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The threat of sectarian conflict in Iraq


As the Ummah has watched developments in Iraq since the US invasion, many have been aware of the potential for sectarian discord.

As the Ummah has watched developments in Iraq since the US invasion, many have been aware of the potential for sectarian discord. The fact that the Iraqi Muslim community is divided into three major sections, Shi’as, Arab Sunnis and Kurdish Sunnis, is an undeniable reality of Iraqi society, much as some idealists would like to argue that we should talk only of Iraqi Muslims, regarding all subdivisions as irrelevant. The US has also been aware of these divisions and sought to exploit them.

At the time of the first assault on Falluja in April this year, there was widespread support and solidarity for its people, who are mainly Sunnis, from all parts of the country. This time, there have been accusations that Shi’as have not been as outspoken as they might have been, with some going so far as to accuse the Shi’as of “selling out” to the Americans. It is unfortunately true that some Shi’a leaders have not been as vocal as they might have been, influenced perhaps by a number of factors. These include traditional Shi’i attitudes that all political order is illegitimate, and that a constitutional order, however illegitimate, is somehow better and easier to work with than disorder. Having said that, Muqtada al-Sadr inside Iraq, Imam Khamenei in Iran and Shaikh Hasan Nasrallah in Lebanon have certainly been forthright and unequivocal in their support of the Fallujah resistance.

The Shi’i attitudes have probably also been influenced by the fact that the Sunni resistance groups in Falluja include Salafis who are themselves very anti-Shi’i. There have been several reports of attacks on Shi’as (as well as non-Salafi Sunnis) in Falluja while the city was under resistance control, and some fighters leaving the city have been involved in murderous attacks on Shi’as elsewhere. Outside Iraq too, such groups have been active in whipping up hatred against Iraqi Shi’as, including false reports that Ayatullah Sistani had issued a fatwa in support of the attack on Falluja and calls for the assassination of Iraqi Shi’i leaders.

There is a tendency for Muslims in the rest of the world to see events such as those in Iraq as opportunities for Islamic movements. This is certainly true. However, they are also temptations for movements to make great errors. All parties in Iraq seem to be in danger of allowing the country to slide into sectarian conflict, which our enemies would certainly welcome, however vocally they may condemn it. All Islamic movements in Iraq, but particularly those who are best established and have the greatest support, have a massive responsibility for stepping away from this abyss. Those in Iraq’s Shi’i community in particular must show wisdom in ensuring that those who are a minority even within the Sunni community are not allowed to set the agenda for community relations in Iraq. All those on all sides who understand that such sectarianism is the worst possible mistake the Ummah can make must come together to marginalise and defeat those few who thrive on it.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 10

Shawwal 18, 14252004-12-01

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