Iraqis have been immigrating to the United States at the rate of several thousand a year for the past two decades. The latest peak period was in 1993 and 1994, when more than 10,000 Iraqis immigrated to the United States after the first Gulf War. Today there are about 90,000 U.S. residents who were born in Iraq, according to the 2000 Census.
It’s a difficult number to pin down, however, as three minority groups that have historically been oppressed in Iraq – the Chaldeans, the Assyrians, and the Kurds – make up a disproportionately large number of Iraqi refugees in the United States. Many of them don't consider themselves as Iraqis as such and for that reason, among several others, would be unlikely to identify themselves that way on the census forms.
The Chaldeans, from northern Iraq, are Catholics and have settled in the U.S. largely in and around Dearborn, Michigan. The Assyrians, named after the ancient Mesopotamian empire that ruled from 2400 BC to 612 B.C., are mostly Christian, speak Assyrian, and are also from northern Iraq. They have settled mostly in Los Angeles and Chicago.
The Chaldeans and Assyrians are among the most vocal Iraqi immigrants in the United States, yet in Iraq together make up less than 3% of Iraq’s 24 million population.
The Kurds, the largest of the three Iraqi immigrant groups in the U.S., is also a large ethnic group in Iraq, where about 20% of Iraqis are Kurds. A stateless people who live in southern Turkey and northern Iraq, the chemical bombing of a Kurdish village in northern Iraq, Halabja, which killed 5,000 in 1988, was cited by the U.S. government as one reason it attacked Iraq to unseat Saddam Hussein. About 500 Kurdish refugees from Iraq have settled in Fargo and West Fargo, North Dakota.
There are sprinklings of all three groups in Minnesota, where 468 Iraqis were counted in the 2000 Census. That number is widely considered an undercount, however, because refugees who don’t speak English often don’t fill out the census forms. In addition, many Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Kurdish Iraqis probably did not count themselves as Iraqis.
Deborah Pierce, a Special Agent of the FBI’s Minneapolis office, which interviewed Minnesota Iraqis for homeland security purposes in late 2002 and early 2003, says about 1,000 Iraqis live in the metropolitan area alone. There are concentrations of Iraqi-born Americans and permanent residents in Fridley, Coon Rapids, and Brooklyn Park.
The most prominent Iraqi exile in Minnesota is Abbas Mehdi, a professor of sociology at St. Cloud State University and the founder of the Union of Independent Iraqis, an opposition group to Saddam Hussein. Now a U.S. citizen, Mehdi immigrated in 1982 after being warned his life was in danger in Iraq for criticizing Saddam’s regime. An outspoken opponent of Saddam, Mehdi has also been critical of the U.S. for its sanctions program against Iraq, and also for invading Iraq without wide international support.
IRAQ & MIDDLE EAST EXPERTS IN MINNESOTA
ORGANIZATIONS IN MINNESOTA
Major Iraqi Opposition Groups
News Services & Studies