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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Syrian Civil War Inspires attacks in Iraq by Al Qaeda.


HISTORY IN THE NEWS

Dedicated to the background of contemporary events around the world. 


IRAQ



IN BRIEF:  Al Qaeda recognizes no modern borders in the Middle East
 
IN THE NEWS:  A FEW DAYS AGO, 30 DIED IN CAR BOMBINGS IN BAGHDAD. ACCORDING TO THE NEW Y0RK TIMES, AL QEADA IS SENDING  FIGHTERS BOTH WAYS, FROM IRAQ TO SYRIA AND FROM SYRIA TO IRAQ. IN TWO YEARS, BOMBINGS IN IRAQ HAVE RISEN TO LARGE MONTHLY TOLLS. THE SUNNI-SHIA CONFLICT IN  SYRIA HAS THE POWER TO DESTABILIZE IRAQ WHICH IS BEGINNING TO SEE SECTARIAN CONFLICT ONCE AGAIN AFTER RECOVERING FROM A SUNNI-SHIA CONFLICT ONLY A FEW YEARS AGO. THE U.S., WHICH ENDED ITS MILITARY OCCUPATION OF IRAQ IN 2011, IS RELUCTANT TO SUPPLY ARMS TO IRAQI PRIME MINISTER MALIKI ON GROUNDS HE COULD USE THEM AGAINST POLITICAL OPPONENTS. THERE IS ALSO REASON TO BELIEVE THAT MALIKI MAY BE FACILITATING IRAN'S SUPPLY OF WEAPONS TO TO THE ASSAD REGIME IN SYRIA.

THE FACTS: 



-the Sunni militant terror group Al Qaeda recognizes none of the present boundaries in the Middle East since they were created by Western powers after World War I. To them, Iraq is Mesopotamia and
Syria is the Syria of the Umayyad Caliphate. To Al Qaeda all of it is one territory, one umma, one caliphate. Syria must be cleared of secularists and the Shia minority;  Iraq must be rid of its ruling Shia majority.

-the Sunni-Shia split in Islam goes back to the 7th century.

-Sunni and Shia Islam have existed as national or regional religions at least since the 16th century when Persia adopted the Shia faith.

-from the beginning, militants in both faiths were radically opposed to one another.

-European colonial rule was strengthened by turning Sunni and Shia and other relgious sects against one another.

-after hundreds of years of weakening relgious identity in the region, the 1979 Iranian Shia revolution unleashed Shia and Sunni militancy throughout the Middle East. The Shia regained religious pride and the Sunnis were threatened by it.


-the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and its empowerment of the Shia ignited tensions between Shia and Sunni which in turn brought Al Qaeda to Iraq. Al Qaeda instigated a civil war.

-after four ywars of fighting Shia, a Shia government, and the US army in Iraq, Al Qaeda's influnece in Iraq was waning but in 2011, jus as the U.S. military withdrew from Iraq, new oportunities arose across the border in the Syrian Civil War where Sunnis were already being radicalized.

-altogether, modernizing forces, negative or positive, such as the Western interventions in Iraq and the democracy movements of the Arab Spring have everywhere ingited reaction among religious findamentalists from moderate to extreme, from the Sunni Muslim Bortherbood to Al Qaeda and the Shia militia Hezbollah.


The Middle East- Shia are dark green; Suinni light Green.




IN HISTORY:

2003- US invasion of Iraq. Shia Finally Show their Power.
-April 9, 2003- Fall of Saddam's regime and baghdad.
-huge explosion of Shia ritual and public expression -chest-beating in sadr city- held date palm leaves, green banners and clay tablets above their heads. This was not the modern seculr iraq the world knew. Chest beating for alleigiance to the Imam Hussein- gesture of catharsis and purification. Green plam leaves for ecstasy. Green banners for the Imam Ali. Clay prayer tablets made from the soil of najaf. To touch the tablet with thehead is to touchthe burial place of the first Shai Imam. No political slogans. (Jabar, Middle east Report, Summer 2003)


RELEVANT DATES  for theAl Qaeda in the Syrian Civil War and Iraq,

THE ANCIENT SPLIT BETWEEN THE SUNNI AND THE SHIA.

         Founding of Shia Faith In Iraq.

