The Iraqi diaspora in Germany and its role in reconstruction in Iraq

Menderes Candan, COMPAS Visiting Academic

At the beginning of 2003, Iraq experienced a fundamental regime change which initiated a process of reconstruction. Over nearly a decade this process has impacted all levels of the state, society, and economy. Given that a range of countries, such as US, UK, Germany, and international organizations including the UN, IOM, EU, and NGOs are involved in this process, I am interested in exploring whether the Iraqi diaspora also has a role in the reconstruction process. If so, how do they participate? And is their participation recognized by policy makers in their host countries?

Over the past three years, I have conducted fieldwork within Iraqi diaspora organizations in Germany. This involved analysing data from a range of secondary and primary sources, including more than 35 qualitative expert interviews with Iraqi organizations, Iraqi institutions, German politicians in the federal parliament, federal foreign office, political foundations and NGOs working in Iraq.

This research is beginning to show that there is an organized Iraqi diaspora in Germany, which has more than 110,000 members. An estimated 30,000 of whom are naturalized. Members of the Iraqi diaspora immigrated over the last 40 to 50 years to Germany, as students as well as refugees, subsequently establishing more than 60 diaspora organizations.

The organizations are ethnically, religiously and politically very heterogeneous. The main ethnic groups include: Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Mandains, and core  religious groups are Muslims-Shiites and Sunnites, Christians and Jesids. Each group have their own organizations and networks and most are characterized by  high levels of education, high social-economic status and active participation in international political, economic and socio-cultural networks.

Members of these communities tend to very active in the Iraqi reconstruction process, particularly in the following four areas:

  • Political: participation in Iraqi national debates (online and offline), lobbying for the participation of Germany in the reconstruction process and raising public awareness in Germany
  • Economic: remittances sent via formal and informal (f.e. hawala) channels, investments, business co-oporation between Iraqi and German companies, lobbying of German companies to invest in Iraq and direct transfer of ‘know-how’ and technology
  • Direct engagement: returnees hold key positions in government, business, higher education & research institutions, media and culture
  • Transfer of culture and art:sending of paintings, novels, romans and books, that were produced in the last decades in the diaspora into Iraq, helping to implement free art and diverse cultural projects in Iraq.

Furthermore, by conducting cultural projects in Germany, diaspora organizations help to preserve the Iraqi identity and culture in Germany

By acting in the transnational space between Germany and Iraq, the diaspora holds an important bridge function between Iraqi society, politics, economy and Germany. This can be seen in trade relations between both countries, where diaspora businessmen link German companies to Iraqi national markets.

Yet, Iraqi diaspora engagement still goes unnoticed by German policy makers. The potential political benefits which can result from co-operation with the Iraqi organizations in Germany are not fully realized. In the long run, all parties involved could benefit from diaspora engagement: not only diaspora communities themselves, but also sending and receiving countries such as Iraq and Germany.

I am currently doing research on Iraqis in the UK in order to provide a comparative perspective. Initial results show that the Iraqi diaspora in UK is also well organized and active in the reconstructive process in Iraq.

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