But on the packed dirt streets of Zubayr, Iraq’s scaled-down version of Harlem, African-Iraqis talk of discrimination so steeped in Iraqi culture that they are commonly referred to as “abd”–slave in Arabic–prohibited from interracial marriage and denied even menial jobs.
Recently, they have begun to campaign for recognition as a minority population, which would grant them the same benefits as Christians, including reserved seats in Parliament.
“Black people here are living in fear,” said Jalal Dhiyab Thijeel, an advocate for the country’s estimated 1.2 million African-Iraqis. “We want to end that.”
On a recent weekday afternoon, a group of black children and adults wearing flip-flops stood in a dirt field waiting for cars to drive up so they could wash them.
It is their only source of income, they said, because no one will hire them.