About the Post

Author Information

Hayder is a Researcher at the Centre for Academic Shi’a Studies. He is also a postgraduate student at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS. You can follow him on Twitter @Hayder_alKhoei


So what does it really mean to be Iraqi? Rest assured this isn’t going to be a philosophical take on identity and assimilation but the reason I ask is because only recently I officially became an Iraqi citizen and yet I feel no different from before. Sure I am happy because travelling to the country is now easier as it negates the need to have a visa and now I have a piece of paper which legally affirms my (preferred) nationality but I do not feel any different about myself or my country.

Outside law, being Iraqi, in my opinion, has nothing to do with citizenship. A few years ago I met Ayatollah Sistani at his home in Najaf and asked him a very simple question, “how are you?” and he replied immediately in a dreary tone, “look at Iraq, that is how I am.” I then asked regardless of the situation in Iraq, how he was feeling and he calmly showed both his palms and said, “I cannot separate between Iraq’s health and my health”

Now if you think about it, that makes him just as patriotic as any Iraqi at a football game screaming his lungs out “jeeb il kaas jeeba” but bear in mind Sistani has, on more than one occasion, rejected Iraqi citizenship despite having lived in the country for over half a century. I am sure many Iraqis will see that as insult to Iraq but Sistani’s political stances, on many occasions, demonstrate a love for Iraq that has made the country become part of his own identity. Conversely, although still an Iranian citizen, he has refused outright to travel to Iran, and many Iranians will find that insulting. When he fell ill in August 2004, he pointedly chose to go to the UK instead of Iran for treatment in a move that was widely interpreted as a snub to the Iranian system of clerical governance.

A phrase Iraqis love using is ‘true Iraqi’ – which as you would imagine is as subjective as ‘Iraq’ itself – and the term is used by almost every group to label themselves or their leaders as opposed to the ‘others’ who are pawns of Saudi Arabia, Iran, America or [add country].

Unfortunately the state has always played an instrumental role in defining what it means to be Iraqi. During the Ba’ath reign being an Arab socialist was part and parcel of being a ‘real’ Iraqi. During the last decade or so of Ba’ath rule the element of Islam was thrown into that toxic mix and post-2003 a different story altogether emerged. Will there ever be a bottom-up definition of ‘Iraqiness’ that will outlive whatever government happens to be in place in Baghdad? More importantly, what does it mean for you to be ‘Iraqi’?

Is it eating Pacha at 7am in the morning? Listening to Nadhim al-Ghazali? Cooking for 10 guests when you know only 5 are coming? Playing mhebis in Ramadhan? Cracking lame jokes that would never be funny in any other language? Having a kirish and/or big nose? Of course it can’t be any of these things because some are not unique to Iraqis and others can simply be learnt.

Surely being Iraqi has nothing to do with the amount of time one has spent in the country. Some people were born outside Iraq and still consider themselves Iraqi because of their heritage, but others spend years in Iraq and then forget about their country as soon as they leave, fully assimilating into their new adopted home.

Is it language? No, because many Iraqis can’t even speak Iraqi Arabic. No one has the right to turn around and say, “I’m sorry you cannot be considered Iraqi unless you can solve this hazoora

So if being Iraqi is not conditional to citizenship, customs, culture and language, what exactly is it? I am just as confused as I was when I first started writing this post.

14 Comments on “Iraqism”

  1. Ali MM August 2, 2010 at 7:53 pm #

    If we say that Iraqiness is accorded by citizenship, then that will mean that the hundreds of thousands of people who were stripped of their citizenship by the Baath for racial and political reasons suddenly lost any right to the nation of their birth and origin at the whims of Saddam.

    I think that our Iraqiness is not measured by cheap slogans or narrow nationalism, and of course not by race, religion or ideology, but simply by our love for our country. While it has many great qualities (too many to list) it is not, truthfully speaking, according to all quantifiable variables, better than any other country, but I love it because it is MY country, whatever it has done to me, the love is unconditional.

  2. Ahmed August 2, 2010 at 9:21 pm #

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the country of Iraq with its current borders created by the British post 1st world war?
    Maybe we should ask them what they felt united all of this land and the people within it?
    Perhaps what unites us is the oil rich land.

  3. Hayder al-Khoei August 2, 2010 at 10:44 pm #

    ^ Yes of course, but that is modern day “Iraq” in strict political terms. The “Iraqi” people outdate the “Made in Britain” Iraq by over a millennia – one of the corners of the Ka’ba was, and still is, called “the Iraqi corner”

    Ali MM – So everyone who loves Iraq is Iraqi in your eyes?

  4. Ali MM August 2, 2010 at 11:25 pm #

    “Iraqi” people are Iraqi by birth, and although they can choose to not self-identify as such in the diaspora, they originally had no choice in the matter unless they have lived in the country by choice and have acquired citizenship that way. Those who carry an Iraqi passport are legally Iraqi. Those who have Iraqi origins can be loosely classified as ethnically Iraqi and describe themselves as Iraqi if they wish. These are all matters of semantics and definitions. What I am referring to is the feeling of Iraqi patriotism; being a true Iraqi who embodies Iraqi values and has a sense of Iraqiness and full loyalty and alleigance to his or her country. This is manifested by a love of Iraq for what she is and what she could be.

