1st Iraq census in decades skips religion details

Baghdad, Iraq - Iraq will hold its first nationwide census in more than two decades in October, but Iraqis will not have to report which religious sect they belong to, a senior government official said Tuesday.

The census form will ask about ethnicity and religion but not about a person's specific sect, said Mahdi al-Alaq, head of the Central Statistics Authority. Muslims, for example, will not have to specify whether they are Shiite or Sunni.

After decades of repression, Iraq's majority Shiites rose to power with the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein. Much of the insurgency that followed was driven by the once-dominant Sunnis who felt disenfranchised. And militants from both communities drove the country to the brink of civil war in 2006.

"The upcoming census is designed to serve planning and economic development. It has nothing to do with politics," al-Alaq told The Associated Press. "We are not going to ask about who is Shiite and who is Sunni."

The Oct. 24 census will be the first since 1987. A census held 10 years later was incomplete because it excluded the three semiautonomous Kurdish provinces.

Some 25,000 government workers will fan out across the country to collect information, while a nationwide curfew will be in force on the day, al-Alaq said.

Preliminary results will be announced in November, but complete figures, including breakdowns of religious and ethnic groups, will not be available until July 2010, he said.

Iraq's population is estimated at around 27 million, but al-Alaq said the October census will likely reveal that it is about 31 million.