Christine Huda Dodge, MEd, a Muslim educator and About.com's guide on Islam, explained the following in her online articles (accessed Jan. 26, 2007):
"Baghdad in Islamic History
In 634 A.D., the newly-created Muslim empire expanded into the region of Iraq, which at the time was part of the Persian Empire. Muslim armies, under the command of Khalid ibn Waleed, moved into the region and defeated the Persians. In about 762 A.D., the Abbasid dynasty took over rule of the vast Muslim world and moved the capital to the newly-founded city of Baghdad.
What's the Difference Between Shia and Sunni Muslims?
Both Sunni and Shia Muslims share the most fundamental Islamic beliefs and articles of faith. The differences between these two main sub-groups within Islam initially stemmed not from spiritual differences, but political ones. Over the centuries, however, these political differences have spawned a number of varying practices and positions which have come to carry a spiritual significance.
The division between Shia and Sunni dates back to the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and the question of who was to take over the leadership of the Muslim nation. Sunni Muslims agree with the position taken by many of the Prophet's companions, that the new leader should be elected from among those capable of the job. This is what was done, and the Prophet Muhammad's close friend and advisor, Abu Bakr, became the first Caliph of the Islamic nation. The word 'Sunni' in Arabic comes from a word meaning 'one who follows the traditions of the Prophet.'...
The Shia Muslims believe that following the Prophet Muhammad's death, leadership should have passed directly to his cousin/son-in-law, Ali. Throughout history, Shia Muslims have not recognized the authority of elected Muslim leaders, choosing instead to follow a line of Imams which they believe have been appointed by the Prophet Muhammad or God Himself. The word 'Shia' in Arabic means a group or supportive party of people. The commonly-known term is shortened from the historical 'Shia-t-Ali,' or 'the Party of Ali.' They are also known as followers of 'Ahl-al-Bayt' or 'People of the Household' (of the Prophet)...
It is important to remember that despite all of these differences in opinion and practice, Shia and Sunni Muslims share the main articles of Islamic belief and are considered by most to be brethren in faith. In fact, most Muslims do not distinguish themselves by claiming membership in any particular group, but prefer to call themselves simply, 'Muslims.'"
Glen Rangwala, PhD, Lecturer in Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge, wrote in an Aug. 2002 article titled "Iraq and the West: The Politics of Confrontation," published by Understanding Global Issues:
"Christians are the largest religious minority in Iraq. They are mostly
descended from those who did not convert to Islam after the 7th
century, and are subdivided between Chaldeans (linked to Catholicism),
Nestorians (also called Assyrians), Jacobites and Eastern Orthodox.
They are allowed to practice their religion freely: Tariq Aziz, still
deputy prime minister, is himself a Chaldean Christian."
Mitchell Bard, Executive Director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, wrote in "The Jews of Iraq," published online by the Jewish Virtual Library in 2004:
"One of the longest surviving Jewish communities still lives in Iraq. In 722 B.C.E., the northern tribes of Israel were defeated by Assyria and some Jews were taken to what is now known as Iraq. A larger community was established in 586 B.C.E., when the Babylonians conquered the southern tribes of Israel and enslaved the Jews.
During these centuries under Muslim rule, the Jewish Community had it's ups and downs. By World War I, they accounted for one third of Baghdad's population. Yet, following the end of the British mandate, the 2,700-year-old Iraqi Jewish community suffered horrible persecution, particularly as the Zionist drive for a state intensified.
Today, approximately 35 Jews live in Baghdad, and a handful more in the Kurdish-controlled northern parts of Iraq."