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Iraqi Expat

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq

There is a long history of disagreements, conflicts and repression between Sunnis and Shiites in general; but I am not going to talk about that. If you are a Sunni or Shiite, then I am not going to convince you that the other sector is more right; and if you are not a Muslim and interested, then I am sure that you will find a lot of online resources that covers both point of views and you will also find some impartial ones to understand it more clearly.

The Sunnis of Iraq are unlike the Sunnis of other Arab nations, they are more understanding and respectful of Shiites; e.g. Sunnis of Iraq wouldn’t use the name Yazid, who sent an Army that killed Imam Al Hussein in Karbala; however, in Jordan they have a road in his name. Sunnis in many Sunni-dominated Arab nations (even not Wahhabists) consider Shiites as kuffar (unbelievers).

I lived in Iraq for 24 years and I had many friends, Sunnis and Shiites. The fact that someone is a Sunni or a Shiite was irrelevant; however, the fact that someone is related to Saddam, his thugs or the government was very much relevant. We lived together as Iraqis and I couldn’t care less if my friend was a Shiite or a Sunni; however, I would care if that friend – whether Shiite or Sunni - is extremists and or discriminates.

When I lived there, i.e. 70s to mid-90s, there were few fundamentalists and they were more likely to be Shiites than Sunnis. I remember I heard a Shiite saying that he would rather marry a Jewish girl - with all due respect - than a Sunni girl! There few who have strong views about Sunni / Shiite split. There were some Sunnis who don’t like Shiites, and some Shiites who don’t like Sunnis; but that was not a general view.

However, in late 90s Saddam encouraged Wahhabism which changed that, since Wahhabists are the very extremists and they are very hostile to Shiites; they basically consider them Kuffar. But then again, most Iraqis didn’t become Wahhabists and they continued their normal (if it was considered normal) lives.

Since most Baathists - including Saddam, his thugs and government - were mainly Sunnis, as well as most of the beneficiaries; less Sunnis and more Shiites were oppressed. But that doesn’t mean Sunnis were not oppressed, the rules applied to every Iraqi citizen! Saddam ordered the killing of his Sunni sons-in-law and cousins, he crushed the rebellion in Al Anbar in 1995, he ordered the execution of thousands of his opponents and hundreds of businessmen (Sunnis and Shiites). He was the law and no one was above the law!

Nevertheless, there was prejudice, especially when dealing with the government; e.g. if a Sunni commits a minor error, he/she will be forgiven; but a Shiite will be given a lesson so that he/she won’t repeat the error. Hence, the massacre of Shiites in 1991 to crush the uprising and give them a lesson. The Shiites also struggled during the Iraq-Iran war, they lost many men as most of the front lines where Shiites and they lived in a bad conditions. Naturally, the Shiites felt discriminated against by the Sunni government; the Sunni government even encouraged discrimination, but that doesn’t mean they were discriminated against by all the Sunnis.

After the war, people wanted to play down the Sunni / Shiite split, thousands of Sunnis and Shiites demonstrated to show unity; but the MSM kept using that card. I bet you if you can find a news a broadcast that mentioned Iraq and didn’t use the word Shiite or Sunni! They wouldn’t say two Iraqis died in Baghdad, but they say two Shiites or Sunnis died; they wouldn’t say a bomb exploded in a residential area in southern Baghdad, they say the bomb exploded in a Shiite residential area and so on.

That created or widened the rift which was small at the end of the war and it was easy to repair, or at least that’s what I think. After the words being mentioned so much, some Sunnis became defensive; they say they hate Saddam, they were oppressed, etc. like they have to prove that they want the change and that the government did not discriminate. The government did discriminate, but it didn’t spare anyone from persecution and hardship, as well as the damage inflicted on the whole country!

Then came the Wahhabism and Saddam loyalists, and they targeted more Shiites than Sunnis, which was not helping, but Sunnis were also getting killed! Then Al Hakim - ridiculously - offered Iran 100 billion in compensation for the Iraq-Iran war which made the Sunnis afraid of his loyalty and an Iran-Style Iraq; but the Shiites were also afraid of Iran-Style Iraq! Then Al Sadr and his thugs rebelled!

All this widened the rift and some Sunnis and Shiites start using the words Sunnis and Shiites indiscriminately. Prejudice is very dangerous; Sunnis attack Shiites and their Mullahs to show because they are afraid of Iran-Style Iraq, which most Shiites disapprove; Shiites attack Sunnis and Wahhabists to show their disapproval of the insurgency, which most Sunnis disapprove too.

