Religious actors in Iraq wield considerable influence, and Iraqis perceive them as playing an important role in moving the country toward peace. This report analyzes the influence of Iraq’s religious actors—who has it, why they have it, and how they exercise it—to illuminate their crucial role in supporting peace and reconciliation efforts and to help policymakers and practitioners understand how to engage them in efforts to advance peace.

Read the Arabic summary

Aerial view of Baghdad and the Tigris River. (Andersen Oystein/iStock)
Aerial view of Baghdad and the Tigris River. (Andersen Oystein/iStock)

Summary

Religious actors across traditions in Iraq continue to wield considerable influence and are perceived to have a role in moving the country toward peace. Involving them in reconciliation does not guarantee success, but excluding them seems certain to guarantee failure. Religious minorities are a critical piece of this puzzle. Addressing the challenges they face is essential to advancing multifaith peace efforts and reconciliation.

Websites, blogs, and other media are primary sources for religious guidance. Relatedly, religious television channels, radio stations, and personalities wield considerable influence on attitudes and perceptions. At the same time, cross-sectarian membership is trending in multiple religious communities, such as the Kasnazani Sufi order and the Da’i al-Rabbani sect in Diyala, both of which contain Sunni and Shia members. Leaders of these movements may be well suited to lead reconciliation efforts across sectarian lines.

As peacebuilders and policymakers develop partnerships with Iraqi religious actors and institutions for peace, they need to remain sensitive to the complex nature of faith communities and actors, ensure inclusive engagement, and be alert to how their engagement can affect the perceived legitimacy of religious actors.

About the Report

This report presents the findings of 175 interviews with Iraqis from the provinces of Baghdad, Basra, Diyala, Dohuk, Erbil, Karbala, Kirkuk, Najaf, and Sulimaniyah, and from Anbar and Nineveh Provinces. Part of a United States Institute of Peace initiative to map religious landscapes in conflict-affected states, the interviews evaluated who Iraqis perceive to be the most influential religious individuals, institutions, and ideas affecting reconciliation efforts in the country.

About the Author

Ann Wainscott is an assistant professor of political science at Miami University in Ohio. She specializes in contemporary forms of religious regulation in Muslim societies. From 2017 to 2018, she served as the American Academy of Religion–Luce Fellow in Religion and International Affairs at USIP. Her book Bureaucratizing Islam: Morocco and the War on Terror was published by Cambridge University Press in 2017.

Related Publications

Escape from ISIS: One Family’s Story

Escape from ISIS: One Family’s Story

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

By: Fred Strasser

The horrific story of ISIS’s bid to wipe out Iraq’s Yazidi minority is fairly well known in the United States. At least in broad terms, Americans who pay attention to such things understand that the terrorist group’s fanatical gunmen rolled in on a defenseless people, butchered men and boys by the thousands and hauled away young women into sexual slavery in a genocidal plan.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Human Rights; Violent Extremism

Iraq’s protesters just ousted a prime minister. Now what?

Iraq’s protesters just ousted a prime minister. Now what?

Monday, December 2, 2019

By: Dr. Elie Abouaoun; Sarhang Hamasaeed

Iraq faces a new political crisis and the risk of more violence after its prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, resigned under pressure from two months of mass demonstrations by youthful protesters. More than 400 people have been reported killed amid authorities’ forceful attempts to disperse the youthful protesters, who say a corrupt elite is failing to provide basic government services and share the country’s wealth with citizens. But Abdul Mahdi is stepping down only after Iraq’s most prominent Shia cleric withdrew his support. USIP’s Sarhang Hamasaeed and Elie Abouaoun discussed where the crisis could lead.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

Engaging the Post-ISIS Iraqi Religious Landscape for Peace and Reconciliation (Arabic)

Engaging the Post-ISIS Iraqi Religious Landscape for Peace and Reconciliation (Arabic)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

By: Ann Wainscott

Religious actors in Iraq wield considerable influence, and Iraqis perceive them as playing an important role in moving the country toward peace. This report analyzes the influence of Iraq’s religious actors—who has it, why they have it, and how they exercise it—to illuminate their crucial role in supporting peace and reconciliation efforts and to help policymakers and practitioners understand how to engage them in efforts to advance peace.

Type: Peaceworks

Reconciliation; Religion

As Protests Continue in the Street, Iraq Reaches a Crossroads

As Protests Continue in the Street, Iraq Reaches a Crossroads

Friday, November 8, 2019

By: Sarhang Hamasaeed

Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been protesting in Baghdad and southern provinces against the failure of the Iraqi government and the political class in delivering basic services, providing jobs, fighting corruption, and more. Iraqi security forces and armed groups reportedly linked to Iran have used lethal force in response to the protests, leaving over 260 dead and over 10,000 injured. As the protests have progressed, demands have expanded to include calls for regime change, the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, early elections, pushing back against Iranian influence, and accountability for killing peaceful protesters.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance; Fragility & Resilience

View All Publications