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Iraqi statistics and demography

Executive summary / Abstract

Although Iraq is a world leader for receiving intervention and relief, the last full population census was in 1987, and a substantial amount of data before and after has limited availability to the public. This makes analysis, projection, and implementation difficult for the governmental, humanitarian, security, and other projects in Iraq. To address that problem, this report aims to compile and normalize online, offline, and difficult-to-access data tables. Additionally, it scaffolds the data with a historicization of the revolutions, conflicts, genocides, growths, and other changes that shaped Iraq’s demographic characteristics.

Historical background

Anticipating the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and its accompanying governmental apparatuses, the United Kingdom and France developed the Sykes–Picot Agreement during World War I (Bulletin, 1929). This agreement concretized — and partitioned — a so-called “mandatory” responsibility to establish replacement governments in the Ottoman dominions to prevent these territories from exiting World War I without any statal organization. The United Kingdom was tasked with governing the provinces of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basrah, which were collectively called Mesopotamia (Mejcher, 1972).

The Mesopotamian dependency gained a degree of independence via the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1922, but the same Treaty and subsequent revisions kept Iraq under the UK’s military and economic dominance. In 1932, the Kingdom of Iraq supposedly went from dependent, mandatory statehood to full and normative statehood, but a statehood that was still in adhesion to the UK (Pederson, 2010). The British and Iraqi relationship was strained by occasional Arab and Kurdish revolts, and a brief pro-Nazi coup during World War II (Bagley, 1959). With the violent abolishment of the kingdom in 1958, and the massacre of the royal family, the Republic of Iraq was established. Iterations of British rule came entirely to an end.

From 1959 onward, with its republican era having begun, Iraq began to emerge as a leader in the Arab world (Galvani, 1972). In 1963, the Iraqi government was taken over by the Baathis, who nationalized much of the economy. From 1968 onwards, while Egypt increasingly turned towards Europe and the United States, Iraq solidified itself as the “preeminent organizing force in the Arab world” and an upstart Saddam Hussein took an increasingly authoritative role in the government (Wright, 1979). In 1979, Saddam watched the assassination of dozens of critics, then went to a crowd of thousands of supporters where he inaugurated himself as Iraq’s dictator.

However, Iraq’s power soon waned following the disastrous Iran-Iraq War of 1980 to 1988, and Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait in 1990 and increasing ostracization by other countries (Byman, 1996). Also, the Iraqi government waged a genocide against its Kurdish minority, which ended with the withdrawal of Iraqi forces in 1991 from what was thenceforth the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region in Iraq (Gunter, 1995). Iraq became a pariah state, and the 1990s were marked simultaneously by crippling poverty as well as dogmatic defiance of international condemnation.

The United States and allies invaded in 2003, placing a new government with a new constitution that followed democratic and pluralist norms (Ottaway & Kaysi, 2012). However, the new state failed almost completely, and much of the country (in some areas, without battle) fell to the Islamic State in 2014 (Arosoaie, 2015). Today, Iraq is a leading recipient of US aid in the world, totalling $1 billion in 2019, and amounting to $70 billion over the period of 2003 through 2019 (USAID, 2020). Despite all of this intervention and money, there remains a startling lack of knowledge about even the most basic demographic characteristics of the country.


A review of existing data was conducted through four major search methods: newspaper archives available through the private database at; governmental websites of Iraq; governmental and parastatal publications by the Iraqi government; the websites of international groups such as the World Bank and the United Nations, as well as humanitarian organizations. Online and offline data was reproduced in a digital, spreadsheet-friendly format and made available to the public in a project database. A few highlights were curated for analysis in this report, with a focus on identifying whether a relationship existed between major historical and observable demographic events such as increased mortality or other parametric changes.

Iraqi censuses

As in any other country, the census in Iraq is regarded as a primary source for national data. There have been several censuses conducted in the history of Iraq, but there have been no nationwide censuses since 1987. Two major assumptions exist about the Iraqi census: first of all, that Iraqi citizens were generally willing to accurately report about themselves; and second of all, that the Iraqi government was willing to accurately collect the data and publish the results. After the 2009 census was postponed then cancelled, a third assumption might be suggested: that a census even takes place at all.