Kufa and the origin of "Shia" as partisans of Ali.
-Majority of Muslims recongize Osman relative- Syrian Muawija as true Caliph. "Shiite Ali" or party of Ali held out against them.
-661- Kufa- assassination of Ali ibn Abi Talib- first imam- rightful succvessor to Muhammed. Killed by Kharijite extremists in the mosque of Kufa. (Shia = partisans of Ali). Shiites see this act as a rejection of the true succession by the Muslim majority. Buried at Najaf. Ali has since passed his own infallibility on to a series of Imams.

Yazid vs Hussein: the martyrdom of kabrala.
-680- Muawija dies and his son Yazid becomes Caliph in Damascus pre-empting a claim by Ali's son yonger Hussein. Ali's followers send reps to Mecca to Ali's son Hussein to make war on Yazid.
-680- Ali and Fatima's son (prophet's grandson) Hussein aspired to political power. Hussein and his family massacred at Karbala by Yazid son of the Sunni Caliph Mu'awiya. Sunnis do not defend this massacre and agree that victims are martyrs 1000-1300- The Shia Ismaili Assassins of Syria make periodic sorties to assassinate Sunni sectarian enemies in Baghdad.

THE SPLIT BECOMES NATIONAL: PERSIA'S SHIA SAVAFIDS AND TURKEY'S AND SYRIA'S SUNNI OTTOMANS.

Shia Persia.
1514- the Seljuk Turk Selim the Great defeats the Persians at Caldiran.
-1514- War between the Ottoman Sultan Selim,a fanatical Sunni and newly Shia Persia's Sha Ismail who had intervened on behalf of a Shia minority in Turkey.
-early 16th century- Savafids of Persia adopt Shiism.
1524- Persians take Iraq.
1524-1638- Baghdad taken and retaken by Persians and Turks. This conflict over Iraq between the Turkish Ottomans and the Persian Safavids has the character of a Sunni-Shia religious rivalry.

 Ottomans take Syria
-1517-1566- Syria is taken by the Ottoman sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent.

Ottomans take Iraq.
1533- Ottomans take Iraq- Iraq a frontier zone under pressure from Persian Shiite Safavids. Bedouins convert to Shiism to escape Ottoman control.
1555- Ottoman rule of Iraq is confirmed in a peace with Persia.
-Iraq divided between 3 Ottoman provinces.
-Sunnis granted key positions in Ottoman government. The Shiites stay apart.

 IRAQ: RISE OF SHIA; DECLINE OF SUNNIS.

Beginning of Ottoman Decline in Iraq,
-1623- the Persian Safavids take Baghdad.
-1638-Ottoman rule of baghdad is restored by Sultan Murad IV.
-18th century: Power of Ottomans in region begins to decline.
-18th century- Iranian Shia begin moving into Iraq where Sunnis are still the majority. But Iraqi Shia maintain their distinctly Arab tribal values. Karbala and Najaf come into their own in historicla importance as Shia shrines.

EUROPEAN STATE-MAKING RADICALIZES SUNNI AND SHIA.

Modern Syria
1920 July - French forces occupy Damascus, forcing Feisal to flee abroad.



-National Arab Gov’t realizes that religious discrimination will be a obstacle to independence and will serve allied powers.
 -the French exploit sectarian tensions.

-as French intentions become clear, the new Sunni nationalism intensifies.

Modern Iraq
1920- Treaty Of Sevres- all the Arab Ottoman province fall under French-British protection.
-Britain favoured Sunnis- 20 per cent of population at that time because they had been in the Ottoman administration. Shiites and Kurds rebelled against British rule

Iraq: The Rebellion of 1922- the Shia Mujtahids.
1922- the Shia mujtahids or high jurists who are mostly Iranian felt that the British-sponsored King Faisal had broken a promise that he would never serve foreign interests- by continually serving the British instead of freeing them from the British. They considered him a British agent.

SYRIA: SECULAR RULE BY A SHIA ALAWITE DYNASTY.

Syria: Shia Alawite President Hafez al Assad.
1970 November - Hafez al-Assad overthrows president Nur al-Din al-Atasi and imprisons Salah Jadid.
-because of his secular rule, many Muslims call him an atheist.


