Note: This is the third article in a series about searching for people in Arabic- language records. Our focus this time is on searching Iraqi names. You can find the first article on Arabic names here and the second article on naming conventions in Gulf states here.
In our last post in this series, we explained the nuances of naming conventions in the Arabic-speaking countries of the Persian Gulf. In this post, we tackle naming conventions in a country with its own distinctive practices: Iraq.
Iraq has struggled in recent years to combat corruption, money laundering, terror financing, and other risk issues. As a result, conducting robust due diligence checks is a vital part of doing business in Iraq. Understanding how Iraqi names are structured will help researchers more effectively conduct these checks.
The Nasab in Iraqi Names
The nasab is a series of male names that indicates a person’s heritage. In the Gulf, these names are commonly separated by the words bin or bint, meaning son and daughter, respectively. However, this construction is not common in Iraq. Take the example of Saddam Hussein, the former president of Iraq:
صدام حسين عبد المجيد التكريتي
Saddam Hussein Abdel Majid Al Takriti
Bin does not appear as an element of Saddam’s legal name. This obscures the point at which the patronymic ends and the family name begins. In the Gulf, we might assume that Abdel Majid is the name of Saddam’s grandfather. In Iraq, this isn’t necessarily the case.
The name ‘Abdel Majid’ itself is a potential source of confusion, too. In Arabic, there are a handful of names that are frequently transliterated as two words in English despite being considered one name in Arabic. Names that begin with ‘Abdel’—such as Abdel Rahman and Abdel Majid—are examples.
Family Names in Iraq
There are two types of family names used in Iraq. The first is the equivalent of a surname, while the second derives from the area of Iraq that your family originally hails from. For example, Abdel Majid serves as Saddam’s surname, while Al-Tikriti indicates that his extended family is originally from the Tikrit area. The same phenomenon occurs in the legal name of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS:
إبراهيم عواد البدري السمرائي
Ibrahim Awad Al-Badry Al-Sammara’i
Ibrahim, the son of Awad, is a member of the Al-Badry family unit, and his extended family hails from the city of Samarra, Iraq.
These second, region-based surnames often do not appear on official documents. Researchers should take this fact into account when trying to identify individuals in Iraq. Avoid using quotation marks to mandate a specific order to the elements of an individual’s name or risk missing valid hits.
It is also common for Iraqis to use a two- or three-part name in daily life that consists of their given name, father’s name, and in some cases, their grandfather’s name. This practice partially explains why Saddam was known first and foremost as Saddam Hussein, not Saddam Abdel Majid or Saddam Al-Tikriti. However, it is unlikely that an individual would be listed in official documents using only a two-part name; the three-part name is far more common in public records.
Other Nuances of Iraqi Names
Iraq is home to many minority ethnic groups, each of which may have their own naming conventions. While these groups are small—many number fewer than 200,000—it’s important that analysts are alert for these distinctions.
The largest minority group in Iraq, the Kurds, have largely adopted Arabic naming conventions. For example, an analyst could use her understanding of Arabic Iraqi naming conventions to derive two data points from the Kurdish name Haval Diaco Barzani listed on a corporate record. First, he is a member of the Barzani family. Second, his father’s first name is Diaco.
Additionally, in Iraq it is not common for women to take their husband’s last names following marriage.
Whether you’re conducting a know-your-customer (KYC) check or researching terror financing networks in Iraq, it is crucial to search several combinations of the name of the individual you’re looking for. Bear in mind that individuals may not use certain elements of their names on official documents—such as their larger regional family names—and that what appears to be a patronymic may actually be a family name in disguise.
Photo credit: Chatham House