Total count




A census took place to enable the 1925 elections for the new Iraqi Parliament (The Guardian, 1924a). However, it was complicated by the privacy of Iraqi households, and ambitions from Iraqi tribes to exaggerate their numbers.



A census was conducted to determine the number of eligible draftees for a mandatory conscription program, but it faced many hurdles as families hid their sons (The Courier-Journal, 1927).



Departing British officials estimated the population (Metz, 1988).



Data was not available for the 1934 census, but mentions were found of it having taken place (SESRIC, 2009).



(CSO, 2012)



(CSO, 2012)



(CBS, 1968)



(CSO, 2012)



This was before Iraq’s withdrawal from the Kurdistan Region made those governorates inaccessible to federal census-takers (Reno Gazette-Journal, 1997).



This census covered the 15 federal governorates, but excluded the 3 governorates of the newly semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region (Reno Gazette-Journal, 1997).



Preparations took place for a census that was repeatedly postponed and ultimately never took place as planned (Kurdistan24, 2019). However, data for a building, housings, establishments, and household census was gathered (SESRIC, 2009).

List of censuses that have taken place in Iraq. Ellipses indicate counts that were unavailable.

Annual Abstract of Statistics (AAS) and various non-censal reports

Censal data, intercensal estimates, and projections have been published by the Government of Iraq. Released by the Central Statistical Organization (CSO) of the Ministry of Planning, the Annual Abstract of Statistics (AAS) is the government’s main statistical publication: “it reflects continuous scientific and applied efforts aimed at providing a comprehensive package of data and information covering the various aspects of economic and social life in Iraq (CSO, 2013a). In addition to the CSO, there is the Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit (IAU) but it appears to have ceased operating.




National income and expenditure survey. The next one did not take place until 2006 (The World Bank, 2011).


Household budget survey (The World Bank, 2011).


Household survey, excluding KR (The World Bank, 2011).


Household budget survey (The World Bank, 2011).

2006 - 2007

The Iraq Household Socio-Economic Survey (IHSES) was conducted by the governments of just federal Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. It sampled just under 18,000 households across all 18 governorates to determine economic conditions across the country (The World Bank, 2011). It is sometimes referred to as “IHSES, First Round” (IHSES-I) to differentiate between the 2012 IHSES.


Health and Social Situation Integrated Survey of the Iraqi Women (IWISH) (CSO, 2013b).


Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS4) (CSO, 2013b).


A second IHSES was held, known as IHSES-II for short, with similar methodology (CSO, 2013b).


Internal Trade Survey (CSO, 2013b).


Food and beverages survey in Iraq (CSO, 2013b).


Social and health status of the elderly in nursing homes (CSO, 2013b).


Mining and quarries (CSO, 2013b). This was an effort to survey the situation of mines and quarries around Iraq (CSO, 2014).

Mobile Units Survey (CSO, 2015). This survey dealt with the economic activity from taking place from carts, on the sidewalk, or other types of mobile workspaces.

Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices of the Community Survey in Iraq (CSO, 2013b).


Comprehensive food security and vulnerability analysis in Iraq (CSO, 2016).

Some of the major non-censal surveys that have taken place in Iraq in recent years.

International organizations

Censal reports would usually be the backbone for any longitudinal research, but in this case, international reports often overshadowed the sparse censuses. These reports are generally from international entities such as the World Bank, United Nations, and major international humanitarian organizations. In some cases, third-party reports included some censal data that was otherwise impossible to find online.

Also, some of these reports were highly topical, and a few were parastatal or propagandistic. One particularly interesting example was “Iraq… The Facts” which was published by Dr. Ajina (1958) in London. This booklet focused heavily upon grim public health data from the 1940s and 1950s to convey that the kingdom had been a failed state. This can be interpreted as an outreach effort to try and earn some British sympathy for the violently anti-monarchical revolution in Iraq.

