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Under the former regime, an interim constitution provided for individual freedom of religion if it did not violate "morality and public order." However, in practice, the Saddam regime severely limited freedom of religion, repressed the Shi'a religious leadership, and sought to exploit religious differences for political purposes.
Islam is the majority religion in Iraq, though other religions are practiced. The Government exercised repressive measures against any religious groupings or organizations that were deemed as not providing full political and social support to the regime.
Although Shi'a Arabs are the largest religious group, Sunni Arabs dominated economic and political life during the Hussein regime. Sunni Arabs were at a distinct advantage in all areas of secular life. The Government also severely restricted or banned outright many Shi'a religious practices and for decades conducted a brutal campaign of murder, summary execution, arbitrary arrest, and protracted detention against religious leaders and followers of the majority Shi'a Muslim population and sought to undermine the identity of minority Christian (Assyrian and Chaldean) and Yazidi groups. The regime systematically killed senior Shi'a clerics, desecrated Shi'a mosques and holy sites, interfered with Shi'a religious education, and prevented Shi'a adherents from performing their religious rites.