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10.6.8 Iraq: Distribution of Ethnoreligious Groups and Major Tribes

United States Central Intelligence Agency. Cartography Center
Library of Congres

United States Central Intelligence Agency. Cartography Center. Iraq Country Profile. [Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency, 2003] Map.

This map was made by the US Central Intelligence Agency in 2003, showing Iraq’s population at that time. The map displays different colors to show Iraq’s ethnoreligious groups — that is, groups that see themselves as distinct from each other because of their ethnicity, language, culture, and/or religion. Which group predominates in the purple area? in the brown area? in the gray area? These are the three largest ethnoreligious groups in Iraq. Kurds also live in Turkey and Iran and have wanted their own homeland for a very long time. There has been a lot of conflict between the Sunni Arabs and Shia Arabs and between both those groups and the Kurds. Why are these three groups in the same nation? Why is the country of Iraq shaped this way?  
Students should spend time interpreting this map by itself before comparing it to the other maps in the set. Make sure they understand what ethnoreligious groups means, and remind them of the dispute between Sunni and Shia that originated in the seventh century. Simply put, these are different denominations or sects of Islam that have different religious ideas and sometimes see themselves as separate and opposing groups solely because of religious difference. In the past they have coexisted peacefully and still do in many areas today. However, in Iraq, they have periodically clashed for political reasons. The purple area is populated by Kurds, the brown by Sunni Arabs, and the gray by Shia Arabs. Point out to students that there are areas where the groups are mixed. These three groups are in the same nation, and Iraq has its convoluted shape due to the same cause: the desire of the British to have the oil fields of the north, passage to Kuwait and the Persian Gulf in the south, and an area protruding to the west for its proposed railroad (and later oil pipelines) under British control as a mandate.

This map shows the modern nation of Iraq. There are different colors on the map to show the ethnoreligious groups. The largest three are Kurds in the northeast, Sunni Arabs in the center, and Shia Arabs in the southeast. Most of the west and the areas away from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are lightly populated desert lands.