Iraq: Black Civil Rights and Political Group Loses Leader

Recently, an Iraqi political and civil rights group suffered a serious loss when its leader, civil rights activist Jalal Thiyab, was gun downed by unidentified gunmen in Basra, Iraq.  Thiyab founded the Movement of Free Iraqis in 2007 to address issues of discrimination against black Iraqis.

Black Iraqis have lived in Iraq for centuries and their population is approximately 1.5 to 2 million.   Some are descendants of African slaves traded and sold into slavery to Iraq.  Others migrated from East Africa to Iraq after Islam became a major religion.  Their largest population is concentrated in Basra but there are pockets of black Iraqis in places like Baghdad as well. Due to this history, locally many Iraqis refer to them as “abeed” which means slaves.

Their history in Iraq is marked by a tradition of discrimination.  They protest against prejudicial treatment, economic marginalization and a high unemployment rate.  Leaders of the Movement of Free Iraqis have spoken out against their treatment and have requested that they be allowed fixed representation in parliament like other minorities such as Christians and Sabean Mandaeans.  Thiyab even ran for office on behalf of the movement in elections this past April.  Despite losing, his running was a significant step in trying to achieve the rights the black Iraqis are seeking in Basra.

International civil rights groups have condemned Thiyab’s killing and have requested that local authorities investigate the shooting.

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