Black Iraqis in the southern province of Basra are complaining of discrimination, saying they are not fairly represented in the state.
African Iraqis have lived in the country for centuries and now number more than one million.
Many of them are descendants of African slaves brought to Iraq. Many Iraqis still refer to them by their ancestral name, abeed – meaning slaves.
Salem Shaaban is a member of the Free Movement of Iraqis, advocating more rights for African Iraqis.
He says black people in Iraq feel there is a tradition of discrimination against them in the society.
“For example when two people fight in the street and one is black and the other is white, they say X had a fight with the slave. It really hurts.”
‘No place for blacks’
Shabaan says black Iraqis are also discriminated against when it comes to parliament representation and jobs.
“Whoever wants to be a member of parliament or heads the cabinet should present himself to the Iraqi people and they will elect whoever they want”
Mohammed al-Bahadily, tribal leader
“Why is there no black merchant or a senior black official in the state? We conclude that there’s no place for the blacks in the Iraqi society or in the state.”
But local officials say there is no discrimination and that the door is open for any group to participate in society.
“We don’t want to differentiate one sect or colour over another. This is part of the ethnic, racial and sectarian division. We want Basra to stay way from it,” Jabbar Amin, the head of Basra Local Council, says.
“If there is a group like the blacks in Basra and say they are big, then they should and can stand in the elections to compete with the other sects or groups.”
Mohammed al-Bahadily, a tribal leader, agrees that the political scene is open to all, regardless of race.
“Now politics is free for everyone and free choice. And whoever wants to be a member of parliament or heads the cabinet should present himself to the Iraqi people and they will elect whoever they want.”
But some black Iraqis say they are not treated the same way as other minorities.
Tahir Yahya, an activist, says: “We want to be like the Christians and Mandaeans and other white minorities who have fixed representation in parliament – we the black people in Iraq have rights.”
On the streets of Basra, residents say discrimination does not exist.
“The whites are 90 per cent and blacks 10 per cent in Iraq and Basra. That’s why you find few blacks in high posts and ranks because the whites are more. But we are all brothers and my best friends are black,” one man says.
Another local says there is no exclusion of the blacks but some segregation persists.
“There are some traditions in the society that the two don’t intermarry. But otherwise they co-exist together peacefully.”