (and Jews) are genetically close. The great language, cultural and religious differences are not reflected in the most fundamental aspect of their biology - their genes, which are the most accurate indicators of their shared origins and ancestry.
No significant differences in Y-DNA variation were observed among Iraqi Mesopotamian Arabs, Assyrians, or Kurds. Modern genetic studies indicate that Iraqi Arabs and Iraqi Kurds are distantly related, though Iraqi Mesopotamian Arabs are more related to Iraqi-Assyrians than they are to Iraqi Kurds.
For both mtDNA and Y-DNA variation, the large majority of the haplogroups observed in the Iraqi population (H, J, T, and U for the mtDNA, J-M172 and J-M267 for the Y-DNA) are those considered to have originated in Western Asia and to have later spread mainly in Western Eurasia. The Eurasian haplogroups R1b and R1a represent the second most frequent component of the Iraqi Y-chromosome gene pool, the latter suggests that the population movements from Central Asia into modern Iran also influenced Iraq.
Many historians and anthropologists provide strong circumstantial evidence to posit that Iraq's Marsh Arabs share very strong links to the ancient Sumerians—the oldest human civilization in the world and most ancient inhabitants of central-southern Iraq.
The Iraqi-Assyrian population was found to be significantly related to other Iraqis, especially Mesopotamian Arabs, yet due to religious endogamy have developed a distinct genetic profile.
Studies have reported that most Irish and Britons have ancestry to Neolithic farmers who left modern day Iraq, Jordan and Syria 10,000 years ago. Genetic researchers say they have found compelling evidence that, on average, four out of five (80%) Europeans can trace their Y chromosome to the ancient Near East. In another study, scientists analyzed DNA from the 8,000-year-old remains of early farmers found at an ancient graveyard in Germany. They compared the genetic signatures to those of modern populations and found similarities with the DNA of people living in today's Turkey and Iraq.
Iraq's national languages are Arabic and the Kurdish languages. Arabic is spoken as a first language by around 79 percent of Iraqi people, and Kurdish by around 21 percent. The two main regional dialects of Arabic spoken by the Iraqi people are Mesopotamian Arabic (spoken in the Babylonian alluvial plain and Middle Euphrates valley) and North Mesopotamian Arabic (spoken in the Assyrian highlands). The two main dialects of Kurdish spoken by Kurdish people are Central Kurdish (spoken in the Erbil and Sulaymaniyah Governorates) and Northern Kurdish (spoken in Dohuk Governorate). In addition to Arabic, most Assyrians and Mandaeans speak Neo-Aramaic languages.
Iraq has many devout followers of its religions. In 1968 the Iraqi constitution established Islam as the official religion of the state as the majority of Iraqis (97%) are Muslim (predominantly Shīʻī, but also including large minority of Sunnis).
In addition to Islam, many Iraqi people are Christians belonging to various Christian denominations. The majority of Iraqi Christians are ethnic Chaldo-Assyrians, whilst non-Syriac Christians are mostly Iraqi Arabs and Armenians. Iraqi-Assyrians largely belong to belong to the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church, Ancient Church of the East, and the Syriac Catholic Church. Iraqi Arab Christians belong to the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and the Melkite Greek Catholic Church of Antioch, and Iraqi-Armenians belong to the Armenian Orthodox Church and Armenian Catholic Church. Their numbers inside Iraq have dwindled to around 500,000+ following the US invasion of Iraq.
Other religious groups include Mandaeans, Shabaks, Yazidis and followers of other minority religions. Furthermore, Jews had also been present in Iraq in significant numbers historically, and Iraq had the largest Jewish population in the Middle East, but their population dwindled, after virtually all of them migrated to Israel between 1949 and 1952. From 1949 to 1951, 104,000 Jews were evacuated from Iraq in Operations Ezra and Nechemia (named after the Jewish leaders who took their people back to Jerusalem from exile in Babylonia beginning in 597 B.C.E.); another 20,000 were smuggled out through Iran.
Iraqis form one of the largest diasporas in the world. The Iraqi diaspora is not a sudden exodus but one that has grown rapidly through the 20th century as each generation faced some form of radical transition or political conflict. From 1950 to 1952 Iraq saw a great exodus of roughly 120,000 - 130,000 of its Jewish population under the Israel-led "Operation Ezra and Nehemiah". There were at least two large waves of expatriation of both Christians and Muslims alike. A great number of Iraqis left the country during the regime of Saddam Hussein and large numbers have left during the Second Gulf War and its aftermath. The United Nations estimates that roughly 40% of Iraq's remaining and formerly strong middle-class have fled the country following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
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