MULSIM REVIVAL ACROSS THE REGION AGAINST FOREIGN POWERS, MATERIALISM AND COMMUNISM.

 Regional Islamic Revival
1970s- a general Islamic revivial begins throughout the Middle east. Attempts t "Islamize" the population with relgious lterature, Ramadan fasting, outlawing of gambling and alcohol. Islam used to reinforce politial movements whether secular or islamist.

Iranian Revolution
1979- Shia clerical revolution in Iran headed by the Ayatollah Khomeini. 


THE SHIA REVOLUTION IN IRAN ALARMS SUNNIS, ESPECIALLY IN IRAQ AND SYRIA.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein cracks down hard because of the Iranian Revolution.
-because of Iranian revolution, Baathists crack down on Shiites.
-1979- Sheikh Mahdi Khalisi arrested by Baathists. Flees to Iran affter 1979 Iran Revoution- is setneced to death in absentia by Saddam.
-in Najaf Khomeinism looked attrative to Shia weary of the rule of Saddam. Baqr al-Sadr tried to lead a Khomeinist Revolution. There was an attempt at insufrreection but al Sadr was killed by Saddam.
-1980- Saddam makes membershup in Da'awa a capital crime.

Syria's Assad Crushes Sunni Uprising in Hama.
1980 - After the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Sunni Muslim groups instigate uprisings and riots in Aleppo, Homs and Hama. Assad begins to stress Syria's adherence to Islam. 
1982 February - Sunni Muslim Brotherhood uprising in the city of Hama. The revolt is suppressed by the military, whom rights organizations accuse of killing tens of thousands of civilians.


CIVIL WAR IN LEBANON AND 1991 GULF WAR EMPOWER THE SHIA.

Hezbollah
-In 1982, with the expulsion of the Secular, Sunni PLO from Lebanon by Israel, the Shiite militia Hezbollah essentially replaces the PLO in Lebanon as the main armed force dedicated to the destruction of Iarael.
The Shia Revival Deepens
1991--move of Iraqi Shia toward fundamentalism increases in wake of the 1991 Gulf War against Saddam Hussein in Iraq.


SUNNI AL QAEDA IS FOUNDED IN REACTION TO THE HEGEMONIC POWER OF SOVIET UNION BUT ALSO OF THE U.S . AND SAUDI ARABIA IN THE HOMELAND OF MOHAMMED.

Al Qaeda  in Iraq
2002- Al Qaeda operative Musab al Zarqawi arrives in Iraq and founds Hai al Jamià Baghdad. Syrians who had been with Zarqawi in Herat, Afghanistan are sent to build network branches in Syria and Lebanon. Zarqawi would later exercise control from Iraq.

SHIA EMPOWERED BY THE U.S. INVASION OF IRAQ.

2003- US invasion of Iraq. Shia Finally Show their Power.
-late march- Bakr Hakim holds news conferecne in Iran saying that if the US invasion turns into an occupation, Iraqis will resist using force.
-March, 2003- 800 heavily armed fighters of Badr Corps made a show of force in Darbandihkan.
-March- durign US invasion- Sadrists expelled Baath party from from Saddam City and renamed it Sadr City.

-April 9, 2003- Fall of Saddam's regime and baghdad.
-huge explosion of Shia ritual and public expression -chest-beating in sadr city- held date palm leaves, green banners and clay tablets above their heads. This was not the modern seculr iraq the world knew. Chest beating for alleigiance to the Imam Hussein- gesture of catharsis and purification. Green plam leaves for ecstasy. Green banners for the Imam Ali. Clay prayer tablets made from the soil of najaf. To touch the tablet with thehead is to touchthe burial place of the first Shai Imam. No political slogans. (Jabar, Middle east Report, Summer 2003)


AL QAEDA FOMENTS SUNNI-SHIA CIVIL WAR IN IRAQ.

Abu Musab al Zarqawi prepares to lead Al Qaeda in Iraq.

2004- Feb 9- US discovers plot for Al Qaeda entry into Iraq by Abu Musab al Zarqawi and plans to turn Sunni and Shia against one another.
 

Beginning of the Sunni-Shia Civil Conflict in Iraq.

