Iraq’s Minorities: The Sectarian Quota System’s Shortcomings

Tuesday 3 August 202105:19 pm
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Louay Kamal, 37, is considering leaving Iraq. A Christian man from Nineveh Governorate in northern Iraq, Louay has lost hope of being promoted to a higher position. "No hope to get promoted", says Louay, although the law prohibits discrimination between employees on religious or sectarian grounds, but the reality is different.

Minorities are marginalized and excluded in Iraq, even in their workplace because of religion, belief or thought, they are rarely promoted to higher positions, contrary to the Iraqi constitution which clearly guarantees the rights and duties of the various sects in the country, knowing that Iraq has signed international agreements that provide for human rights and minorities. In the Kurdistan region, in 2015, the region parliament passed a law guaranteeing the rights of minorities in several areas, including politics and education.

Minorities are marginalized and excluded in Iraq, even in their workplace because of religion, belief or thought, they are rarely promoted to higher positions, contrary to the Iraqi constitution which clearly guarantees the rights and duties of the various sects in the country

Exclusion at Work

Louay, an engineer in the Iraqi Ministry of Industry and Minerals, occupies the position of Manager of the Engineering Examination and Inspection Department at the Bartella sewing factory in eastern Mosul. He avoids discussion with those who consider Christians "infidels". "Even if I complain about them, the matter will not be considered," he says.

Louay experienced this religious discrimination in the workplace. Before ISIS entered Mosul, he was in the position of an Assistant Engineer in the textile factory in Mosul, saying, "An official book was issued requiring that each engineer run a department according to his specialization. I was assigned to be the assistant manager of the electrical department, but the assistant manager of the electrical department, an agricultural engineer, told the staff that how do you accept a Christian who is responsible for you, while you are Muslims?"

Some employees did not agree with this discrimination, but the official book was not implemented, according to Louay, pointing out that "the person who made these words continued his work."

In fact, since 2003, more than 1,100 Christians in Iraq have been subjected to sectarian violence, their number in the country is about 400,000 today, having exceeded one and a half million at some point, according to an annual report issued in 2020 by the "Hammurabi Organization" in Iraq concerned with human rights.

After the liberation of Mosul from ISIS, Louay and a group of minority employess were transferred to the Bartella sewing factory; He became the Manager of the Engineering Examination and Inspection Department, and he is still in his job until now. "Sometimes they call us the minority factory because the majority of the employees are Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks, and Kakais, while the number of Muslims is small, and those who hold the management of the factory are minorities as well," he says.

Louay presented projects to bring machines and equipment to the factory to return to work after the events of ISIS, noting that "the factory is neglected, unlike other factories."

"We received promises from the Director-General that when operating the plant, incentives and financial transfer allocations would be allocated, especially since most employees have low salaries, but the promises have not been implemented so far," he explains.

On behalf of the factory’s employees, Louay filed a complaint last year. "There is no response so far, the transportation allowances are paid by the employees, and there are bonuses and job grades that have been suspended since 2019, and I am currently trying, along with some employees, to move to another place where justice prevails," says Louay.

Louay is active in the human rights field and heads the "Uruk Organization" for Human Rights and Minorities. "We succeeded in pressing for the inclusion of paragraph "D" in Law No. 86 of 2018, in the 2021 budget, and we have worked on this with a group defending human rights since 2018 to the beginning of 2021," he says.

The paragraph stipulates that "the ministries and agencies not affiliated with a ministry and the governorates are obligated to compensate job grades from members of minorities of the same components and according to the mechanism that is adopted in the appointment."

But "so far, the resolution has not been implemented and some consider it sectarian and there is no one for minorities in Iraq to defend them, and the parties that represent us in Parliament have a weak position," says Louay.

Discrimination and Frustration

Louay's complaint is no different from other complaints of discrimination among Iraqis on sectarian or ethnic grounds. The story of journalist Ressala Al-Sharkani, 32, a Yazidi from Sinjar in western Nineveh, represents another part of the current Iraqi dilemma. She has been working in the press for about ten years and is a civil activist and president of the "Roja Shingal organization" concerned with human rights.

Ressala worked in many governmental and private press outlets, mostly in Kurdistan. "In a leading TV in Kurdistan, I heard some journalist colleagues say: You do not consider yourself Kurds, why are you receiving a salary? Some colleagues, when they come with me to record an episode of a program inside a family of Yezidis or in the Lalish temple of the Yezidis, did not eat our food and considered it forbidden and eating with the infidels," she says.

The Yazidis are an ethno-religious minority that has lived in Iraq for hundreds of years. Despite the liberation of Sinjar from ISIS, 82% of the population of Sinjar district are still living in camps and scattered areas in the Kurdistan region for political and security reasons, according to a report by "Hammurabi Organization".

