After watching the republican president primary candidate, Donald Trump in September, 2015, being exposed for his lack of knowledge regarding the Middle East by the conservative radio host, Hugh Hewitt, I decided to blog about some rudimentary information regarding the middle east. We all need to be informed about this part of the world, so that we can be a constructive part of the public debate.
What are the difference among the Kurds, Shia and Sunnis Iraqi tribes?
The best article that I found to explain the differences among the Kurds, Shia and Sunnis tribes is by Time Magazine on 2/24/2006, titled, ” Understanding Iraq’s Ethnic and Religious Divisions,” authored by
Shiites and Sunnis: Origins of Differences
“The distinction between the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam dates back to a 7th Century split over who would inherit the leadership of Muslims after the passing of the Prophet Muhammad. The Shiites believe that the Prophet had passed the mantle of leadership to his own descendants, first to his cousin and son-in-law, Imam Ali, who in turn passed it to his own son (and the Prophet’s beloved grandson) Imam Hussein. They rejected the three Caliphs chosen by consultation among the Prophet’s followers after his death — those recognized by the Sunnis, who constitute about three quarters of the world’s Muslims today — and instead followed a series of 12 imams who were direct descendants of Muhammad. The schism originated as a violent power struggle, with both Ali and Hussein murdered by rivals. The latter, killed at the battle of Karbala in Iraq, came to symbolize the cult of martyrdom in the Shiite tradition, with followers still today flagellating themselves during the annual Ashura festival for their failure to rally to Hussein and prevent his death.
“The two traditions have different approaches to religious law and practice, and different notions of religious hierarchy, but both observe the same fundamental tenets of Islam. Although Shiism is the overwhelmingly dominant form of Islam among the Persians of Iran, in most of the Arab world Shiites are an impoverished and disenfranchised underclass. And the more extremist Sunni “Salafist” tradition that predominates in Saudi Arabia, as well as among the jihadists of al-Qaeda, denigrates Shiites as apostates. Within both Shiism and the Sunni tradition, however, there are a variety of different approaches to theological, legal and political questions, and they have coexisted for centuries. Members of both sects rub shoulders during the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.”
“The contemporary conflict between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq is based not only on a schism that happened almost 14 centuries ago, but on the politics of the Saddam Hussein era. The Sunni Arabs, some 15-20% of the population, provided the bulk of the governing class under Saddam, while the Shiites, who comprise upward of 60% of the population, were denied political rights and their religious freedoms were curtailed. The contemporary politics of the divide also has a regional dimension: The main Shiite religious political parties that have dominated both of Iraq’s democratic elections have close ties to Iran, a fact that has irked not only Iraq’s Sunnis but also the U.S.-allied regimes of the Arab world, who fear the consequences throughout the region of expanded Iranian influence.”
Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen
“Almost 80% of Iraqis are Arab, while some 15-20% are Kurds — a distinct ethnic group with its own language, history and culture, concentrated in northern Iraq, eastern Turkey, northeastern Syria, northern Iran and southern Georgia. Kurds have struggled for their rights as a cultural minority in all of those societies, often suffering vicious repression, but have enjoyed de facto independence in northern Iraq under U.S. protection since the 1991 Gulf War. Although they participate in Iraqi national politics and one of their key leaders, Jalal Talabani (Iraqi Kurdish politician who served as president of Iraq 2005–2014), the vast majority of Iraqi Kurds have signaled their desire for formal independence from Iraq. The Kurds are predominantly Sunni Muslim, although there is a Shiite minority, but Kurdish identity politics are dominated by secular nationalism.”
“The new Iraqi constitution recognizes the Kurds’ de facto autonomy in northern Iraq, allowing them to keep the revenues from any new oil fields and to maintain their own armed forces. But the status of the oil rich northern city of Kirkuk remains a flashpoint, because it is claimed not only by Kurds and Arabs, but also by the Turkmen minority — less than 5 percent of the population, but which carries the backing of Turkey, which is vehemently opposed to an independent Kurdish entity.”
Wikipedia reports the history and current status of Kirkuk as follows:
“The city sits on the site of the ancient Hurrian southern capital of Arrapha, which sits near the Khasa River on the ruins of a 5,000-year-old settlement (Kirkuk Citadel). It became known as Arrapha under the domination of the Hurrians. The city reached great importance again under the later, but short-lived Assyrians in the 10th and 11th centuries BC. Because of the strategic geographical location of the city, Kirkuk was the battle ground for three empires—the Neo- Assyrian Empire, Babylonia, and Media——which controlled the city at various times.”
“Kurds and Turkmens have claimed the city as a cultural capital. It was named the “capital of Iraqi culture” by the Iraqi ministry of culture in 2010. The city currently consists mainly of people who self-identify as Iraqi Turkmens, Assyrians, Arabs, and Kurds.”
“A referendum on whether Kirkuk province should become part of Iraqi Kurdistan was due to be held in November 2007 but has been delayed repeatedly, and currently has no firm date. In December 2007, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an unscheduled visit to Kirkuk before proceeding to Baghdad, where she called on Iraqi leaders to urgently implement a national reconciliation roadmap.”
On 12 June 2014, Kirkuk was taken over by the Kurdistan government, due to the Kurds with U.S. assistance successfully fighting ISIS for control of this area. I will be going into more detail on this subject in future blogs.
Important middle east cliff notes are as follows: Iraq’s former leader, Saddam Hussein and his elite Republican Guard military (which were killed/ disbanded in 2003) were representative of the Sunni tribe; in the security vacuum that emerged during the American occupation after 2001, a Jordanian militant named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (died 2006)conducted a series of violent attacks across the country, and in 2004 swore allegiance to al Qaeda and its founder, Osama bin Laden; Sheikh Ahmed al-Dabash, a founder of the Islamic Army of Iraq, who fought the allied invasion in 2003, has told the Telegraph in 2014 how thousands of his men are participating in the current Isis-led Sunni insurgency; ISIS, an off shoot of al- Qaeda in Iraq became branded with its name in 2006 but then split with al-Qaeda central in February, 2014; on June 12, 2006, the al-Qaeda in Iraq website announced that Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian Sunni, as the new leader (ISIS) but he was killed in 2010; Abu Ayyub al-Masri helped create an al-Qaeda cell in Iraq in 2003; Bakr al-Baghdadi the leader of ISIS (ISIL) as of 2010, had been released as a low level prisoner from a U.S. determent camp; under Saddam Hussein, the Sunnis in Iraq were in the minority in the midst of a Shia population but they wielded a disproportionate amount of power; Iran is mostly of the Shia tribe; most Kurds in Iraq identify as Sunnis Muslims, but they are reputed to be the most secular among factions in governing and to have been the most successful fighters against ISIS (i.e. March 2015 victory in fighting back ISIS from Kirkuk); Turkey is an arch enemy of Kurdish interests; Mullah Mustafa Barzani is an Iraqi Kurdish politician who has been President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region from 2005 ; the current Iraqi President and Head of State is Faud Masum, a veteran Kurdish politician; Nouri al-Maliki, the former Iraqi Prime Minister with executive authority from 2006-2014, as a Shia Muslim, barred Iraqi Sunnis from having any significant role in the governing process which was in part, the catalyst for the ISIS (Sunnis) backlash; since 2014, the head of executive functions and Prime Minister of Iraq is Haider al-Abadi, a prominent Shiite politician; the U.S. has recently been granted the crucial right to use Turkey Air Force bases in our fight against ISIS.