Elections results

Election results were checkered or inconsistent, due to long decades under dictatorship, and an aptitude for chicanery. “Although the total population of Iraq is less than 3,000,000,” began an Independent-Record headline from 1925 about Iraq’s first-ever elections, “the parliamentary election returns submitted from all districts indicate that there are no fewer than 10,000,000 voters in the country. … Some of the tribal sheiks, with political ambitions, were inclined to exaggerate the number of their tribes..” Foreshadowing the next one hundred years, the article continued with this observation: “Democracy is likely to have many more unforeseen results in Iraq.” However, future data salvage projects should include elections results for an understanding of the political demography of Iraq.

Qualitative interviews

Lastly, some qualitative interviews with Iraqis helped provide guidance and even corroboration. For instance, interviews with Iraqis in Kirkuk shed light on mass displacement events which saw many Kurds and Turkomanis expunged from Kirkuk and resettled as minorities in overwhelmingly Arab towns such as Tikrit. Also, some Ezidi elders recounted oral histories that listed over seventy genocides, some of them taking place in the 20th century. When doing field visits to different towns and villages, local Kurds, Assyrians, and Ezidis in the Kurdistan Region would sometimes describe specific historical events that saw communities either annihilated or injected into that settlement. For example, Shekhan is a town that gained its present-day demographic and municipal characteristics through efforts by Saddam Hussein to create a mixed and militarily-accessible town out of what was formerly a largely Ezidi and Assyrian town at the margin between federal-leaning Arab-majority areas and secession-leaning Kurdish-majority areas.

Population counts

Governmental counts reveal a geometric increase in population. These results are summarized below, based on the earlier table in this report. Intercensal population estimates were calculated using interpolation methods that assume consistent annual growth. Another main source of data was the World Bank, which has published its own annual estimates. The population population counts based on government data (1924 to 1987) as well as the World Bank data (1960 to 2019) were charted together. They show a consistent message of sustained geometric growth in Iraq’s total population.


Population count

Increase (%)

1924 (Census)



1932 (Non-Censal)


25% over eight years

1947 (Census)


37% over fifteen years

1957 (Census)


31% over ten years

1965 (Census)


32% over eight years

1977 (Census)


50% over twelve years

1987 (Census)


36% over ten years

Some of the significant population counts.

Notably, there appeared to be two major disruptions to overall fertility rates. The first came in the 1980s, amid the Iran-Iraq War when young men were deployed en masse, far away from their families, and which can be described as a mass mortality event. The second disruption came from 2003 to 2010, when the United States-led invasion caused a catastrophic upending of life across much of Iraq. However, after 2011 it appears that the rate of population growth has resumed increasing geometrically.

However, overall population counts tell a limited story. Population counts do not tell us about demographic changes with respect to age structure and ethnoreligious affiliation. Also, country-level counts do not tell us about the main population centers in Iraq. To analyze these issues, the administrative and ethnoreligious landscape of Iraq must be introduced.

Administrative divisions of Iraq

When the Ottoman Empire was dismembered in the aftermath of World War I, the caliphate’s three provinces of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basrah were enjoined by foreign powers to form Iraq. The decision of whether to adhere Mosul to Iraq or to Turkey was an international political crisis that reverberates a century later, with Turkey maintaining dozens of military bases in northern Iraq in the present day (Hernandez, 2020).

There are nineteen top-level administrative divisions in Iraq, which are referred to as governorates, including Halabja, which was established in 2014 (HIC, 2003; Goran, 2018). Governorates are split into districts (qadha), and districts into sub-districts (nahiya). Each district has a sub-district which serves as the district center, whose main town is the capital of the district. Additionally, one district serves as the seat of the governorate, meaning there is a sub-district that serves as both a district capital and a governorate capital. The capitals are usually eponymous, and typically the population center for that area. For example, Erbil city is the capital of Erbil district, which is within Erbil governorate; and Erbil city is the largest town in Erbil governorate (HIC, 2003). Some exceptions exist, such as Ramadi city being the capital of Anbar governorate (although Anbar used to be called Ramadi governorate). The mayoral and gubernatorial headquarters are situated across the street from the historic Citadel at the very center of the city.

