You know, I thought I had this Iraq thing pretty much figured out, after reading The Shi’is of Iraq, most of Charles Tripp’s A History of Iraq, and innumerable newspaper and magazine stories. Sunni Kurds in the north (riven by internal dissension), Sunni Arabs in the center, Shi’i Arabs in the south (long oppressed, some “swamp Arabs” in reed huts dating from Sumerian times), Baghdad a mixture of everything, Jews formerly an ancient and important element of the population but expelled after the foundation of Israel. Oh, and some Turkomans up north. Then I got to page 151 of Tripp and found this description of the megalomaniac dictator du jour (the jour being the late ’50s and early ’60s), General ‘Abd al-Karim Qasim (aka Kassem): “Qasim… came from a modest background and from a family which was more representative of the diversity of Iraq’s varied population than that of most of his brother officers (his father was a Sunni Arab from Baghdad, but his mother was a Faili (Shi’i) Kurd).”
Faili? I searched my Islamic reference works in vain; Google, as so often, saved the day, and I am here to report that “The area around Kirkuk and south to Khanaqin is the preserve of the Faili Kurds, who, unlike the majority of Kurds, are Shias.” They have had a rough time of it (deported in the early ’70s and again, much more brutally and extensively, in 1980), and needless to say they have their own website. From the latter we learn, concerning the origin of the name:
The Faili (Fayli or Pahli) Kurds are an integral part of the great Kurdish people and they speak the Kurdish language in the Laurie and Laki (dialect) accent. The roots of the Faili Kurds go back to the Indo-Aryan (Europeans) immigrants of the first millennium BC…
As for the name of (Faili), there is more than one explanation. In his book (The lexicon of countries, in Arabic Mujam al-Buldan) Yaqout Al-Hamawi mentions in 13th century that the Failis are those who reside the mountains separating Iran and Iraq. In addition, that they are as huge as elephants, the word fil means elephant in Arabic. Another explanation goes to a different direction as it says that the name belong to the ruler of the mentioned area. The historical fact on the root of the name of the Pahli is fully clear. As M.R. Izady notes in his book (The Kurds: A Concise Handbook, London, 1992) the territory inhabited by the Faili, Pahli, Fayli Kurds was known as “Pahla” meaning Parthia since the 3rd century AD. The Arabic texts recorded the name as FAHLA or BAHLA, Arabic lacks the letter “P” from Fahla and it has since then evolved to Faila and later Faili.
Take that for what it’s worth. At any rate, Iraq, like the world in general, is a complicated place. I just thought you’d want to know.