2006- February- Islamist Sunni Al Qaeda commandos blow up the Sacred Shia Al Askariya Shrine in Samarra. Retribution against Sunnis by Shia death squads and militias like the Mahdi Army and the Bard Corps ignite a growing sectarian war.

U.S. General Petraeus Enlists Sunni Tribes Against Al Qaeda

2007- -U.S. General Petraeus adopts sophisticated, modern counterinsurgency methods against Sunni insurgents as part of the troop surge. US marines make tactical alliances with Sunni Sheikhs and other former nsurgents in Anbar province who are tired of al Qaeda's excesses and violations of Islam. The Anbar Salvation Front becomes the first of several local Sunni paramilitary organizations to ally itself with the U.S..


AL QAEDA RESURFACES IN IRAQ, SPREADS TO SYRIA.

Al Qaeda: From Iraq to Syria.
2008- having alienated Sunnis in Iraq and driven their fighters into the arms of the Americans, Al Qaeda changes its strategy and rhetoric to attract local support. Al Qaeda offshoot Al Nusra and its local effectiveness in Syria is an indirect result.

Iraq's Shia Prime Minister Maliki's new 'State of Law' party replaces old United Iraqi Alliance.

-2009- the United Iraqi Alliance, which has controlled parliament since the 2005 Iraqi elections, is reformed by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki as the 40-party Shia alliance the State of Law after an earlier split in the UIA.

Return of Al Qaeda.
2009 - Dec- the Islamic State of Iraq, an al Qaeda franchise, claims responsibility for a mass of bombings in Baghdad killing 127, as well as other killings in August and October killing 240.

Al Qaeda in Syria.
2011- Dec.- veteran jihadists of deceased Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi, leave Iraq, crossing the border to Syria to join in the Arab Spring rebellion against the Assad regime. Al Qaeda offshoot Jabhat Al Nusra (JN) claims to fight on behalf of the Syria's increasingly oppressed Sunni majority and against Syria's ruling Shia Alawite sect and its allies which include Shia Iran and the Shia Hezbollah organization and militia in Lebanon. 
 
Iraq: Increased Attacks on Shia linked to US Troop Withdrawal.

2012 - Bomb and gun attacks target Shia areas throughout the year, sparking fears of a new sectarian conflict. Nearly 200 people are killed in January, more than 160 in June, 113 in a single day in July, more than 70 people in August, about 62 in attacks nationwide in September, and at least 35 before and during the Shia mourning month of Muharram in November.
-Nearly 200 people are killed in bombings targeting Shia Muslims in the immediate wake of the US withdrawal.



Syrian Civil War-

2012- Fighting between Sunni Salafist and Shia groups in Lebanon coincide with Syrian attack on Lebanese Islamists.


Wave  of Al Qaeda Bombings in Iraq.
2013 February - About 35 people are killed in two attacks. At least 19 died in a suicide bombing of an anti-al-Qaeda militia in Taji, north of Baghdad, and at least 16 people died in a raid on a police station in Kirkuk, northern Iraq.
2013- Jan 16- Bombings in Kurdish Iraq Kill More Than 20.

RADICAL SHIA BEGIN TO FACE RADICAL SUNNIS IN SYRIAN CIVIL WAR

Hezbollah.

2013- May 31- Hezbollah launches direct attack on opposition-held town of Al Qusayr, Syria.


 HISTORY OF IRAQ

IRAQ: 1500-1958- Iraq was never a separate entity until it was constituted from remnants of the Ottoman empire by British mandate at the end of World War One. At the beginning of the 16th century, the Mesopotamian region, or Iraq, was ruled by the Safavid Shahs of Persia. By 1533 the Ottoman Turks had wrested Iraq away from the Safavids. The Safavids converted to Shiism and early Iraq is best understood as a disputed frontier region between Ottoman Turkey and Persia- a division which, in effect, has continued in modern Iraq. In the 17th century, an ongoing struggle between Shia Persia and Sunni Ottoman Turkey over Baghdad and the surrounding region soon had the character of a sectarian struggle. Persia and Turkey fought over Iraq well into the 17th century.

Ottoman Sunni control over Iraq wasn't permanently established until 1638, after which the Ottomans divided Iraq into three "veleyats" or provinces: Mosul, which was mainly Kurdish and Sunni; Baghdad which was Sunni; and Basra, in the south, which was Shia. The Ottoman sultans gave the administration over to Sunni control and the Shia stayed aloof from power and suffered relgious, political and social discrimination.

