IS won’t be controlled without Sunni-Shiite reconciliation – 13 April 2015

A power-sharing agreement could help sides reconcile in age-old conflict Twelve years ago, a US invasion brought Iraq’s majority religious group, Shiite Muslims, to power after centuries of Sunni Muslim rule. For Iraqis, the religious divide goes beyond religious beliefs, with the sectarian divide seeping into ethnic and political dimensions as well. With Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims, and Kurds making up the bulk of religious and ethnic demographics in Iraq, the struggle to create a fair and sustainable power-sharing deal has proven to be the biggest challenge for a democratic Iraq.


A power-sharing deal seeking to bring together the disparate parts of the Iraqi population, would help to provide the unity needed to eliminate the Islamic State, who have played on these divides within the country to recruit followers from Iraq’s Sunni sect and secure territory in Sunni dominated areas of Iraq. Over half of Iraqis are Shiite, while most of the remainder of the population is split between Sunni Arabs and Kurds--though nobody is sure of how Iraq’s population is precisely divided demographically. However, among the Sunni population, any discussion of the Sunni population having lower numbers than the Shiite population can sparks fierce push back. The Sunnis will often claim that the numbers are falsified in a conspiracy against their community--a claim that would surely be similar if the same was said about the Shiites.

When the US left Iraq in 2011, then-Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, promoted an agenda that tended to heavily favor the Shiites, helping to create the disaffection among the Sunni allowing the Islamic State to sweep through the Sunni areas of Iraq with very little resistance. However, Iraq’s current prime minister has started to move in the direction of national reconciliation and unity--a move that has been met with resistance and mistrust on both sides among those who favor separation, with both fearing power grab by the other side.

The spokesperson for a prominent Shiite religious leader in Iraq, Ayatollah Mohamed Saeed al-Hakim, stated that “the problem is that the Sunni project in Iraq is not an autonomy project. The Sunni project is the project of strong central government-- because they want to come back and rule it.” Sunni leaders reflect similar sentiments, citing the persecution and marginalization of Sunnis in political life in the past decade. The imam of Baghdad’s Sunni Umm al-Tuboul mosque stated that “when the Americans came, they put the Shiites in power and the Sunnis in prison.” The imam., Mehdi al-Sumeidaie, was jailed by American forces in the Camp Bucca detention facility alongside current Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr Baghdadi.

Although the predominantly Sunni Islamic State militant group has certainly contributed to the sectarian tensions in Iraq amidst the continuation of violence and destruction in Iraq, the bigger problem lies in reconciling the Sunni and Shiite populations in order to unite control of the whole country. As long as the country is divided, IS will find a gap to exploit in its struggle to undermine the Iraqi government’s legitimacy.

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