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(DV) LaMagna and Ziada: Is There a Sunni Majority?







Listening to Iraqi's Raises Questions About Basic Issues:
Is There a Sunni Majority? 

by Dal LaMagna and Faruq Ziada
December 28, 2006

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If you follow the sectarian and political situation in Iraq you've heard about the 80% solution. Robin Wright explains it in her December 1, 2006 Washington Post article: "U.S. Considers Ending Outreach to Insurgents." She explains that since the Sunnis represent only 20% of the 26 million Iraqis, the US administration is considering "abandoning reconciliation efforts with Sunni insurgents and instead giv[ing] priority to Shiites and Kurds, who won elections and now dominate the government." (Note: According to many, the Shiites and Kurds represent 80% of the Iraq population.) 

Helene Cooper, in the December 17, 2006  New York Times' Week in Review's lead story, "The Whispers and the Why Nots," reports that "Washington should stop trying to get Sunnis and Shiites to get along and instead just back the Shiites, since there are more of them anyway and they likely to win in a fight to the death.  After all, the proposal goes; Iraq is 65% Shiite and only 20% Sunni. The other 15% are the Kurds." 

But, hey wait a minute! Not everyone agrees with these numbers, particularly the Sunnis who feel they have been under-counted.    

Listening to Iraqis is a good step towards resolving their crisis. I've made two trips to Amman, Jordan to listen to them. (The first trip was in early August when I traveled there with the GLOBAL EXCHANGE/CODEPINK peace delegation. The second trip was the day after the recent US elections when I accompanied Congressman Jim McDermott. During that trip, we met and listened to people from the Mid East region including Iraq Members of Parliament, sheiks from the Dulaym Tribe, and Faruq Ziada who has collaborated with me on this blog and who was the former Counselor, Permanent Mission of Iraq to the United Nations.  

On my first trip back in August, we didn't hear too much complaining about the count of the Shia, Sunni, and Kurds; rather the Iraqis were concerned that the world erroneously thought that Sunnis and Shia were at each other's throats. They weren't. And, there wasn't a civil war going on, but instead, there were outsiders trying to foment a civil war. Jabir Habir Jabir, a Shia Member of Parliament, even joked about it. He said, "For example, I don't need Americans to protect my wife from me. She is a Sunni and I am a Shia."   

In November, though, on the listening trip with Representative McDermott, we heard often about faulty counts. Faruq Ziada, who was also an ambassador in Iraq's Foreign Ministry from 1992 to 2000, claimed throughout his interview with us that the numbers had been played with and manipulated for the past 10-15 years. His premise is that the Sunnis represent a majority of the population in Iraq!   

We asked him to prepare an analysis of the numbers to prove it. If Faruq is right, and he does present a compelling case, even if the Sunnis aren't a majority but comprise much more than the 17% to 20% we hear all the time, the administration is making decisions on an erroneous assumption: that the Shiites are the majority. Then the 80% solution is wrong. The Constitution which excludes the Sunnis needs to be fixed. The U.S. administration needs to recognize that the Sunni insurgency could be larger than presently assessed. It should start negotiating with them. And new elections that are not boycotted by Sunnis need to be conducted. 

Here is what Faruq has compiled, complete with links to back-up his research.  

Is There a Sunni Majority in Iraq?
by Faruq Ziada

The United States based its policy on Iraq on two primary so-called facts:

* The Sunnis are a 20 % minority.

* The Sunni minority and Saddam Hussein ruled the Shiite majority in Iraq.

Thus, US Iraq policy -- as set by the Bush Administration and the Neoconservatives -- both before and after the 2003 war and occupation, was based on this false premise. Because of this, the Sunnis were marginalized and power was handed over to the Shiite religious parties and Kurdish parties by the occupation force CPA, Ambassador Bremer, and later Ambassador Negroponte.

Based on this false premise, US policy failed miserably. Still, the Bush Administration continued and still is continuing this policy. Bush called it "Stay the course."

For this reason, and to bring to light information that should help inform a new policy, it is of the utmost importance to correct this fallacy. We need to put the facts in front of all who will try to correct the course, find the correct necessary policies to end the bloodshed, and end the catastrophe that has befallen Iraq.

The Correct Percentages of Sunnis, Shiites, Arabs, and Kurds

The actual, real percentages of various groups in Iraq is outlined below. Statistics come from the Al-Quds Press Research Center, London Study and, with reference to the map on the distribution of religious groups, from the Baker-Hamilton Committee report page, 102).

 As Nationalities:



82 - 84%

     Kurds, Turks, etc.

16 - 18%




95 - 98%

     Christians and others

2 - 5%

 Moslem Sects



60 - 62%

     Sunni Arabs

42 - 44%

     Sunni Kurds and Turks

16 - 18%


38 - 40%

     Shiite Kurds and Turks

2 - 4%

 Percentage of Sunnis, Shiites, Arabs, and Kurds

The Election of January 31,2005

The results of the elections on January 31, 2005 provide a very clear indication of Sunni majority and Shiite minority. For instance:

The majority of Sunnis boycotted the elections. Those who voted gave their votes to the slates of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, or Adnan Al- Pachachi, or to the Royalist.

All the Shiite parties or groups united on one slate, the Unified Iraqi Coalition.

Ayatollah Al-Sistani and all other Shiite religious leaders issued an edict (fatwah) that Shiites must vote and must vote for the Shiite slate. The edict also stated that if a married man or woman did not vote, they would no longer be legally considered husband and wife.

The media showed long lines of women in southern Iraq, waiting to vote, just as they depicted ill people in wheel chairs being pushed to the election boxes.