It was in the 17th century that the British first set up a residence in Basra to represent their trading interests with the Ottomans of the Persian Gulf. By the 18th century, the East India company began to spread its power westward by using Basra as a site for political intervention to promote favourable conditions for British trade between the Midddle East, the Persian Gulf and India.

Meanwhile, the three Iraqi provinces, remote from Constantinople as well as being rebellious, were never fully integrated under Ottoman rule. The result was the hardening of the local Sunni governorship. Neighbouring Shia Persia, meanwhile, maintained a more direct social and religious influence, especially in the south of Iraq. In the eighteenth century, many Persian Shia moved into southern Iraq while Persia enriched and empowered Iraq's southern Shia shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala. In an odd sense, there was a de facto underground Shia religious nation that stretched from Basra to Tehran. Many Sunnis, today, fear that spectre is becoming real. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a reforming Islamic revival served only to strengthen Iraqi Shia identity. The powerful and competitive Shia hierarchy, which would add so much strength to Shia political resistance to the US occupation, was developed during this period. In the 19th century also, the Shia population greatly increased with the migration tribes from the Arabian peninsula who converted to Shiism, althought they often asserted an Arab Shia identity against Persian Shia infleunce.

As the British pursued their trading interests in the Persian Gulf, Persian Shia continued to move into southern Iraq while Persia enriched and empowered Iraq's southern Shia shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala. In an odd sense, there was a de facto underground Shia religious nation that stretched from Basra to Tehran.

As the Shia consolidated their Shrine cities in the south, the 19th century saw the British diplomatic legations in Baghdad and in Basra develop as outposts in the resistance to Russian and German ambitions in the region. Basra was also a centre for Anglo-Indian shippping. It was the doctrine of the British Colonial Secretary, Lord Curzon, that Baghdad and Basra were the linch-pin between British empire in India and the East and British interests in the Middle East.


In 1914, the Germans, allied with Constantinople made Ottoman Empire a zone of control. The British occupied Iraq not just to expel Axis troops but also to gain control of Iraqi oil for the war effort in Europe. Indeed, most of Iraq's oil reserves were in the far south, close Basra. In 1920, after the end of the war and the fall of the Ottoman empire, Britain ruled Iraq under a League of Nations mandate. . Almost immediately, Sunnis and Shia joined in a rebellion against British rule, spearheaded by the Shia south which was in full revolt. But the upsrising was cruched by the British.

Like the Ottomans before them, the British decided Iraq was too difficult to rule and appointed the minority Sunnis to rule the country. In 1921, the British appointed King Faisal of Jordan's Hashemite Sunni dynasty as king of Iraq. In 1922, there was another revolt, this time against the imposition of a king by a foreign power. It was led by the Shia religious elite or Mujtahids. The revolt was put down by the British and their Sunni allies. Then as now, under the current US-British occupation, there was a strong suspicion of Persian complicity in the Shia rebellions

The British decided Iraq was too difficult to rule and granted it nominal independence in 1933 on the condition that Britain could maintain two air bases in Iraq, one at Basra and the other near Baghdad. For the next few years, London continued to work behind the scenes. In an attempt to get rid of British influence once and for all, Iraq allied itself with Germany in World war Two. But by 1945 Britain was victorious in Iraq as it was elsewhere in the Middle East.

While Britain and other western nations continued to maintain an interest in Iraqi oil, there were new political developments. In the 1950s under King Faisal II, Iraq joined the Baghdad Pact aligning itself with the United States, Britain and other western and Arab nations against the Soviet Union. In 1958, the Baghdad Pact collapsed and Colonel Karim Qasim took power in a Communist-backed military coup. King Faisal was executed and the British expelled once and for all.



IRAQ: 1958-2005- the Shia spiritual leader, Bakr Al Sadr, aware of the threat of growing secularism, in particular Communism, founded the Al Dawa of "Islamic Call' Party, successfully modelled on the Communists' secret cell structure, a strategy which would help the Shia survive the decades of perseuction that lay ahead.

