Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sunni, Shia, & Kurds

In one of the comments that were left on a prior post it is mentioned that the technocrats are mainly Sunni because Saddam's regime favored them over the others. I want to mention a few historical facts to try and shed light on a common belief that I believe needs to be fixed. Let me start by saying that Saddam Husain is a tyrannical dictator that would not think twice to kill anyone that crossed him or challenged him or posed any risk to his power. He harmed the Iraqi people, Kurd, Shia and Sunni alike and was ruthless in doing so. Saddam was just in one thing and that was distributing his wrath.

To say that his regime was a Sunni regime however is not entirely true. Of the 55 deck of cards that US forces distributed of the senior Iraqi leadership 35 or 36 were Shia. The majority of the Baath Party members were Shia, one of the largest branches of which used to be named Al-Thawra and which many of you now know as Sadr City. What was overturned in 2003 was not a Sunni regime but a tribal or clan based kleptocracy and what truly changed is the Ottoman system that the original Iraqi State was built upon (the remnants of the Ottoman Empire). This system included the officer corps as well as the bourgeoisie and other classes.

In reality, the reason that many of Iraq's middle class was Sunni is a demographic and historic issue more than a political one. The Sunni composed the majority of urban residents in the center and north who were merchants, officers, politicians, etc. whereas the population in the south have historically been rural farmers and marsh dwellers. This is one of the primary reasons that there are specific classes of people. It is also of note that the secular Shia are the ones that lived in places like Kadhmiyyah who were the well off urban class. I am mentioning this to undermine the somewhat simplistic posture of a Saddam's government was a Sunni one. This is not to say that he did not begin a purge of Shia professionals post 1991 after the Intifadha uprising, which he did sometimes with impunity but simultaneously one of the major problems in the Sunni street is its disarray and that is because Saddam killed off all of its effective leadership and did not allow parties to form or other civil society groups, specifically I recall an incident when he gathered some of the prime sheikhs of Anbar and killed them off because they were perceived to be against him.

In the end, these artificial divisions in the Iraqi population have been entrenched to the degree that instead of looking at professional Iraqis as Iraqis we have to refer to them as Sunni, Shia or Kurd, and so long as we do so we will not realize the dream of an advanced Iraq where all can compete fairly based on their ability and not their sectarian or ethnic identity.


yelling_at_the_radio said...

Very informative post, thank you.

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Anonymous said...

Hi. John from California here. Just a few questions. In the west, it has been a long time since people have taken up arms against one another due to geographic location (sunni area vs shia) or religious affiliation, again,(sunni area vs shia)except for the northern Ireland conflict. Is there any future for the Iraqi people as long as it appears they hold more strongly to clan, or geograpic/religious affiliation than a national identity (being primarily Iragi over any other differences between persons there? I am a citizen of the City of Orange, County of Orange, State of California, Christian vs other belief but in my (non-personal-non-religious life) none of that even compares to being a citizen of the US of America 1st and formost - a national citizen. We don't take up arms against one another in the City, County, State or within the Nation (since the Civil War over succession of the Southern States - resulting in the North vanquishing the South to re-join the Nation. Since both the Shia and the Sunni are continuing to try to vanquish each other using non-governmental armies, along with Al-Quida, what do you feel will need to happen among the factions of citizens, the government, and non-Iraqi groups such as Al-Quida before there can be any real end to the fighting and nation building can begin?

I look forward to hearing from you.

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