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Regions with significant populations
Baghdad, Basra, Maysan, Dhi Qar
Arabic, Persian
Islam (mostly Shiite, Sunni minority)
Related ethnic groups

Afro-Iraqis are an ethnic group that is descended from people of Zanj heritage in Iraq. Most are found in the southern port city of Basra, with many speaking Arabic and adhering to Islam.[1][2] It is estimated that there are roughly 1,500,000 Afro-Iraqis.[3][4][5] While the majority of Iraqis have some residual sub-Saharan African ancestry (as is the case with most of the people within the Arab World in general), those Iraqis of significant sub-Saharan African ancestry account for nearly 1 in 6 Iraqis based on mitochondrial DNA, with an average frequency of 17.48% African ancestry.[clarification needed] In slavery parlance of the colonial Americas, this average would equate to more sub-Saharan African ancestry than that found in a octaroon but less than that found in an quadroon. The origins of the sub-Saharan African genetic material most likely dates back to the time of the Arab slave trade of women from Sub-Saharan Africa.[6][7][clarification needed]


Most Afro-Iraqis are the descendants of sailors, traders and mostly slave origin that were brought to Iraq from the Zanj region. The term Zanj also used to describe them is attributed to Zanzibar, an island off of the coast of Tanzania. Slave trade begun by early Arab traders started in the 9th century and lasted over a millennium. Most of these slaves were imported to work in large dates and sugarcane plantations.[1]

To protest their treatment, Zanj slaves from Basra staged a successful revolt (the Zanj Rebellion) against Baghdad, which lasted for 15 years (869–883). During this period they created a city called Moktara. In 883, the Army from Baghdad put down the revolt. Afterwards, locals did not engage in large-scale plantation-type slavery. Slavery lasted up until the 19th century.[1] However, there were reports of dark-skinned slaves in Iraq in 2008.[8]

Social condition

Unlike in the Americas of the 19th century, slaves in the Middle East were allowed to own land, and their children were generally not born into slavery. Also conversion to Islam precluded further servitude and gave freedom. Skin color played a distinctive role even amongst slaves. Many activists amongst Afro-Iraqis complain that they are unable to find opportunities to improve their social condition. However, the same complaint is often also made by Iraqis of Arab Semitic descent as well.[1][2]


Most Afro-Iraqis still are able to maintain rituals related to healing that are of Zanj origin. The languages used in these rituals are Swahili and Arabic. Instruments such as Drums and tambourines are used in these ceremonies. In a song called Dawa Dawa, the words are a mix of Arabic and Swahili. The song, which is about curing people, is used in the shtanga ceremony, for physical health. Another ceremony called nouba, takes its name from Arabic for paroxysm or shift, as Sophi performers take turns at chanting and dancing to ritualistic hymns.[9] There are also unique ceremonies to remember the dead and for occasions such as weddings.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e A Legacy Hidden in Plain Sight
  2. ^ a b Descendants of Iraq's black rebels back Obama
  3. ^ "MRG condemns killing of Black Iraqi leader in Basra, calls for full investigation into his death". Minority Rights Group International. 2013-05-08. Archived from the original on 2013-06-12. Black or African Iraqis, who number between 1.5 and 2 million, are believed to have first migrated from East Africa to Iraq after the birth of Islam.
  4. ^ Karlos Zurutuza (2011-10-12). "To Be Black in Iraq". Inter Press Service. Basra. Salah Ruhais Salman, vice-president of the Iraqi Freedom Movement, a political party established to defend the rights of Iraqis of African descent ... [says] "There are around 1.5 million of us in Iraq but none of us occupies any position in the Iraqi administration."
  5. ^ Ali Mamouri (2013-06-26). "Black Iraqis Struggle to Shake Legacy of Racism". Archived from the original on 2013-06-28. It is noteworthy that their marginalization persists although they exceed about 1.5 million, according to the Free Iraqi Movement Vice President Salah Ruhais Salman, or 2 million, according to a statement made by the secretary-general of the movement, Abdel Hussein Abdel Razzak.
  6. ^ Achilli A, Olivieri A, Pala M, et al. (April 2007). "Mitochondrial DNA variation of modern Tuscans supports the near eastern origin of Etruscans". American Journal of Human Genetics. 80 (4): 759–68. doi:10.1086/512822. PMC 1852723. PMID 17357081.
  7. ^ Abu-Amero KK, González AM, Larruga JM, Bosley TM, Cabrera VM (2007). "Eurasian and African mitochondrial DNA influences in the Saudi Arabian population". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 7: 32. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-32. PMC 1810519. PMID 17331239.
  8. ^ IRAQ: Black Iraqis hoping for a Barack Obama win
  9. ^ "السماح.. رقص التسامي الجمعي، أرواحاً وأجساداً- د. خير الدين عبد الرحمن". Albahethon. Retrieved 2017-01-03.

External links