While Ressala worked in radio, one of her colleagues was praying, and they would not allow her to enter when he was praying because she was a Yazidi, she told them, "This is a workplace and you have no right to prevent me from entering." They replied that they are "the majority" while the Yazidis are "a minority." When she complained to the manager, he told her, "I can't do anything, these are their ideas."

While Ressala worked in a radio station, one of her colleagues was praying, and they would not allow her to enter the office when he was praying because she was Yazidi

"We do not have independent media," says Ressala, citing the incident of preparing a documentary episode on the women Yazidi survivors of ISIS, and the episode was not broadcast, noting that "they said that we do not want to show the world that the Yezidis always live in injustice."

She adds, "I was never free to prepare a program or coverage, but I kept working to prove to the community that the Yazidis are not infidels nor “unclean” as they call us."

Ressala does not expect to get a promotion in the future or a high position in journalism. She adds, "I worked on the editorial board in a local newspaper and suddenly I saw my name crossed out, and they replaced my name with the name of a female colleague from another component,” adding that she had not seen a Yezidi in the position of director or head of department in her journalism work, although she witnessed that in Sinjar in a local newspaper.

This fact made her frustrated. Ressala has reduced dealings with the local press since the beginning of 2020. "Because I am tired of the marginalization that still exists", adds Ressala.

Political problem

The issue of discrimination is mainly due to a political problem, according to what the Iraqi Parliament Member and Deputy Head of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, Qusai Abbas, says, “Because of the quota system, Iraqi jobs are divided between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and the blocs of these large components occupy most of the senior positions in the country."

Abbas, who belongs to the Shabak minority, points out that, "the large blocs dominate the decision-making source within the work, so they do not allow the representation of minorities," adding that, "when minority employees are retired the same component is not compensated."

The lack of interest of representatives of the large blocs in Parliament prevents the adoption of a law to protect diversity in Iraq, so "the law has not been legislated yet," according to Abbas, noting that, "the Kurdistan region’s dealings with minorities differ from one component to another," and he explains, "After 2003, there are those who want to merge the Shabak and Yazidi identity within the Kurdish identity and consider them Kurds, and this is contrary to reality because Shabak and Yazidis have linguistic and geographical specificity."

Harassment and Violence

The crisis of dealing with components that are considered to be of the numerical minority extends to the Non-believers who suffer from the absence of political representation in a country whose system is supposed to be democratic.

Dina Ibrahim, 26 years old (pseudonym), says that she is looking for work that gives her space in freedom of expression and clothing.

Dina, a civil activist in northern Iraq. She worked in a local civil society organization. "I was transferred to the field work, they asked me to wear the hijab and full Islamic clothes and I refused because my clothes were originally modest, and I also did not accept to cover my hair and I could not tell them that I was agnostic and I was immediately dismissed from work because of my refusal to wear the hijab," she says.

Dina avoids saying about herself that she is agnostic, because her life will be at risk. "I participate in youth workshops on non-religious groups and freedom of religion and belief and on youth leaders in Iraq, and in these places I tell them that I am No-religious, but some people in these workshops, when they find out that I am agnostic, they think that I am open for sex, and I have already been verbally harassed," she adds.

Dina’s family is conservative Muslim, and her father has forced her to wear the hijab since she was 13, and she has been subjected to domestic violence from her father and has reached with kill threat.

"When I entered the university, I taking off the hijab without my family's knowledge and only wearing it in front of them, until I made them accept my situation without the hijab, especially when they saw that the beatings did not work on me," says Dina.

Since entering the university, the idea of being No-religious began to come to her, and she points out that "in Iraq there is a large group of No-religious and atheists, the majority of whom are young people, and they are also afraid to admit that, and as an activist, I communicate with many of them, and there are girls who have been subjected to domestic violence when their families know that they are non believers."

Work Environment

In fact, the majority of the active parties in Iraq are religious parties, which complicates the process of granting all components legal legislation and political defense of the rights of those groups. The Iraqi writer, researcher and head of the "Citizenship Project", Ghaith Al-Tamimi, says that, "the work environment in Iraq is ‘unclean” because it relies on partisan and political loyalty with the presence of religious extremism and the interference of clerics in political and social life, which has led to the weakening of minorities at work."

Al-Tamimi points out that,"Sectarian Shiite-Sunni polarization contributed to the marginalization of these minorities, and even if some minorities found in high positions, the Muslim parties are the ones who choose their partner from this component and do not leave the choice to the the groups themselves."

Al-Tamimi sees that, "Even the private sector in Iraq is non-independent", and points out that,"the government sector is in control of the private sector and companies in Iraq when they think about bringing in a manager who should be able to deal with the political and administrative life of the state."

There are no statistics showing how many minority employees are at work, and how many of them have reached high positions. Given that the Iraqi state has avoided conducting a population census for political and sectarian reasons, according to Ghaith al-Tamimi, the marginalized from the less numerous components in Iraq confirm that they are still defying reality. "There must come a day when there will be a glimmer of hope," says Ressala.

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