Glossary Terms

Baath Party
The Baath Party was the political party in power in Iraq until Saddam Hussein was ousted as President. It is still in control in Syria. It is secular (nonreligious) and socialist. It also sets as a main goal the political union of all Arabs. By its definition, it is anti-American culture. Its followers want to protect Arab culture from Western (American/European) influences.

Iraq is home to 2.5 million Assyrian Christians, mostly in the city of Mosul. The Assyrians have been oppressed by the Persians, Mongols, Turks, and Arabs over the last several centuries. Nearly two thirds of the Assyrian population has died in the last 50 years. Another 1.8 million Assyrians live outside of Iraq in Iran, Syria, the U.S., Australia, and Europe.

Iraqi Turkoman Front
Political party backed by Turkey; stands in opposition to the KDP.

Kurds are a non-Arab, Middle Eastern minority who live in a region known as Kurdistan. They are devout Sunni Muslims who claim the region of Kurdistan as home. Kurdistan is not an independent nation, but a region in Southwest Asia that includes parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Armenia. As of the late 1990s, more than 20 million Kurds lived in the Kurdistan region, about half of them in Turkey.

Kurdish Workers' Party (PDD)
The PKK used northern Iraq as a base during its 15-year war with Turkey that left more than 30,000 civilians dead. They are a communist group of Kurds.

Marsh Arabs
Iraq's 40,000 Marsh Arabs live in the southern marshlands near where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet. The population at one time numbered 250,000. The mostly Shiite population were discriminated against because they opposed Saddam Hussein's rule and hid opposition leaders in the oil-rich marshlands. In the 1990s, Hussein drained the marshes.

Opposition Leaders
Former Iraqi leaders who were exiled from Iraq when Saddam Hussein came to power. Many want to come back to their native country and assume leadership positions in a new government. Other opposition leaders remained in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule, but were persecuted.

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)
The PUK's ultimate goal is an independent state for Kurds in northern Iraq. They have been backed by Syria, Lybia, and Iran. The PUK supports the U.S. war in Iraq. It fought a war with its rival, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), in 1996 because the KDP joined with Iraqi forces to elminate the PUK. The two groups are currently working together to support the U.S. efforts in Iraq. Most members of the PUK live in northern Iraq.

A militia of Kurdish freedom fighters; the unofficial military arm of the PUK.

The third-largest ethnic group after the Kurds and Arabs, the Turkoman number about 2.5 million. Most live in the north and central parts of Iraq in Mosul, Erbil, Kirkuk, and Deyalah. They are represented in the Iraqi government by the Iraqi National Turkoman Party. The Turkoman are not otherwise recognized within Iraq. They are not counted in the national census and are not allowed to speak their language.

Shiite or Shia Muslims
Shiite Muslims are the majority Muslim sect in Iraq. The word Shiite comes from the Arabic shiat Ali, meaning the party of Ali. It is the second-largest branch of Islam, accounting for 10 to 15 percent of all Muslims.

Sunni Muslim
Sunni Muslims represent the vast majority of Muslims, but in Iraq they are in the minority. However, Sunni Muslims dominated Hussein's Baath Party government.

The differences between Sunnis and Shiites date back to the beginning of Islam in the first century. The Shiites, or Shia sect, take their leaders from the descendents of Mohammed and his son-in-law.

The larger Sunni sect does not recognize the heirs of Ali as having power by birthright. They elect their leaders.

Shiites were left out of Iraq's 10th-century government. They became the poor in both the cities and rural areas. Sunnis are now the middle and upper class in Iraq, working in the government and owning businesses.

Tribal law/tribal system
Iraq's society is feudalists, with at least three-quarters of the country's population belonging to a tribe. For example, people in Tikrit are generally understood to be part of Saddam Hussein's regime because his family is from Tikrit. Members of Iraq's 150 tribes look to their regional tribal leaders for protection and economic support. The tribal leaders represent their members in disputes and government related issues.