Tag Archives: Iraq

Political Sectarianism in the Middle East

Sectarian violence in middle east has been on the rise in the past 12 months. This has been particularly obvious  in Iraq has been escalating in the past 12 months, with over 21 people killed in bombings around the capital Baghdad in the last week and in the neighbours of Syria.

The Sunni/Shia divide is often pitched as conflict of religion, leaving out the deep political history that governs the tensions. The creation of these two streams of Islam were themselves created over a disagreement over the choice of political leader.

The divide is used to political advantage by those who benefit from creating animosity between communities. . For instance in Syria were the majority of rebels are Sunni Muslim, and Saudi Arabia the most powerful Sunni country is a major source of support. But in Bahrain, where the majority of the population in Shia, and the political elite is Sunni, Saudi in that case protects the political establishment.

On Tuesday (21st Jan) a Shia delegate, Ahmad Sharafeddin in Yemen was shot dead on his way to reconciliation talks. According to Reuters, Sharafeddin who was dean of law at Saana University was a member of the Houthi Shia separatist group that opposing the current pro-American Yemeni government. Another Houthi leader accused Sunni militants.

On the same day, a bomb exploded in a Shia dominated neighbourhood in Beiruit in Lebanon, killing at least 4 people and injuring many others. Sectarian tensions have been heightened because of Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian crisis.

Hezbollah, a Shia militant group, has been supporting Syrian president Assad. Iran, the largest Shia majority country, also supports Assad. Assad’s government is dominated by a small Islamic minority sect, Alawi, but the majority of the country are Sunni and supported by Saudi Arabia. The regional involvement in Syria is inflaming sectarian tensions in the already dividing Lebanon.

The cold war played a huge role in exacerbating the conflict as the Americans and Soviets manipulated tensions in order to gain support in the region. Shia majority countries such as Iran have Russia (post-revolution 1979), while Saudi Arabia and other Sunni majority countries allied with America.

Sunni Islam is hugely in the majority and is now very divided in its relationship with the US. Sunni Muslims make up it’s closest allies (Saudi, Egypt, Yemen) and those it believes to be its greatest threats, Al-Qaeda and similar groups. How America’s foreign policy has created enemies from allies is a topic for a different article but there long political history in play is often ignored not only in journalism but in academia as well. The post-colonial aspect also receives insufficient attention.

By portraying conflict between Sunni and Shia communities in the Middle East as a purely religious one presents a flawed picture without context. It is a sectarian issue, but also a nationalistic one, a class-based one and one of old political loyalties. Conflict is meaningless without context.

But much of mainstream media wishes to do just that, to portray Muslims as inherently, religiously fundamentalist and bigoted and ignore the blame that lies without outside actors’ political manipulation.

World News 26/9/2013

Updated 11:30 GMT

IRAQ: A number of bombs have detonated in a town outside Baghdad today killing at least 20 people today. Reports are varying between news agencies but at least 3 bombs  were detonated near markets in the town of Sabaa al-Bour 30km north of the capital. 

Al Jazeera claims that “Four bombs in the Saba al-Bur area north of Baghdad killed at least 15 people, while another bomb blast in a market in the Dura area of south Baghdad”. 

AP and Reuters say there were only three bombs but disagree on whether the neighbourhoods were majority Shia or Sunni.


World News 21/9/2013

21:50 UTC

The Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has released a statement saying that at least 39 people were killed and 150 injured in the attack on Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi by a Somali militant group with ties to al-Qaida. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack via Twitter two hours ago.

Mr Kenyatta also told Reuters that he had lost close family members in the attack but that Kenya would defeat these terrorists.

Al-Shabab had threatened an attack on Nairobi in revenge of Kenyan presence in Somalia. Kenyan troops were serving as peacekeepers in Somalia. Seven hostages are said to be being held in a supermarket that five gunmen have barricaded themselves into.

In Scotland, there is said to have been at least 20,000 people at a pro-Independence rally in Edinburgh today. Scotland’s First Minister said that an independent Scotland would disarm nuclear weapons and keep Royal Mail public.

19:20 UTC

The Somali militant group al-Shabab claims that it is responsible for today’s Nairobi Westgate shopping mall attack. The group had threatened action against Kenya earlier in the year and is known to have links to al-Qaida. It confirmed its involvement via Twitter.

The Kenyan President says that at least one of the gunmen from the attack has been arrested.  Kenya’s Red Cross are saying that at least 30 people are being reported dead and 60 injured. US state departments says that this includes some Americans.

