Religious Adherents, 2010 (World Christian Database)1
Religious Adherence, 2006 (other estimates)2
Due to increased violence, internal population migration, and lack of governmental capacity, religious demography statistics varied. Numbers are often estimates from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) rather than census data or other official sources.
The country has an area of 437,072 square miles and a population of 28.2 million. Ninety-five percent of the population is Muslim. Shi'a Muslims – predominantly Arabs, but also including Turkmen, Faili (Shi'a) Kurds, and other groups – constitute a 60 to 65 percent majority. Sunni Muslims make up 32 to 37 percent of the population, where 18 to 20 percent of the population are Sunni Kurds, 12 to 16 percent are Sunni Arabs, and the remaining 1 to 2 percent are Sunni Turkmen. The remaining five percent of the population is comprised of Christians, Yezidis, Sabean-Mandaeans, Baha'is, Shabaks, Kaka'is (sometimes referred to as Ahl-e Haqq), and a very small number Jews. Shi'a, although predominantly located in the south and east, are also a majority in Baghdad and have communities in most parts of the country. Sunnis form the majority in the west, center, and the north of the country.
Reported estimates of the Christian population in 2003 range from 800,000 to 1.2 million. Current population estimates range from 550,000 to 800,000. Approximately two-thirds of Christians in the country are Chaldeans (an eastern rite of the Catholic Church), nearly one-third are Assyrians (Church of the East), and the remainder are Syriacs (Eastern Orthodox), Armenians (Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox), Anglicans, and other Protestants. Most Assyrian Christians are found in the north, and most Syriac Christians are split between Baghdad, Kirkuk, and the Ninewa province. It is estimated that as much as 50 percent of the country's Christian population live in Baghdad, and between 30 and 40 percent live in the north, with the largest Christian communities there located in and around Mosul, Erbil, Dohuk, and Kirkuk. The Archbishop of the Armenian Diocese reported that 15,000 to 16,000 Armenian Christians remained in the country, primarily in the cities of Baghdad, Basrah, Kirkuk, and Mosul. It was reported that evangelical Christians number between 5,000 and 6,000. They can be found in the northern part of the country, as well as in Baghdad. A very small number reside in Basrah.
Yezidi leaders reported that most of the country's 500,000 to 600,000 Yezidis resided in the north, near Dohuk and Mosul. Shabak leaders stated there are 200,000 to 500,000 Shabaks, who reside mainly in the north near Mosul. The Sabean-Mandaean community continued to decline; according to Sabean-Mandaean leaders, 3,500 to 5,000 remained in the country, down from an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 in the previous reporting period. The Baha'i leadership reported their members number less than 2,000 and are spread throughout the country in small groups. Fewer than 10 Jews remain in Baghdad; a sizable portion of this community, which once had a significant presence in the country, left in the years immediately following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.
In June 2008 the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that 2.3 to 2.5 million citizens have fled the country since the spring of 2003. In April 2008 the Office of the U.N High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that in Syria 55.7 percent of registered Iraqi refugees were Sunni, 20.2 percent were Shi'a, 16 percent were Christian, 4.3 percent were Sabean-Mandaean, and 0.8 percent were Yezidi. For Jordan the UNHCR's figures for registered Iraqi refugees were 47 percent Sunni, 28 percent Shi'a, 16 percent Christian, and 6 percent Sabean-Mandaean. There were no figures provided on the number of Iraqi Yezidis in Jordan. In August 2008 the IOM reported that there are an estimated 2.8 million internally displaced persons in the country, 1.6 million of whom were displaced after the al-Askariya mosque bombing in February 2006. An estimated 59 percent of the internally displaced are Shi'a Muslims, 34 percent are Sunni Muslims, 5 percent are Christians, and less than 1 percent are Yezidis.
Note: The World Christian Database (WCD) estimates, used in the Religious Adherents section above, count each person as belonging to a maximum of one religious group. For more information, see the WCD methodology document. The U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom report estimates, used in the Religious Demography section, use less restrictive criteria in which a person who identifies with more than one religion is classified as a follower of each. In certain cases (such as Japan and other nations with strong folk religion traditions), this can cause counts to vary widely between estimates. Users are advised to consult the relevant source documents before determining which counts to cite.
1. The World Christian Database (WCD) is based on the 2600-page award-winning World Christian Encyclopedia and World Christian Trends, first published in 1982 and revised in 2001. This extensive work on World religion is now completely updated and integrated into the WCD online database. Designed for both the casual user and research scholar, information is readily available on religious activities, growth rates, religious literature, worker activity, and demographic statistics. Additional secular data is incorporated on population, health, education, and communications. A dataset with these and the other international measures highlighted on the country pages can be downloaded from this website. Used with permission.
2. Estimates based on the third wave of the World Values Survey (2005-2008) supplemented by the 2009 Pew report entitled "Mapping the Global Muslim Population," which was used to estimate the percentage of Pakistani Muslims who were Shi'a.
The World Values Survey compiles nationally representative public opinion data of adults (18 or older) from a variety of countries. The general methodology is a stratified random sample with each country containing a minimum of 1000 cases. Estimates represent the proportion of respondents to the third wave of the World Values Survey (2005-2008) who reported the specific religious tradition in the country of consideration.
The Pew report bases its estimates of the proportion of the Muslim population that is Shi'a on 1) "Analyses by more than 20 demographers and social scientists at universities and research centers around the world who are acting as consultants on this project"; 2) "Ethnographic analyses published in the World Religion Database (WRD)"; and 3) "review of other published or frequently used estimates."
3. The U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report is submitted to Congress annually by the Department of State in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. This report supplements the most recent Human Rights Reports by providing additional detailed information with respect to matters involving international religious freedom. It includes individual country chapters on the status of religious freedom worldwide. A dataset with these and the other international measures highlighted on the country pages can be downloaded from this website. These State Department reports are open source.