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 report in Arabic

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


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

USIP Explains: Community Dialogue in Northern Sinjar

USIP Explains: Community Dialogue in Northern Sinjar

Thursday, April 11, 2024

By: Sarhang Hamasaeed

Ten years after ISIS’ genocide against them, the wounds of the Yazidi community in Iraq’s Sinjar district remain fresh as thousands remain displaced and even more await justice for the crimes perpetrated against them. Meanwhile, despite living in peaceful coexistence prior to ISIS’ campaign, the conflict planted seeds of division among Sinjar’s various tribes and communities — resulting in tensions that threatened to tear the district apart even after ISIS’ defeat.

Type: Blog

Mediation, Negotiation & DialoguePeace Processes

Iraq’s Provincial Council Elections: The Way Forward in Nineveh Province

Iraq’s Provincial Council Elections: The Way Forward in Nineveh Province

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

By: Osama Gharizi;  Yomnna Helmi

On December 18, Iraqis will elect members of the provincial councils, the highest oversight bodies of subnational government and key providers of public services. The elections are the first at the provincial level in over a decade and come in the wake of the 2019 anti-government protests that resulted in the dissolution of the provincial councils following demands from the protesters who accused them of corruption. Recent findings from the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Conflict and Stabilization Monitoring Framework in Nineveh Province reveal that candidates are facing a distrustful electorate that is lacking confidence in state institutions.

Type: Analysis

Democracy & Governance

Climate Adaption Key to Iraq’s Stability and Economic Development

Climate Adaption Key to Iraq’s Stability and Economic Development

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

By: Sarhang Hamasaeed;  Mac Skelton;  Zmkan Ali Saleem

Iraq is projected to be among the five countries hardest hit by the impact of climate change. The country is already witnessing depreciating water supply and accelerating desertification, leading to the loss of as much as 60,000 acres of arable land each year, according to Iraqi government and United Nations sources. These climate phenomena threaten the livelihoods and food security of Iraq’s population of an estimated 43 million, creating conditions for displacement, instability and a deterioration of social cohesion. The water crisis has grown steadily amid severe drought, upstream damming practices in Turkey and Iran, and increased domestic consumption within Iraq’s borders.

Type: Analysis

EnvironmentGlobal Policy

View All Publications