The Coalition Provisional Authority (the U.S.) and the Elections Committee claimed that 95% of Shiites participated in the vote.

The CPA gave its full backing to the elections. President Bush hailed the elections as one of the greatest events in Middle East history, a great democratic achievement.

However, the election results were a fiasco and a big scandal for all those who participated in the elections. The results were delayed for more than five weeks, during which time the United States and the Shiite filled the media with daily statements about how fantastic they were and how the Shiites had won more than two-thirds of the seats.

Using convoluted logic, some attempted to use this to prove  the Shiites accounted for more than 60 % of the population.

The Results of the January 31 Election

According to the official Election Committee, the numbers involved in the 2005 voting are as follows:

   Iraqis eligible to vote: 15,450,000
   Iraqis inside Iraq: 14,200,000
   Iraqis outside Iraq: 1,250,000

In addition, the following numbers were provided:

Iraqis (Shiites, Kurds, and a few Sunnis) who participated in the vote = 8,456,266, or 54 %.

Iraqis who boycotted, primarily Sunnis = 6,693,734, or 46 %.

It should be noted that Iraq was considered as one electoral unit. Therefore, a Shiite voting for the Shiite slate in the Arab areas, governates, the Kurdish area, or abroad will be counted for the Shiite slate. The same for the Kurds etc. The Kurdish votes in Baghdad (more than a million) went for the Kurdish slate etc.

The Vote for the Slates

Total Votes

% of Eligible Voters

Unified Iraqi Slate (Shiite/ Sistani)

4,075,295 26.3 %

The Kurdish Slate

 2,175,551 14.0 %

Iraqiyah Slate (PM Ayad Allawi)   

1,168,943 7.5 %

Iraqiyon (President Ghazi Al-Yawer)

150,650  0.9 %

The Communist Party 


Adnan Al-Pachachi Slate  


The Royalists (Shareef Ali)


It is worth noting here that the Kurdish provisional government announced that 98% of Kurds participated in the voting and that the Shiite leadership announced that 95% of Shiites voted in the election.

The Elections of the Council of Representatives, December 15,2005

The election of the Council of Representatives (present Parliament) was on December 15, 2005. Shiites and Kurds participated in the elections overwhelmingly.

However, Sunnis who supported the Muslim Scholars Association boycotted the elections. Sunnis who participated were the supporters of: The Islamic Party (present Vice President Tariq Al-Hashimi), The Hiwar National Iraqi Front (Dr. Saleh Al- Mutlaq), and those who voted for National Iraqi List (ex- Prime Minister Ayad Allawi).

The Results of the Elections of the Council of Representatives

We shall concentrate only on the Shiites to show once again that they are the MINORITY in Iraq, based on the official final report of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq issued on February 10, 2006.

The number of eligible voters:  15,568,702
The number participating in the vote: 11,895,756
The number voting for the Unified Iraqi Coalition: 5,021,137

-- The Shiite Bloc --

Percentage of eligible voters:       32.2 %  
Percentage of those who voted:  42.2 %

The announcement of the results of the elections were delayed for nearly two months (the elections were held on December 15, 2005, and the results were announced on February 10, 2006), because of accusations of mass forgery in the Shiite governates; the militias took over the ballot boxes and filled them with ballots. All other parties threatened that they would boycott the new Council of Representatives if the situation was not rectified.

Under this pressure, an International Investigation Committee was set up jointly by the United Nations and the Arab League to check the accusations. The Committee came under open threats from the Shiite parties (SCIRI of Abdul Aziz Al- Hakeem, and Al-Dawah of Al-Maliki). The Committee was also under pressure from the Bush administration, which was desperate to have the election results announced, to demonstrate that the democratic process was on track.

Under these threats the Committee had to announce its findings from Amman, Jordan.

The Committee announced that there were grave violations committed in the Shiite governates, but also said it could not determine who committed them. The U.S. then pressured the parties contesting the election results to accept them, promising that it would exert pressure on the Shiite coalition to accept changes in the Constitution, etc. The protesting parties then acquiesced to the U.S. pressures and the results were finally announced nearly two months after the elections.


With the full backing of Shiite religious leaders and all efforts by the Shiite political parties, groups and factions, regardless of whether they were religious or liberal (Ahmed Al-Chalabi), and uniting under one banner (Shiite), the numbers that the Shiites could muster were meager. It can be clearly seen that they are a minority in Iraq, and not a majority: they received 26.3 % of the votes of eligible voters in the January 31 2005 elections.

They received 32.2% of the votes of eligible voters (regardless of all election violations, forgeries and filled ballots boxes) in the December 15, 2005 elections.

Therefore, one of the main reasons for the drastic failure of U.S. policy in Iraq must be attributed to the reliance on the false premise that the Sunnis are a minority and the Shiites are a majority in Iraq. It is very clear from the official numbers taken from the results of the elections of January 31, 2005, and December 15, 2005, that: the Sunnis are 60-62 % of the population of Iraq (42-44% Arab, and 16-18% Kurd and Turk Iraqis), and only 38-40% are Shiites.

Faruq Ziada served as an ambassador in Iraq's Foreign Ministry from 1992 to 2000. This report was written in collaboration with Jennifer Hicks and was published by Progressive Government. Contact Progressive Government at: info@progressivegovernment.org.

Dal LaMagna is founder of the Progressive Government Institute. He was also the founder and CEO of TWEEZERMAN Corporation in Port Washington, New York. Dal served on the Advisory Board of Directors and was chair of the Best Tools & Practices Committee of the Social Venture Network. He is a member of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities. He is part of the Founder's Circle for The Positive Future Network, the publisher of Yes Magazine. He serves on the Dean's Council for the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.