Indigenous peoples in Iraq

Of Iraq’s 26 million plus people, approximately 75 to 80% are Arabs, 15 to 20% are Kurds and roughly 5% are Turkamans, Armenians and others. A distinct sub-group within the Arab community is known as the Marsh Dwellers, who have historically inhabited the Mesopotamian marshlands of southern Iraq.

No accurate figures exist for the Marsh Dwellers of Iraq but, of an estimated 250,000 population in the 1990s, their population dropped to 85,000 before the war in 2003 due to persecution by the Saddam Hussain regime. Currently, registered refugees and internally displaced peoples are listed at just over 78,000 although the actual number is most likely to be much higher.. Many of the displaced have not returned to their former lands, and may never do so.

Marsh Dwellers traditionally inhabited a land of interconnected lakes, mudflats and wetlands within modern-day Iraq and Iran. They constructed artificial islands and depended on fishing, hunting, rice and date cultivation.

Although there is significant prejudice against Marsh Dwellers in Iraq, no legislation protecting the rights of Marsh Dwellers or any other indigenous group within Iraq has been developed to date.

Download the 2007 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in Iraq to read more about major developments and events during 2006


IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. The Indigenous World 2019.

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