The rise of ISIS in Iraq has hit the country’s religious and ethnic minorities particularly hard. Already struggling to survive and steadily diminishing in numbers since 2003, many of these communities suffered immensely under ISIS, particularly in Iraq’s northern Nineveh Province, which was home to some of the country’s oldest and most diverse minorities.
Communities such as Assyrians, Yazidis, Shabaks and Chaldeans were massacred or displaced by ISIS militants, finding their numbers virtually halved. It is with this in mind that members of Iraq’s Sabean Mandaean community organised an event in the city of Najaf to discuss the future of coexistence in Iraq.
Considered to be Iraq’s oldest religious community, the Sabean Mandaeans practice a gnostic religion that is recognisably Abrahamic (thus, Mandaeans are considered People of the Book) but predating Islam and, likely, Christianity. Living in southern Iraq, particularly around Basra, the Mandaean people have managed to avoid the worst excesses of ISIS. However, the prevalence of extremism in Iraq since 2003 has nevertheless hit the community hard. Once a community of 60,000 to 70,000, only 5,000 live in Iraq now.
As a result of their own experiences with religious extremism, the Mandaean community knows well the difficulties being experienced by Iraq’s many religious minorities that have suffered under ISIS. It is with this in mind that the Mandaean Council, in cooperation with the Najaf Literary Council, has launched a conference to discuss the future of Iraq’s many minorities.
The main goal of these conferences is to raise the profile of Iraq’s religious communities and ensure that they can not only continue to survive but thrive in post-ISIS Iraq. There is a sentiment here that the environment of communal suspicion and apathy that has allowed for attacks on minorities to take place with impunity across Iraq has been dispelled by the horrifying acts of ISIS militants. Participants here feel that the events of the past three years have finally provided the impetus for many Iraqis to have a conversation on matters of religious tolerance and acceptance.
Indeed, although the battle to liberate Iraq from ISIS has seen many instances of religious cross-cooperation that warrants optimism, many communities continue to experience violence, discrimination and stagnation. The Mandaean community leaders here in Najaf hope that their efforts can push the process that allows Iraq to become the home of all Iraqis.