18:15 UTC

It is now thought that up to 51 people were killed in the funeral bombing today and as many as 70 injured.

17:15 UTC

A suicide bomber has crashed into a funeral tent full of mourner in the Sadr area of Baghdad. The victims were Shia and police are saying that up to 30 people were killed and up to 50 injured.  This attack comes only hours after 7 police officers were killed in Baiji.

More than 400 people have been killed so far since September began in the rising levels of violence in Iraq.

Todays violence comes as northern Kurdish Iraqis vote for greater autonomy in local elections for the Kurdistan Regional Government’s 111-seat legislature but there is no evidence as of yet that the events are connected.

15:55 UTC

There is confusion over what caused armed clashes in Nigeria’s capital of Abuja yesterday. The official story is that state armed forced moved in to investigate a tip about weapons cache for the Islamic militant group the Boko Haram.

Gunshots began around 3am local time and BBC’s Mohammed Kabir Mohammed in Abuja says the shooting took place at a two-storey building that was not finished construction that young men had been sleeping in at night.

However six witnesses told Reuters that the building was owned by a military man who wanted to move squatters off the property. If this was the Boko Haram than it is the first time they will have attack Abuja this year. Nigerian security forces are sometimes accused of executing suspects and then claiming afterwards that they were Boko Haram members.

State Security Services would not give any details of fatalities but a witness told BBC that he saw 9 bodies.

15:15 UTC

NAIROBI UPDATE: News agencies are now placing the dead up to 22 according to Red Cross. 

Kenya Red Cross Society Secretary General Abbas Guled earlier stated that: “I would say so far we have at least 15 dead. The casualties are many, and that’s only what we have on the outside. Inside there are even more casualties and shooting is still going on”.

The number of assailants seems to have settled on five armed with AK-47s and grenades. Police are currently engaged in an ongoing shop-by-shop sweep of the complex. “They have seven hostages, confirmed,” an officer told AFP.

13:56 UTC

A number of gunmen have attacked with gunfire and grenades in an upscale shopping-mall in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Witnesses report as many as 20 attackersElijah Kamau said “attackers with AK-47s and grenades” asked Muslims to leave as only non-Muslims would be targeted around noon local time.

AP reporters about 10 dead and dozens more wounded with matches with Reuters reporters of 9 bodies seen by a Reuters photographer and an ex-British soldier on the ground. Officials will not give a current casualty figure and police are currently combing the shopping centre.

13:45 UTC

6 Iraqi SWAT police officers were killed this morning in an attack by 4 suicide bombers who stormed police headquarters in Baiji, north of Baghdad. It is not currently clear who was behind this attack but the army and police have been targets for Sunni militants in the past who have been gaining more support against Iraq’s now Shia majority government.

Edinburgh saw a large turnout with flags to a pro-Independence parade with marching bands today.

28 Killed in Baghdad as Part of Rise in Sectarian Violence

Today two bombs detonated outside a mosque after Friday prayers just north of Baghdad. 28 people died and between 30-45 were injured at the Sunni mosque of Al-Salam in the village of Umm al-Adham outside Baqouba where both Sunni and Shia muslims had been praying.

4,000 people have been killed this year in “insurgent attacks”. This are the highest levels of violence since 2008 and some fear that the country is returning to the state of near-civil war it was in following the US led invasion in 2003.

Sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia communities in Baghdad are not uncommon. Iraq has a majority Shia population (60%) but a sizeable Sunni minority (20%), with Kurds (who are also Sunni), Christians, Jews and others making up the remaining 20%. Saddam Hussein’s government was Sunni and he was known for the brutal oppression of Shia muslims. 

800 people have been killed this August alone and according to the BBC most of the attacks appear to be by Sunni militants with links of al-Qaeda.

Today’s attack is significant because Sunni and Shia muslims were praying together before they were attacked. It calls to mind the lynching of biracial couples in the pre-civil rights US south. 

Breaking: Multiple Car Bombs Kill 33 in Baghdad

Iraqi authorities say that up 33 people have been killed in a series of car bombs that detonated within minutes of each other.

Al Jazeera says that these were mostly Shia neighbourhoods. 

Authorities were not yet authorized to speak to the media but it appears that no one has yet taken credit for the attack.

Violence in Iraq has increased in the last number of months to levels not seen since 2008. Over 4,000 people have been killed since April. 800 of those death took place in August according to UN figures.