History of Iraq (and Middle East)

…as recorded by outsiders. To put it briefly (if unfairly) it is Sunnis against Sunnis (as in Egypt) and Sunnis against Shias (as in Iraq and Syria). Everyone is playing to win by annihilating the other. And in doing so, the hapless minorities (mostly Christians) will be crushed as well.

What is interesting to know that the heart of Shi-ism is actually Iraq, not Iran. If Dilip Hero is correct all Shia Imams have been Arabs so far. Can anyone confirm this?

Finally how will all this look from South Asia? Right now it is a nightmare with all the nurses and construction workers who are trapped between the devil and the deep sea. The only worse thing that can happen is if an off-shore branch of the ISIS (ISIL) opens in India and continues with the mayhem (it will probably come to Pakistan first). That is one scary thought.

Though well meaning, the repeated incantation of the inclusive mantra
fails to take into account the historic chasm between Sunnis and
Shias, or the conflict between the Egyptian state and the Muslim
since its establishment 88 years ago. 

policymakers should ponder the Protestant-Catholic divide in
Northern Ireland dating back to 1689 when Protestant King William of
Orange fought Catholic King James II
in Ireland. Political
reconciliation between the two communities came after three
centuries in 1997.


Whereas the Shia credo consists of five basic principles, the Sunnis
have three. Shias and Sunnis share the religious duties of daily
prayers, fasting during Ramadan, paying Islamic tithe and alms tax,
and undertaking the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca; Shias add loving the
Shia imams. Shia emotionalism finds outlets in mourning imams
at their shrines: Ali, assassinated; Hassan, poisoned; and Hussein,
killed in battle. Sunni Islam offers no such outlets for adherents.


Sunnis regard religious activities as the exclusive domain of the Muslim
state. When the ulema, or religious scholars, act as judges,
preachers or educators they do so under the state aegis. By
contrast, in Shia Iran, the leading religious figures, titled grand
ayatollahs, being recipients of the Islamic tithe from their
followers, maintain theological colleges and social welfare
activities independent of the state.


Contrary to popular belief, which holds Iran as the fountainhead of Shia
Islam, it was Mesopotamia, later called Iraq, that was the bastion
of this sect. All of 12 Shia imams were ethnic Arabs.


The ownership of Iraq alternated between the competing Sunni Ottoman
Empire and the Shia Persian Empire until 1638 when the Ottomans
annexed it. 
This put the Sunnis, a minority in Iraq, in control.
They treated Shias as second-class citizens. This continued after
the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. Faisal bin Hussein,
foisted on Iraq as king in 1921 by Britain, as the Mandate Power,
was a Sunni. After the anti-royalist military coup in 1958, power
passed to Colonel Abdul Karim Qasim, whose father was Sunni and
mother Shia. He was assassinated five years later.

The seizure of power by the Baath Socialist Party led by General
Ahmad Hassan Bakr, a Sunni, in 1968, put the minority sect firmly
in control. This continued under Saddam Hussein, his nephew, from
1979 onward. When the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran emboldened
Iraqi ayatollahs to speak up on behalf of their persecuted
followers, Saddam brutally quashed Shia protest.


Against this background, US President George W. Bush invaded Iraq in
March 2003 and overthrew Saddam’s regime. The 24-member Interim
Iraqi Governing Council, nominated in July by the US-led coalition,
reflected the sectarian/ethnic composition. The election to the
Council of Representatives in 2005 under the new constitution, held
under universal suffrage, exercised to the full, resulted in
majority Shias gaining office.


Sunni discontent swelled. By 2007, sectarian violence threatened to
escalate into civil war. But the Sunni tribal leaders’ severance of
links with the Al Qaeda in Iraq and an infusion of additional US
soldiers lowered Sunni-Shia tensions.


When Maliki became prime minister after the 2010 poll, he allocated
himself the additional ministries of defence and interior. He
appointed Shias to security posts, and squeezed out Sunni generals
and leading politicians. In the April general election, his party
won 92 seats on a popular vote of 24 percent, well ahead of the
next group with 7 percent of the vote.


Whereas the Sunni-Shia division emanates from religious history, the
tensions between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian government
are institutional. The Brotherhood was established in 1928 as youth
club to bring about moral and social reform, but was politicized
in 1939 by the accelerated arrival of the Jewish immigrants in
Palestine under the British Mandate. 

The Brotherhood reinvented
itself as “a Sunni way, a Sufi truth, a political organization, a
scientific and cultural union, and an economic enterprise.”

The Brotherhood expanded exponentially during World War II with
500,000 members. Its volunteers fought in the First Arab Israeli
War in 1948.  Blaming Egypt’s political establishment for the
debacle in that conflict, the Brotherhood resorted to subversive
activities and was outlawed by the government in 1948. The ban was
lifted in 1950, and the Brotherhood was allowed to function as a
religious body. Its opposition to secular policies of the military
government led by Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser led to another ban in

Over the next six decades the Brotherhood’s fortunes have fluctuated,
with periods of brutal repression by the state relieved briefly by
uneasy tolerance.

Reversing Nasser’s policies, President Anwar Sadat (1970-1981) promised
that the Sharia would be the chief source of legislation. He
released Brotherhood prisoners, but fearful of its popular appeal,
he denied it license to contest the 1976 election. Two years later,
when he agreed to make peace with Israel without addressing the
crucial Palestinian problem, Brotherhood leaders turned against
him. In October 1981 four Islamist soldiers, belonging to a
militant jihadist group formed by Brotherhood defectors,
assassinated him.

After an intense drive to crush Islamic militants, President Hosni
Mubarak engaged ulema to re-educate the imprisoned Brethren and
other Islamists, two fifths of whom were university graduates or
students. After the 9/11 attacks, pressured by Bush to democratize
his regime, Mubarak allowed the Brotherhood to contest one-third of
the parliamentary seats in 2005. It won 60 percent of the races.
Mubarak flagrantly rigged the poll in 2010.

The 2005 blip in Mubarak’s fiercely anti-Brotherhood policy did not
mitigate decades-long coaching of security forces and intelligence
agencies to treat the Brotherhood as their number one enemy. It was
therefore unrealistic to expect officers of these agencies to
reorient overnight and serve a Brotherhood leader.

Against this backdrop of deep-seated division, the chance of the Obama
administration’s call for inclusiveness finding receptive ears is as
remote in Iraq today as it was with Morsi in Egypt. The historic
conflict will play out much longer and outlast the patience of
western democracies.


Link: http://www.outlookindia.com/printarticle.aspx?291122


Brown Pundits