In an interview, Raad Jabar al-Khamis, a representative of the
Christian Sabean-Mandaean minority, talks about why all minorities in
Iraq will leave the country over the next decade.
Raad Jabar al-Khamis has held many senior political positions on behalf of Iraq’s Sabean-Mandaean minority. The Sabean-Mandaeans are a tiny Christian minority
in Iraq, characterised by ancient rituals that cross between
Christianity and Islam. Despite the fact that this minority has been
able to secure one of the quota seats, dedicated specially to the
country’s minorities, in Iraq’s Parliament, al-Khamis says that this is
largely symbolic and that Mandaeans have no real political power thanks
to power sharing deals between the country’s larger ethnic and sectarian
groups. As it is, it probably doesn’t matter anyway, he says. The way
things are going all members of Iraq’s minorities, and especially the
Christian ones like his, will have left the country during the next
The Mandaeans are well
known for running the minority’s affairs in a particularly democratic
way. Can you tell us more about this?
is true. In fact, we have three different leadership organisations.
These are the Mandaean Spiritual Council , the Mandaean General Assembly
and the Community Affairs Council. All of these were originally formed
in the 1980s and each one represents the different social groups within
the minority. For example, the Spiritual Council is composed of clergy
and headed by the Mandaeans’ spiritual leader, Satar Jabar Helo.
Meanwhile the General Assembly represents members of all the different
family groups or tribes and these representatives have been elected by
their own families. This council is like the Mandaeans’ own Parliament,
of sorts. And finally the Community Affairs Council is another kind of
authority, with members coming from the General Assembly. This body
manages the more general, custodial affairs of all Mandaeans
In terms of these
democratic processes, how did you end up being elected the Mandaean
representative on Baghdad’s provincial council?
We hold other
internal elections inside our community to select the candidates who
will take up the special minority quota seats. I competed and won, which
is how I got the job as Mandaean representative on Baghdad’s provincial
It doesn’t seem like the
interests of the Mandaean minority are particularly well represented by
any of Iraq’s political parties. Have you thought about starting your
We haven’t done
this as yet. Some Mandaeans have joined left wing parties, as have
members of other Iraqi minorities. But we did start a committee composed
of between nine and 15 members, whose job was to try and build bridges
and to encourage cooperation with decision makers in other parties, as
well as to represent the Mandaean people in any political forums. We
believe this fills the political gap.
Do these different groups work together at all?
There’s a lot
of coordination between the religious leaders and the political
committee. The clergy try not to get involved in the details of daily
political affairs. Still the religious leaders have an important role to
play when it comes to any candidacies. While the final decisions should
be made democratically by the Mandaean General Assembly, there’s no
doubt that if the clergy accept a candidate this is seen as an
The Mandaeans have had a
quota seat – one that is automatically given to a Mandaean politician –
in the Iraqi Parliament for several elections now. How do you feel about
the minority’s participation in Iraqi politics?
In reality our
participation is symbolic. It has no significant political weight and
there is no real or active participation in the political process. The
Mandaeans are not represented in any of Iraq’s federal ministries, we
don’t even have one general manager. The only high-ranking position we
can get is as the general manager of the endowment for Christians,
Yazidis and Mandaeans [the body taking financial care of the minorities’
religious buildings]. This is really disturbing because the Mandaeans
are one of the oldest religious groups in Iraq.
So what would the Mandaeans like to see happening?
We would like
to participate in the political process without marginalization or
exclusion. However the power sharing deals between the major political
groups in this country – the Sunni Muslim parties, Shiite Muslim parties
and the Iraqi Kurdish – don’t allow minorities to make any real
progress or to participate.
Personally I believe that giving Mandaeans
responsibility for a service- provision ministry would give us an
opportunity to serve our country. But I also think this is impossible at
What do you think the future holds for Mandaeans in Iraq?
In the past we
were just worried that all Mandaeans would leave Iraq. But now we think
that Iraq will actually lose all of its minority groups within the space
of ten years – and ten years is optimistic. Many Mandaeans have already
left the country and this includes religious and social leaders. That
makes every other Mandaean want to leave too. Immigration is no longer a
matter of choice. It is an inevitable reality.