Just like Al Sadr has supporters, the insurgency has supporters; just like the Wahhabists want a Taliban-Style Iraq, some Shiites want Iran-Style Iraq. But those are not the majority of Sunnis or the majority of Shiites; those are few fundamentalists and we shouldn’t consider every Shiite an Iranian and every Sunni a Wahhabist. The majority of both sectors want secular government.

I hate Al Thari and his terrorist; I hate Al Sadr and his thugs; and I don’t like Al Hakim and his theocracy and loyalty to Iran; but I respect Al Sistani and Al Jaafari, even though Al Jaafari wouldn’t be my first choice. So, what does that make me? A Shiite? A Sunni? A Secular, I say!

I left Iraq in mid-90s, and at the time the rift wasn’t this bad. I don’t know what happened between the time I left and the war; but I know that we all want the same things. We all want freedom, democracy, security, prosperity, etc. Why do we have to be so doubtful of each other? So afraid of each other? There will always be someone who will misbehave, why do we generalise? I know it will take time and education and I know that not all Iraqis do generalise their views; but there are those who do, and we mustn’t let them, Sunnis or Shiites.

If someone asks me where are you from? I say Iraq. What’s your religion? I say Islam. I never say I am a Sunni or a Shiite, unless being asked specifically, which is rare! Aren’t we all Iraqis? Isn’t Iraq what we all care about? Isn’t freedom and democracy we want?

In the long term I hope that a person will not be in a certain job because he or she is Shiite or Sunni, but because he or she is the best qualified person for that job. I know this will not be easy and it is not possible now; but with time and education, I hope that we will somehow be as close as possible to achieving it.

Prejudice is cancer, if we let it, it will destroy us.


Blogger Steven Giacomelli said...

Good Post and Great Anaylsis

Racism has no place in a modern society, especially a democratic one.

March 24, 2005 10:48 pm  
Blogger KT said...

Good post. Some people don't get it though that life isn't about them and theirs and that we are all one.

March 25, 2005 1:30 am  
Blogger Brian H said...

Actually, you are too tolerant of racism. What you say is "not possible now" had better become true long before you imply. Nepotism and sectarian hiring and division of spoils can reduce your public life to a tribal contest very quickly. I'm sure there will be laws against it on the books; they must be enforced even where it causes upset and scandal. Or your countrymen will all be very sorry -- or angry, or both.

March 25, 2005 9:08 am  
Blogger Fayrouz said...


Thank you for info about how Shia are viewed in other Muslim countries. I never knew that piece of information before!

I agree the MSM trapped us in the secterian mentality. I for one answer people that I'm an Iraqi.

I'm so tired of the arguments I've read on Zeyad's comments section during the last few days. It makes me so sad to see us fighting over who is better than the other. It's not fair for Iraq that needs us all.

March 25, 2005 5:17 pm  
Anonymous timothy said...

This is a very important subject.I think the Sunni's are killing the Shiites and in turn the Americans are getting the blame as the press just lines it up as -"Insurgents Kill again".The sad thing is-the public believes it

March 28, 2005 12:47 am  
Blogger littlewhy said...

You Wrote:

"In the long term I hope that a person will not be in a certain job because he or she is Shiite or Sunni, but because he or she is the best qualified person for that job. I know this will not be easy... "

You are a dreamer! I admire that, but I can't think of anywhere on earth where the best qualified has much to do with anything.

I think the problem in the Sunni areas is that a few tens of thousands are keeping millions under control. A small, organized armed group of killers can keep huge numbers of unorganized people under their control...look at the Mahdis and their (former) control over Najaf. Or the way the Mafia controls the garment district in New York City. But since the thugs control and power is all in the "Sunni Triangle" one gets the mistaken impression that the Sunnis universally support and protect the terrorists, Al Qaeda, etc. I'd be interested to read the comments at healingiraq but for some reason I can't download them, so if one of you bloggers would write a report about what goes on there? Just for me? :)

March 28, 2005 1:55 am  
Blogger Ahmad said...

I read the comments on Zeyad's blog. It is very sad!

I might be a dreamer, but we must get as close as possible to this dream.

I am well aware that there is no place on earth where it applies and I am not asking for an exception. What we have at the moment is that each job has some ethnic requirement (e.g. PM must be Shiite, deputy must be Sunni and so on). This will continue for a some time, but I hope that it doesn't continue forever! That's all I am hoping for.

March 28, 2005 1:09 pm  
Anonymous www.nonsoloescort.com said...

Surely, the dude is absolutely fair.

July 22, 2011 7:17 am  
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