Officially, Iraq is a colorblind society that in the tradition of Prophet Muhammad treats Black people with equality and respect. 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.
Historians say that most African-Iraqis arrived as slaves from East Africa as part of the Arab slave trade starting about 1,400 years ago. They worked in southern Iraq’s salt marshes and sugar cane fields. Though slavery — which in Iraq included Arabs as well as Africans — was banned in the 1920s, it continued until the 1950s, African-Iraqis say.