  5. Hayder al-Khoei August 2, 2010 at 11:39 pm #

    But thats precisely my question, what exactly are “Iraqi” values and how would these differ from the values of neighbouring Islamic (and especially Arab) countries?

    Is your “love of Iraq” defined by the geo-political nature of the ‘British’ Iraq? Do you love the Kurdish mountains in the north as much as the marshes in the south? Do you love them more than just the city you or your parents come from? Does your love stop at the man-made borders that split up the same Arab tribes in Iraq and Iran?

    I think its more than just semantics and definitions. How can an Iraqi soldier, for example, be fully loyal to “Iraq” or pay allegiance to the entire country if he cannot even set foot in the Kurdish region with his uniform and weapon?

  6. gilgamesh x / exile - iraqi August 3, 2010 at 12:45 am #

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the country of Iraq with its current borders created by the British post 1st world war?
    Maybe we should ask them what they felt united all of this land and the people within it?
    Perhaps what unites us is the oil rich land.

    Sorry, that is a bit too easy. No, the British did not invent Iraq. They gave the country some kind of modern political form as a state entity but ‘Iraq’ existed before.

    Let’s start by the name: Iraq is not an English word and if this country was really invented by Brits who read a lot too much about the 1001 nights or the Tower of Babylon it would be called “Mesopotamia” and we would be called “Mesobateemeeyen” instead of Iraqis. The name Iraq was the name for the country since Abbasid times (and maybe even long before back to Babel) and it is not a historical name. Nuri al-Sa3eed was member of a club called “3ahd el3raq” in Ottoman times, so the British promoted a term that existed before.

    Once I read in a description of Iraq in the 18th century from a German called Carsten Niebuhr (look up in wiki) that the people round of Bagdad still called their country “ardh babel” (the earth of Babel), at least this is a prove of historic continuity.

    So ‘Iraq’ is not a pure British invention.

    @Haydar el-Khoei

    Great post, good questions, I appreciate such questions a lot, similar to Catharsis, I hope to post some thoughts about 3rooqa

  7. Huner August 3, 2010 at 1:44 am #

    @gilgamesh x / exile – iraqi

    If your history is right, then where do the borders of “Iraq” and Iraqi identity start and where do they end? More complicated still, how do the Kurds fit into all of this? There has also historically been the lands of “Kurdistan”.

    • gilgamesh x / exile - iraqi August 3, 2010 at 6:04 pm #

      @ Huner

      you are right, my weak point is the question of Kurdistan. How does Kurdistan fit into Iraq ? I still did not conceive a solution for this.

  8. Ali MM August 3, 2010 at 2:27 pm #

    The concept of the modern nation-state has legitimised the current borders and the inclusion of Kurdistan into the state of Iraq. The Iraqi constitution deals with the issue and says defense matters is devolved to the KRG and that they have control over its own army, the Peshmerga, so the national Army doesn’t have any authority in the area.

    As far as I am concerned, my country is the world. Just because I am Iraqi and love Iraq over all other countries, doesn’t mean we see foreigners who lie on the wrong side of the border as being any different. I love my house more than other houses, for instance, because it’s my house and where I live, but that doesn’t mean I hate other houses or the people living in them.

    I think you’ve made me just as confused as you were when you wrote the post!!

  9. Huner August 4, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

    @gilgamesh x / exile – iraqi

    Even wih respect to Iraqis though, which comes first – Iraqism or Arabism? If you’re an Arab before an Iraqi then what difference does it make where the Iraqi borders lie and in which case doesn’t that render the whole construct of “Iraq” or “Iraqism” an irrelevant, insignificant one that exists only because the Brits made it exist? I know you’re saying the land known as Iraq existed before, but who actually decides and who knows where the borders started and ended? Isn’t Kuwait part of Iraq too then if you’re history was to be taken on?

    • gilgamesh x / exile - iraqi August 4, 2010 at 6:33 pm #

      @ Huner

      I would like to ask you to look up on my blog so maybe you find some answers already there.

      Secondly, I do not want to discuss such topics on a blog, not of my own.


  10. Ahmed August 5, 2010 at 12:51 am #

    Ha ha…
    Good points raised.
    People speak of “love” for their country, but what does that mean? And how can we love something that has no definition?
    What is Iraq and what is there to love?

    I have much to be sad about, but nothing to love.

  11. Hayder al-Khoei August 5, 2010 at 11:30 pm #

    Interesting article on the Guardian’s CiF on the lack of national identity in Iraq and the failure of politicians to form a government with “Iraq’s” interest at heart.


  12. Fatema November 2, 2010 at 8:02 pm #

    plain st-upid

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: