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.

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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.

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