Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Behind the Sunni-Shi'ite Divide

On MSNBC..."Dozens killed as Iraq militia clashes spread"...

Apparently the violence is escalating in Basra and southern Iraq. The Iraqi PM, Nouri al-Maliki [Shi'ite] is saying that the Shi'ite insurgents have 72 hours to surrender, or face a large scale "shoot-on-sight" kill off (my words). The Shi'ite insurgents are said to be supported from within Iran [90% Shi'ite].

I decided this morning that I wanted to fully understand the civil war in Iraq. Sunni, Shi'ite, Saddam was Sunni, Al-Qaeda is Sunni, Muqtada al-Sadr is Shi'ite, Iraq was under Sunni control (under Saddam), but they were/are in the minority as far as population. The Sunni controlled the Iraqi interim government at first, but they boycotted the "election" and only hold 5 seats to the Shi'a 15 seats. Now the government and ministers are largely Shi'ite. Al-Qaeda is Sunni, but the Sunni in Iraq don't support them. Even though the Shi'a represent 60% or more of the population fo Iraq, the Shi'a insurgents are mostly foreigners (funneling into Iraq through largely Sunni Syria), including Chechen [Shi'ite] rebels who are the most skilled and vicious due to their experience fighting against the Russian military. So the Shi'ite controlled government and the Shi'ite Militia of Muqtada al-Sadr are fighting against the foreign Shi'ite insurgents and Al-Qaeda, who are Sunni....? And Iran is supporting the Shi'ite militias that the largely Shi'ite Iraqi populace and Shi'ite Iraqi government is trying to eradicate....? I don't get it...

The only thing that is for sure is this:

The Sunni branch believes that the first four caliphs--Mohammed's successors--rightfully took his place as the leaders of Muslims. They recognize the heirs of the four caliphs as legitimate religious leaders. These heirs ruled continuously in the Arab world until the break-up of the Ottoman Empire following the end of the First World War.

Shi'ites, in contrast, believe that only the heirs of the fourth caliph, Ali, are the legitimate successors of Mohammed. In 931 the Twelfth Imam disappeared. This was a seminal event in the history of Shi'ite Muslims. According to R. Scott Appleby, a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, "Shi'ite Muslims, who are concentrated in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, [believe they] had suffered the loss of divinely guided political leadership" at the time of the Imam's disappearance. Not "until the ascendancy of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1978" did they believe that they had once again begun to live under the authority of a legitimate religious figure.


It's all very confusing. I'm still confused.

Here are two good internet resources I found:

Time/CNN Article :: Behind the Sunni-Shi'ite Divide

MilNet Brief :: Religious Differences: Sunni vs. Shi'ite

But I'm still confused. I'll report back if I figure anything out....

2 comments:

Red shoes said...

I have such love for the Sufi, the peaceful, much-stepped-upon, and generally-forgotten mystic sect of Islam, that the others make me quite sad...

msHedgehog said...

Juan Cole is good on this stuff.