For years Iraq has been known by its conflict. In the 80’s many Kurds fled as Saddam Hussein systematically eradicated their towns and villages. Since the Gulf War in 2003 most violence has been between Shia and Sunni Muslims.
Violence against Christians since 2003 has caused most of Iraq’s Christian community to flee.
Recent figures say there are 32.6 million people in Iraq. Recently around 223 000 Kurdish Syrian refugees have crossed the border in the north to the safety of the Iraqi Kurdish region.
Arabs are the majority with 80%. Kurds are a significant minority with 20%.
Over 95% of Iraqis are Muslim (Shia majority) with some Christians and various small religious groups like those who follow John the Baptist. The Yazidis in the north, are a secretive group that worships the devil in the form of the peacock god.
Literacy rates are good at 78% but child labor is 11%.
25% of the population lives below the poverty line.
here is much more to Iraq than what you see on the news! Iraqi Kurdistan is a rapidly developing semi-autonomous region in the north of Iraq.
Recovering after 30 years of suffering and war, the Kurdish people had been enjoying a time of peace and prosperity until the summer of 2014 when Islamic jihadists known as ISIS or ISIL captured international attention as they gained control of a broad swath of Iraq. Kurdish forces, known as Peshmerga, along with Iraqi military and US airstrikes pushed ISIL back from areas near the Kurdish region. The non-Kurdish areas of Iraq continue to be involved in ongoing battles with the Islamic jihadists.
Kurds are Sunni Muslims, and have a deep respect for and awareness of God. Kurdish culture is family-oriented, conservative and hospitable. The Kurdish government is providing refuge for Syrian refugees as well as tens of thousands of internally displaced Iraqis.
Although we don’t have staff in the southern part of Iraq, our staff continue to serve in the Kurdish region of Iraq.
Iraq is wedged between Saudi Arabia and Iran and is the home of the ancient biblical empires of Nineveh and Babylon. Mosul in the north is the old city of Nineveh; Babel (south of Baghdad) is the ancient city of Babylon.
BAGHDAD (capital) 5.7 million; Mosul 1.45 million
Iraq is mostly desert with hot summers and mild winters. But in the northern mountains it is cold and snows; the melting snow in spring often floods the central and south of the country.
The Euphrates and Tigris rivers flow through Iraq.
The country is effectively divided in to 2 regions – the southern and central areas under the control of the Central government, and the northern predominantly Kurdish areas which have their own government and operate almost as a separate nation from the rest of the country. North Iraq is actually one of the most stable areas in the region!
Long Term Opportunities
Members of the YWAM family have sustained an unbroken presence in Iraqi Kurdistan since 1993. The majority of the work has been carried out under the authority of an NGO - Non-Governmental Organization.
Opportunities for ministry:
- Prayer and Worship
- Reaching Out
- Making Disciples
- Discipleship Training Courses and Schools
- Teaching English as a Second Language
- Relief work with Refugees & Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
- Mental Health/Counseling
- Work with sick children
Development work is done with the permission of the Kurdish Government. Getting government approval for a project can be time consuming, but the process gives opportunities to learn more about Kurdish culture.
There are many “rules” about what women can’t do and many restrictions regarding male/female relations. Men and women are required to dress conservatively. There are limited recreational opportunities for women but we find ways to have fun!
The mountains in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq were home to 400 monasteries of the Ancient church of the East, of which a few remain active. The ancient Assyrian language is still used by Christians.
1.5 million internally displaced people, mainly Arabs from the south have fled to the safety of the Kurdish region in the north.
Corruption remains a huge problem, however Erbil is rapidly expanding and growing as foreign investors (mostly from the Gulf) continue to move in.
Important inventions such as the 60-minute hour and the 60-second minute, the wheel, the worlds first maps and accurate calendar, all originated in Iraq.
Iraqi’s have been bee-keeping for over 5,000 years.
The popular story of Alibaba and the Forty Thieves was written around 1,000 years ago in Iraq.
The oldest-known system of writing was developed around 3200 B.C, in Iraq and is known as cuneiform. What makes it unique is that instead of the alphabet, it used around 600 signs with each sign denoting a particular syllable or word.
In 1991, the largest natural wetlands of the Middle East, were destroyed under Saddam Hussein’s orders. These rich wetlands had been home to Ma’dan (marsh Arabs) for 5,000 years. Hussein had them drained as a punishment for rebelling against his rule.
Although most Kurds over the age of 30 know Arabic, they really prefer to speak Kurdish. There are 3 Kurdish dialects, which makes language learning even more complex! Currently there aren’t formal courses for learning Kurdish. Foreigners are required to hire private language helpers.
“Ni Roj” Language Learning Series is a good resource to use along with a language helper.
Another resource can be found at:
It is recommended that non-Arabic speakers complete 2 semesters at Kelsey Arabic School in Amman, Jordan, to get a good grounding in Arabic vocabulary and grammar.
People from a variety of nations are able to get a free 15-day visa upon entry. Please check the following website for a list of nations: http://www.gokurdistan.com/iraqi-kurdistan/visas/
After 15 days in the region, it is necessary to apply for a Resident Permit at the Directorate of Residence. Getting a Resident Permit (visa) must be done through work at an NGO, school, business or existing ministry. There are opportunities for teaching positions in secular schools, which also provide Resident Permits.
Cost of Living
Iraqi Kurdistan is not a cheap place to live and the cost of living continues to increase! The cheapest flats rent for $500 per month and renting a decent house starts at $600 per month. Singles cannot live alone. Monthly utilities are reasonable depending on usage.
A single should allow $1,200 - $1,500 per month. (Does not include travel expenses.)
A married couple should allow $1,800 - $2,000. A family of four should allow for more than $2,000.