While on paper the governorates are the top-level divisions, in practice the federal Iraqi territory and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region (KR) are the main divisions. Erbil, Duhok, Sulaymaniyah, and Halabja governorates are under the KR’s control, along with some disputed territories in adjacent governorates. Field research has documented that, except for some municipal staff in disputed territories, there are no Iraqi personnel in the KR, and that likewise, there are no KR personnel in federal Iraqi territory. Another top-level division is desert and non-desert. Almost half of Iraq is part of the Arabian Desert, which is sparsely populated and in many areas completely uninhabited (CSO, 2012).

Political landscape of Iraq

The reality is that the governorates tell little of Iraq’s political landscape. “With regard to the possible political divisions of the new electorate, there are five main streams of opinion discernible, emanating from (1) Basrah, (2) the tribes, (3) Baghdad, (4) the holy cities, and (5) Mosul and the north,” wrote a century-old report which is largely true today (The Guardian, 1924b). Iraq has a Shia Arab majority, and a Sunni Arab minority. The overall Arab majority overwhelmed the Sunni Kurdish minority. Additionally, there are the cosmopolitan and somewhat secular urban centers such as Baghdad, Mosul, and Erbil. On the other hand, there are the Holy Cities — sites of pilgrimage for Shia Muslims from across the world — which are austerely religious. Iraq has the complexity of a cobweb.

With the urbanization of Iraq, the roaming “tribes” described in 1924 have diminished, and with the Kirkuk oil fields and the establishment of the Kurdistan Region, new additions have joined the dynamic (CBS, 1968, pp 28-29). Today, the list of political geographic and demographic areas in Iraq would be as follows: the metropolises of Baghdad and Basrah; the holy cities, meaning the Arab Shia heartland; the Arab Sunni desert; the Nineveh plains and Mosul city, including the Assyrian, Shabak, and Ezidi heartlands; the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region; and the oil-rich, very diverse area of Kirkuk, which is also a heartland for the Turkomans. Here, a “heartland” refers to an area where a group has a major population with any kind of adhesion — but not exclusivity — which compels that group to see its presence in that area as a fundamental right, and its representation as essential to the legitimacy of any governing system there.


The capital of Iraq and the largest city by far is Baghdad, a city founded in the 8th century which was one of the world’s metropolitan capitals until being destroyed by Mongolians. After that, Baghdad lost its international standing but retained regional prominence and a distinctly metropolitan character. “Baghdad, like the new poor, may have had to suffer curtailment of circumstances,” wrote a report in The Guardian (1924b). “Politically she will probably take up a strongly nationalistic attitude.” Rumblings of broader Arab nationalism remain strong in Baghdad, but there is also a panoply of other currents. “From this tradition of imperial position hails the considerable mob of coffee-shop politicians, local patriots, Sherifian loyalists, Arab nationalists, etc.”

Shia Heartland: The Holy Cities, Najaf and Karbala

While Baghdad is a mixed city, the majority of Iraq is Shia and their heartland is focused around Najaf and Karbala, which are centers of pilgrimage from across the Shia world. “The holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala,” wrote The Guardian presciently a century ago, “will probably be anti-nationalist, and will play for their own hands.” Indeed, the Sunni government of Saddam Hussein treated the Arab Shia heartland as heretical and subordinate, and in turn the holy cities resisted the Sunni-led government of Iraq despite the pogroms they suffered as a result (Flint, 1991). Nowadays, the Shia heartland of Iraq has projected authority by exporting its security forces — the Hashid Al-Shabi — across the rest of Iraq during and following the war with the Islamic State (EASO, 2020). Notably, following the American invasion, the Sunni insurgencies of alQaeda and the Islamic State — and their accompanying terrorism — never made significant inroads into the homogenous Shia region. The widespread collapse of Sunni political authority during the war with the Islamic State has resulted in an increasingly Shia-influenced Iraqi government, and the political winds in Iraq now, at one point or another, fit through the twin minarets of the Shrine of Imam Ali. However, the Shia heartland tends to remain insular and eastward-facing towards Iran, which can make the Shia heartland aloof — or even at odds — with respect to the rest of Iraq.