Like their predecessors under the Ottomans and the British, the Sunni Baathists had always considered the Shia a threat and rigorously excluded them from power. Though most Shia movements were still secular and communist, a burgeoning Shia relgious revivial was led by two clerics, Al Dawa's Bakr al Sadr and by Bakr al Hakim. Both were jailed repeatedly. In the early 1970s, the large Al Dawa Party experienced its first serious persecution at the hands of the Baathists.

Saddam Hussein Propaganda Poster

By 1979, a Baathist officer, Saddam Hussein, had plotted and murdered his way to the top of the party to take power in a coup d'etat. Behind the determination of the Baathist party to rule Iraq lay the age-old intention of the Sunni minority to keep the Shia, now a majority, from power. With the Shia revoution in neighbouring Iran, Shia militancy in Iraq increased. After the ascent of Iran's radical cleric and supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeni, Saddam Hussein began cracking down on the Shia in Iraq. The 500 year old Persian Shia threat from Iran was never far away. There was repression, Shia public ceremonies were banned and Bakr al Sadr was imprisoned. In 1980, al Sadr was murdered by Saddam's henchmen.

Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr


With the onset of the Iran Iraq war, the Shia were further repressed and persecuted. Thousands fled to Iran where they formed Iraqi Shia Islamist parties in exile. It was then and there that the two great Iraqi Shia parties, Al Dawa and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) were founded, the same parties that would represent Shia Iraq under the US occupation.

After the bulk of Saddam's army was wiped out by a US-led international invasion during the First Gulf war, in 1991, a massive Shia rebellion erupted unlike any seen since 1922. Banking on promised US support, the Shia were stranded when Washignton reneged, only to be slaughtered by Saddam's remaining security forces. Still, modernization and a history of trade between Iraq's ethnic regions had, all the while, integrated many of Iraq's Sunnis and Shia. Iraq's oil wealth and a relatively high degree of education had allowed a a good many Shia to enter the middle class- and Sunnis and Shia were already joined in many large tribes, by intermarriage, and by a new sense of Iraqi nationalism. It would take some decisive developments to tear them apart again.
Nevertheless the age of the Shia was approaching. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the recession of international Communism, there was, throughout the 1990s, an Islamic revivial and in Iraq, in particular, a Shia revivial. Washington's Clinton adminstration, meanwhile, plotted the overthrow of Saddam with the Shia parties in exile. The leader of the Shia revival inside iraq was the radical Sadiq al Sadr, a relative of al Dawa's martyred Baqr al Sadr. Repression of the Shia continued and Saddam had Sadiq al Sadr assassinated in 1999.
The late Grand Ayatollah

Sadiq al Sadr.

By the time the Bush administration was elected in 2001, the Shia and Sunni of Iraq were at a critical point. Since many had intermarried and worked together and many tribes were both Shia and Sunni, and since many Shia still maintained an Arab Shia nationalism against Iran's Persian Shiism, there was, in theoy, the possibility of an integrated Iraq. On the other hand, so many Sunnis were idenintified with Saddam, his Baath party and the persecution of the Shia, that any significant catalyst could tip the ethnic balance into a sectarian cataclysm.

The unintended catalyst was the US invasion and occupation in 2003. While the Shia mastered the situation at the outset by following the Ayatollah Sistani's injunction to remain neutral (and not "make the mistake of 1920", as Sistani put it, by leading a failed revolt that would only leave the Sunnis in power) and proceeded to restore their public ceremonies and build an immensely powerful clerical netowrk through the provision of social services. Meanwhile, US policy weakened the country by removing the Baathist administration and army wholesale. Not only did this further alienate the Sunnis, it allowed the Shia to fill the power vacuum left in the south and empowered a Sunni Islamist guerilla resistance. US troops were left alone, trying to maintain order in increasing anarchy.

Shia nationalist passions escalated as the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr's miltia battled US troops who were simultaneously engaged with Sunni guerillas. In 2004, the entry of al Qaeda into Iraq heralded attrmpts by Sunni Islamists to throw off both the US occupation and the threat of Shia rule by starting a Sunni-Shia civil war. In 2005, the election of a transitional government put the Shia majority in power, leaving the Sunnis reluctant to participate if not entirely alienated. The constituion drafted that year fulfilled the Shia-Kurd majority's dream of a federal Iraq with autonomous Shia, Kurdhish and Sunni regions and sectatrian control over natural resources, mainly oil. The Sunnis, left only with Baghdad and central Iraq, would be without resources or any power to speak of. The federalism promised by the consitution seemed to be a blueprint for civil war, if not the breakup of the country.

