POPULATION31,129,225 (July 2012 est.)
GDP PER CAPITA$3,900 (2011 est.)
RELIGIONSMuslim (official) 97% (Shia 60%-65%, Sunni 32%-37%), Christian or other 3% note: while there has been voluntary relocation of many Christian families to northern Iraq, recent reporting indicates that the overall Christian population may have dropped by as much as 50 percent since the fall of the Saddam HUSSEIN regime in 2003, with many fleeing to Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon
ALSO IN MIDDLE EAST, NORTH AFRICA, AND THE CAUCASUSAlgeria
AT THE CENTER
Over its long history, Iraq has been both a center of cosmopolitan civilization and a site of sectarian conflict. Baghdad was the intellectual capital of the Muslim world during the Islamic Golden Age between the 8th and 13th centuries. During much of its history, it hosted a vibrant and religiously diverse population, including substantial numbers of Jews and Christians. By the late 18th century, the majority of the population had converted from Sunni to Shi’a Islam, creating a sectarian divide that persists to this day. The Arab Sunni minority exerted political dominance under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein (1979-2003), with Hussein persecuting Shi’as and the Kurds of northern Iraq. Since U.S.-led forces ousted Hussein in a 2003 invasion, Shi’as and Sunnis have vied for control through both electoral competition and violence. Iraq’s Constitution establishes Islam as the official religion of the democratic state and requires that no law contradict Islam. Religious freedom is also guaranteed, though sectarian violence effectively restricts its exercise, particularly for minority faiths.