The Shia Port: Basrah

Basrah is situated at the very end of Iraq, sandwiched between Kuwait and Iran. It is deep into the Shia heartland, but maintains its own political outlook due to its unique position as Iraq’s only port city. The port at Basrah is a center for trade as well as the petroleum industry, and as such dependent on internationalization, as well as the overall security and economic climate across Iraq; this makes it distinct from the Shia heartland.

The Sunni Desert

The Sunni desert is the core of Iraq’s Sunni population, in the vast deserts above Baghdad. Economically speaking, these areas are a total wasteland. Lacking in natural resources, and in some places totally unable to sustain human life, they are completely dependent on the revenues from other parts of Iraq. This severe economic anemia makes the disputes over Kirkuk and Mosul particularly pointed: if these oil fields at the fringes of the Arab Sunni deserts are annexed to the Kurdistan Region, then areas with Arab Sunni majorities would have no substantial economic arteries, and thus severely weakened political standings, further endangering Arab Sunni livelihood and security (Davison, 2018).


Kirkuk is a sort of miniature Iraq: it is blended between Arabs, Turkomans, and Kurds (Winter, 2017). It used to have substantial Assyrian and Jewish populations, but the former is drastically reduced while the latter has been completely annihilated (National Association, 2021). Kirkuk is a disputed territory between federal Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, and its vast oil fields are an essential source of revenue for either the Kurdistan Region or the federal Iraqi government (especially for Arab Sunnis). Today, the federal Iraqi government controls Kirkuk. The vast majority of Kirkuk is Sunni, but it does remain connected to the Shia as both the Turkomanis and the Arabs in Kirkuk have many Shia brethren in other parts of Iraq. It has the largest Turkomani population in all of Iraq. Overall, Kirkuk lacks the raw population to sway overall elections, but its public opinion is significant because of its disputed status and its fiscal importance, which can make it a flashpoint for broader Iraqi politics, and periods of weakened security have allowed for encroachments by terrorist groups. Many Kirkukis have expressed a desire to be their own semi-autonomous region, according to qualitative interviews by this author.


If Kirkuk is a miniature Iraq, then Mosul city and the Nineveh plains surrounding it are a miniature of all the Middle East. It is almost impossible to overstate the degree of history and diversity concentrated in the Nineveh plains. The museums of the world are filled with artworks from Nimrud, Nineveh, Khorsabad, and Balawat, ancient cities of the Neo-Assyrian civilization. The plains are filled with biblical heritage both underground and above-ground, such as the shrine of the biblical prophet Jonah which overlooks East Mosul. The province is mixed between Sunni, Shia, Arab, Kurdish, Turkoman and more: there are Shabak, Ezidis, Assyrians, as well (al-Lami, 2014). However, it is majority Sunni. The Shabak people are a syncretic group that are partially Sunni, partially Shia, and blend together components of both Kurdish and Turkomani identity. The Ezidis’ main populations in Iraq are centered around Sinjar. Assyrians maintain a small degree of autonomy, with Christian militias guarding a string of Christian towns. Moslawis are famous for having a dialect of Arabic that is different from the rest of Iraq, and for maintaining unique culinary traditions. Large parts of Nineveh province have extremely sparse security personnel, and there is a large border with Syria. Because of the mixed populations, individual security forces that are predominantly controlled by one group have tended to be insufficient at guaranteeing security overall. In fact, sometimes different groups have fought one another along ethnoreligious divisions. Despite the numerous governmental and non-governmental militias present during fieldwork by this author, from a security perspective the overall whole is definitely not more than the sum of its many parts, and generally these many differences forces result in a drastically lessened security outlook. The security tectonics are characterized by massive fault lines, with a litany of checkpoints that sometimes join together the volatile plates, or sometimes push them apart. The large cracks that inevitably resulted have made Mosul a fairly easy target for terrorists, as shown by its rapid takeover by the Islamic State. Furthermore, in Mosul there are a great number of groups which Sunni extremists totally detest, such as Ezidis, and the Shia. The result on the ground has sometimes been complete anomie, and a degradation of human life that can only be described as apocalyptic. Mosul’s city center was where the Islamic State traded Ezidi slaves, and world-famous artworks at the Mosul Museum were smashed to pieces (Otten, 2017).

Semi-Autonomous: the Kurdistan Region

Last but not least, the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region is its own political entity. It maintains its own elections for its own President, Parliament, and Prime Minister (KRG, 2021). Additionally, it has its own military and security forces. Its capital is Erbil, a rapidly expanding city with a plethora of new, multi-storey construction projects.

Demographic shifts


Approximate number

Percent of population









< 1

Ezidis, Mandaeans, Others


< 1




Religious composition of Iraq in 1950 (Adams, 1958, pp 15).

Aside from the effects of the Demographic Transition, described below, the Iraqi population has undergone a seismic shift along ethnic and religious faultlines. For example, the Jewish population previously numbered above 100,000 in Iraq and was up to one third of the overall Baghdadi population (Adams, 1958, pp 15; JVL, 2021). After 1950, this population was largely annihilated, requiring special footnotes in some statistical tables because it was such a dramatic and sudden change (Adams, 1958). After 2003, it has been crushed to effectively zero (JVL, 2021). It should be seriously considered whether the Iraqi Jews, mostly in Israel but also in other countries, should be included in an overall understanding of the Iraqi population and its diaspora.

The impacts on Assyrians — i.e. the Iraqi Christians, regardless of church affiliation — have been different than the issues that impacted Jews. In the Jewish case, a centralized bureaucracy achieved quick and utter denationalization of the Iraqi Jewish population. In the Assyrian case, fluctuations have resulted in an ebb and flow which has overall worked out to a losing equation and the depopulation of Assyrians. The beginning of this in the modern area was the Seyfo, the genocide of Assyrians, which wiped-out their widespread presence into increasingly non-contiguous islands. Also, the Seyfo pushed many Assyrians south, out of the future Republic of Turkey, and into the future Republic of Iraq. Following the Seyfo, despite increases due to the Demographic Transition, reaching 1.4m in 1987, the Assyrian (and Armenian) population has since then declined sharply to just around 200k today (Judd, 2020).





100k+ in the 1940s.
10k+ after the 1950s.
2k+ after the 1990s.
500+ after 2003.
≤ 5 after 2010.

Iraqi Jews consisted of Babylonian Jews and Kurdish Jews, as well as a small number of Karaite Jews (JVL, 2021; National Association, 2021). There is a substantial Iraqi Jewish population in Israel.


190k+ in the 1940s.
1.4m in 1987.
200k+ in the 2020s.

Field interviews have revealed that Assyrians are largely annihilated from towns such as Anbar, Basrah, Tikrit, and others. They remain almost exclusively in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Erbil, and the Nineveh Plains. Mosul and Shingal are almost extinct of any Christians, but a string of towns in the Nineveh Plains —Bashiqa, Bartella, and others — have become Christian strongholds protected by Christian militias. Alqosh on the Kurdistan Region is separated from these towns by the KRI-Iraq boundary. Ankawa in Erbil has seen a massive influx of Iraqi Christians arriving as IDPs, and the Assyrian Church of the East moved its patriarchate to Erbil after decades in Chicago.

Summary of major changes in populations of Jews and Assyrians.

First Demographic Transition

The Republic of Iraq ushered in a period of extreme population growth. Perhaps because of conservative attitudes and strong patriarchy resulting in very tightly-organized, single-income households with high fertility rates, the era of population growth appears to be particularly lengthy in Iraq. This also resulted in modern-day Iraq having a tremendously large and young population compared to seventy years ago.

Some observations about population by age groupings help indicate the timings of the demographic transitions. The population by age in 1997 shows that there were almost twice as many people ages 25 - 29 (born 1968 - 1972) as there were ages 35 - 39 (born 1958 - 1962) (AAS, 2012). That was only an age difference of ten years, but double the number of people. We do not see that sort of doubling repeat itself from 45 - 49 compared to 55 - 59, nor even for senior groupings such as 55 - 59 and 65 - 69 where higher mortality would be an extra consideration. This suggests that the First Demographic Transition was completed by 1960, and based on the massive differences in population from 50 - 54 to 55 - 59 (23%) but relatively small differences from 60 - 64 to 65 - 69 (8%), had not begun before 1940.

This narrows down the FDT in Iraq to having begun between 1940 and 1960. It was likely an uneven process that began first in the densest urban areas with better infrastructure and services, then over some years spread to provincial towns and ultimately to the countryside as well. Indeed, the period 1940 - 1960 was one of remarkable modernization, when the grip of infectious diseases was greatly weakened: for instance, the incidence of malaria went from 740,000 cases in 1946 to less than half that in 1954, when there were 360,000 cases (Ajina, 1958). This aligns with what would be expected if the FDT indeed did begin to take place in the period 1940 - 1960.

Second Demographic Transition

Consistently high geometric growth through 2019 indicates that the Second Demographic Transition (SDT) has not occurred yet. However, favorable security and economic conditions in the KR may be behind lower birth rates there than the rest of Iraq, suggesting that it is on the cusp of the SDT and if so, will begin it before the rest of the country (Whitcomb 2014).

Displacement and emigration

Iraqi life has been defined by displacement and emigration, making these issues defining demographic characteristics. For some communities, most of the population now lives in internally displaced person (IDP) camps, according to fieldwork done in Ezidi and Arab settlements that were abandoned during war with the Islamic State. Interviews done with these displaced people reveal that prolonged displacement even after the conclusion of the war is primarily for two reasons. For the Ezidis, it is mostly because of concern about security in their original homes: being in a tent but otherwise very much alive, is better than being home but in constant danger. For the Arabs, it is in large part a political tool, as Arab villages and tribes which actively sided with the Islamic State have faced an essentially permanent ban by the Iraqi government on ever returning to their homes. They face perhaps a generation of more of either living in camps, or relocating to live as sojourners in new towns. Displaced Arabs explain that the Iraqi government views it as a security measure to disrupt their clans from regrouping under Islamic State authority.

Multiple displacements and “collective towns”

Many of these displacements are on top of previous displacements. Under the Saddam Hussein regime, ancient towns with winding roads and difficult-to-patrol layouts were replaced with municipal designs that bulldozed major roads through the center and implemented a grid layout (Savelsberg, 2010). This is a common historical event mentioned during field interviews in various towns. Sometimes, the new town was built adjacent to the old town, but closer to major highways, such as the Ezidi town of Shekhka, or the Assyrian town of Seje. Oftentimes, the new town was known as a “collective town” where various tribal, ethnic, and religious groups were mixed together to prevent homogenous hotbeds of ant anti-government resistance. Some of these collective towns have grown to become established towns in the present day, and because of residents’ feelings of permanency, researchers often do not place residency there within a timeline of displacement experiences.

Diaspora Iraqis

The rise of diaspora Iraqis also presents unique challenges. Today, the Iraqi government holds election services around the world for Iraqi diaspora (Davey, 2005). These diaspora communities maintain an Iraqi identity in some places, as with the Assyrians in Chicago, where their patriarchal headquarters were located since 1940, after being displaced from Iraq in 1933, before returning to Iraq after 2015 (Syriac Press, 2020; Royel, 2021). Furthermore, the Iraqi Jewish community exists exclusively outside of Iraq. Questions of whether (and how) to include various diaspora communities in explorations of Iraqi demography are outside the scope of this report.






The genocide of Armenian and Assyrians, the national terms for Armenian- and Aramaic-speaking adherents of the Armenian Orthodox Church, Syriac Orthodox Church, Syriac Catholic Church, Chaldean Catholic Church, and Assyrian Church of the East. The Seyfo resulted in widespread and permanent elimination of ancient settlements. This had a major impact on the demography of Iraq, which would soon be established.


Beginning of World War I.

British forces brought many Indian troops, but these seem to have not become part of the society. This raises questions about demographic analysis of temporary workers.


End of the Ottoman Empire

This did not directly change the demographic characteristics, but it did change the distribution of political power among the demographic groups. Executive power shifted from foreign Ottomans to the local Arabs.


Kingdom of Iraq.

The beginning of the Kingdom began to define an Iraqi population, a new demographic group in itself.


Suppressing Kurdish rebellion

This established a pattern of displacement among the Kurds.



Iraq reached a population of 2.8m.


Oil discoveries

This provided financial resources — many of which seem to have been extracted by foreign powers — for eventual development.



Iraq reached a population of 3.5m.


Christian expulsions

The Assyrian patriarch is exiled.


Nazi regime

A brief pro-Nazi regime controls Iraq.

1940s, 1950s

Jewish expulsions

Nearly all of the Jewish community is annihilated within a single generation.



There was a 12-hour quarantine where everyone stayed indoor while thousands of census-takers canvassed the country. Iraq reached a population of 4.8m



There was a 12-hour quarantine where everyone stayed indoor while thousands of census-takers canvassed the country. Iraq reached a population of 6.3m


Overthrow of the Kingdom.

From here, the modernization of the country continued full-throttle.



There was a 12-hour quarantine where everyone stayed indoor while thousands of census-takers canvassed the country. Iraq reached a population of 8.3m.



Iraq reached a population of 12.0m


Beginning of the Demographic Transition.

Previously, people may have not personally known their grandparents, and would have had limited years with their own parents. However, it now became conventional to have multiple generations live together.


Rise of Baathism

With the rise of Baathism, much of the old elite in Iraq was purged.


Iran-Iraq War

This was a catastrophic event in every sense. Not only did it have severe mortality, but it fundamentally shifted the culture, and resulted in the ostracization of Iraq as a pariah state in the international community.


Soviet-Afghan War

This resulted in the formation of insurgent Islamist groups such as alQaeda which would grow to yield levels of power that could snap established governments.



Again, a quarantine was implemented during the census conducted on October 17th. Iraq reached a population of 16.3m



The genocide of Kurds resutled in a wave of Kurdish emigrants fleeing Iraq, establishing diaspora communities around the world.


Worsening conditions.

Worsening conditions during sanctions and the increasing economic isolation of Iraq.


Semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region

Iraq forces permanently withdrew from the newly established semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region. Thenceforth, the trends of the KR and federal Iraq must be considered separate.


US-led invasion of iraq.

This ultimately led to the Shia-ification of the government according to majority rule.


Rise of Islamism

This caused a major decimation of minorities such as Assyrians, Armenians, and Ezidis. Kurds, Arab Sunnis, and Arab Shia also intensely self-segregated.


Anti-Ezidi bombings

This ended the presence of Ezidis in Mosul.


Syrian Civil War

Beginning in 2011, the Syrian Civil War has sent millions of refugees into Iraq, especially Kurdish refugees into the KR, and Arab refugees across Iraq.


War with the Islamic State

It is almost impossible to overstate the impact of the Islamic State on Iraqi demography. Minorities plummeted, Arabs were displaced, and inequality skyrocketed as parts of the population shifted into multi-year housing in camps. Furthermore, Mosul ceased to be the second-largest city.


Beginning of the Second Demographic Transition.

There are signs of the Second Demographic Transition beginning in the urban, progressive city of Sulaymaniyah in the KR.


The demography of Iraq in the 20th and 21st centuries seems to be a pincushion of startling events that oftentimes included catastrophic violence. It is almost impossible to describe the range of events that a typical Iraqi parent may have witnessed, from having lived under four different governments to seeing loved ones vanished. Although the individual trauma is unconscionable, it remains essential to also explore how these events have unfolded at the national level in terms of demographic changes. However, this is obstructed by the lack of consistent, in-depth data. By salvaging various sources, including off-line publications that have not been digitized, some light can be shone on the demographic characteristics and changes taking place in Iraq.


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