The election of a formal, Shia-dominated government, represented by the powerful Shia United Iraqi Alliance, in 2006, seemed to suggest a sectarian and not a national government- indeed more fuel for the growing civil war.

After the US-British invasion of Iraq, Britain administered and occupied the south around Basra while the US handled the rest of the country. Unlike the US, the British assigned some security to the Shia militias. While British success at keeping the peace and remaining on friendly terms with Iraqis was explained by their long colonial experience, the Shia saw it as a matter of time before they could fill the power vacuum left in the wake of rule by the Sunnis.

Slowly, the mood of the Shia changed. Shia nationalist passions escalated as the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr's miltia battled US troops. In 2005, the election of a transitional government put the Shia majority in power. The constituion drafted that year fulfilled the Shia-Kurd majority's dream of a federal Iraq with autonomous Shia, Kurdhish and Sunni regions and sectatrian control over natural resources, mainly oil.

The British policy of assigning security to the Shia militias began to backfire. Gradually the militias and ther religious parties took control of local governments and imposed Islamic law. Rampant criminal gangs and feuding between the main Shia parties, Moqtada al Sadr's group, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council and the Fadhila or 'Virtue' party and their associated militias made the south scarcely governable and brought Basra to near anarchy. The British, meanwhile, could do little but fend off increasing attacks from Sadr's Mahdi Army while Iran, clearly eyeing the region as a proTectorate sent advisors, agents, supplies and arms to the militias.

REVIOUS ENTRIES:
US troops wall off Shia neighbourhood: 4/20/07
Moqtada al Sadr returns to Iraq: 5/25/07
Sunni Mosques burn after 2nd Askariya bombing: 6/14/07
Yazidi town bombed, killing 200: 8/17/07
British troops withdrawn from Basra: 9/04/07
British Fromally hand over Basra: 12/18/07
Sunni Bloc May Return to Iraqi Parl't: 11/22/07

Iraqi PM and Moqtada al Sadr both Claim Victoryt 4/01/2008


IRAQ: ANCIENT HISTORY- 3,000 BC- 1500 AD: Historically, Mesopotamia forms a natural region, defined by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. On the north and east it is bounded by mountains, in the south by the Arabian desert and the persian Gulf and on the west by the Syrian and Jordanian deserts. But it is also a fertile lowland region without natural defences. This has given all states that flourished in Mesopotamia the dual character of a self-defined region with clear natural boundaries on the one hand and the object of invasion and rule by outside powers on the other. For Example, Elam, an Iranian kingdom in the bordering Zagros mountains engaged both in rivalry and in cultural interhange with Sumer in Mesopotamia. To this day, a power vacuum in Iraq, caused by the US invasion, is effecting the neighbouring countries- Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran- all of whom have interests, invovling security, economic and sectarian issues. In short, from the earliest times, strong government in Mesopotamia has been the guarantor of regional security.

Within Mesopotamia itself, there was also, since the founding civilization of Sumer in the 4th century BC, an internal north-south tension between the city states of Sumer in the southern Gulf region and those of Akkad in central Mesopotamia. The north-south tension within and the external tensions from neighbouring kingdoms without, continued through the ancient period. These tensions were responsible for the development of the first centralized states in human history. (Today, it seems, a powerful state in the same region remains just as important) From northern Mesopotamia, the Assyrians built an empire in the 7th century BC. They were gradually supplanted by the Chaldean Babylonians who formed the last indigenous Mesopotamian state until modern Iraq became independent in 1933.

Around 500 BC, the Assyrians and then the Chaldeans were supplanted by Cyrus, founder of Persia's Achaemnind dynasty. Iraq was ruled by Persia for 800 years until the invasion of Alexander the Great bequeathed it to the Greek Seleucid kings. Indeed, Iraq has been periodically subject to extended foreign rule by Persia, a legacy still reflected in the tensions between Iraqi Sunnis and Shia.

By 50 BC, the Parthians of Iran had taken Mesopotamia from the Greek Seleucids. Rome was never able top conquer Parthia and Iraq remained the Parthians' celebrated frontier against the Roman Empire. The Parthian empire weakened in the second century and in the early third century it was taken from within by the Persian Saminid Dynasty. It was the Saminids who were defeated as Mesopotamia was conquered from the Arabian Peninsula by Islam in the seventh century.

The Shia-Sunni schism in Islam grew from a dispute over the succession to Mohammed between the followers of Abu Bakr, Mohammed's companion and the followers of Ali, Mohammed's cousin and son-in law. The tollowers of Abu Bakr became the Sunnis and ruled a Caliphate from Damascus. The followers of Ali became the Shia and founded their own dynasty at Kufa, near Najaf in Southern Iraq. So it was that Iraq became and remains, the original homeland of the Shia.

Exterior view of Imam Ali Shrine
Exterior view of Imam Ali Shrine

In 680, the Sunni Caliph Yazid of Damascus invaded Mesopotamia to put down what the Sunnis considered a Shia heresy. In a battle at Karbala, not far from Kufa, Hussein, the grandson of Mohammed and claimant to the rival caliphate of the Shia was defeated and killed by the forces of Yazid. (The modern Shia of Iraq, who nicknamed Saddam Hussein "Yazid" stil commemorate the matyrdom of Hussein in the festival of Ashura). Afterward, the Shia of Iraq lived mostly under Sunni rule.

From 750 the Sunni Abassid Caliphate ruled Iraq, bringing Islamic culture and society to its zenith under the Caliph, Harun Rashid. In the 9th century, Baghdad became the leading centre for the translation of Greek texts and developments in science. To this day, Iraqi Sunni nationalists look back to the Abassid Caliphate. At the same time, the Shia followed their own Imams until their 12th Imam, known as the Mahdi, was said to have disappeared from the town of Samarra, north of baghdad, into a supernatural realm. (Millenarian tendencies in Iraqi Shiism still anticipate the return of the Mahdi on Judgement Day in which the Shia will triumph over the Sunnis and all foreign and infidel influences in the Middle East; this is the inspiration of the present day movement of Moqtada al Sadr against the Sunnis and the US occupation). In the tenth century, the Abassids were weakened by a Shia dynasty, the Buyids that gained control of Baghdad. By that time, the Abassids had adopted Turkish body guards. The Turkish contingent began to amass political power in Baghdad and gradually gained control over a decaying Abassid Empire.

In th 12th century, the pattern of conquest from without resumed with the fall of Baghdad to the Seljuk Turks. The Abassid dynasty in Iraq fell to the Mongols in the following century. Iraq fell to the Central Asian armies of Tameraine in the 14th century. In the 15th century another invasion from the north ended in rule by the Turkmens. In the following century Iraq finally passed under Persian rule. The conversion of the Persian Safavids to Shiism gave new strength to Sunni-Shia rivalry in Iraq which had been relatively subdued since the martyrdom of Hussein in the 7th century.


CROSS-CENTURY SUMMARY: Historically, the river valley of the Tigirs and Euphrates has formed a nautral power vacuum. Self-sustaining indigenous states have been few. After Sumer, Akkad, Assyria and the fall of Chaldean Babylonia to the Persians in 532 BC, Baghdad was not to be the centre of power in Mesopotamia until 750 AD when it was made the capital of the Abassid Caliphate. Even then, the Abassids could be said to have inherited their power from Damascus and the Arabian peninsula. After the fall of Abassid Iraq to the Mongols in 1258, Iraq had no status as an independent entity until the British salvaged it from the remains of the Ottoman empire after World War One. But the British were there well ahead of time. In the 17th century they had set up trade centers in Basra and Baghdad. In the 19th century, the Mesopotamian and Persian Gulf regions were considered by the British as their colonial and commercial link between between British India and her interests in the Middle East. As an independent entity, however, Iraq remained from 1500 until 1920, a marginal, frontier region between the Persian Shia and Ottoman Sunni empires- a legacy which endures today in Iraq's sectarian civil war. The British presence has had been an attenuated affair, originating in trade, progressing to an imperial political rile and finally, 1914, 1940 and 2007 to a military presence.

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