BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 14, 2014 — It’s entirely predictable that Iraqi Shia have reacted strongly to the recent events in Mosul, Tikrit and the surrounding areas. For example, a Shia cleric has demanded that Shia Muslims take up arms to stop Sunni ISIS taking more territory. Sheik Abdulmehdi al-Karbalai (in Karbala) said:
“Citizens who are able to bear arms and fight terrorists, defending their country and their people and their holy places, should volunteer and join the security forces to achieve this holy purpose.”All that is fully understandable as ISIS is about to march south towards otherwise Shia-dominated areas, including Baghdad. And that call to arms has been successful. Thousands reportedly joined various Shia militias.
Shia Iran, along with the US, has promised to aid the fight against the Sunni fighters. However, as far as the US is concerned, Barack Obama has said that he “will not be sending US troops back into Iraq”. As for Iran, President Hassan Rouhani has said that Iran would “not allow the supporters of terrorists to disrupt security and stability of Iraq through exporting terrorism to Iraq”. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal and CNN, Iran has already sent elite units of its Revolutionary Guard to Iraq.
The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said (at a news conference in London) that Iraq was facing a “brutal enemy” – one which also posed a threat to American interests. However, it has also been argued that Shia Iraq poses just as much of a threat to the US than the ISIS forces. Yes, the Sunnis have overtaken cities and created a lot of mayhem. However, that doesn’t automatically mean they are more of threat than Shia Iraq. After all, Shia Muslims have already taken over cities and towns. In addition, some commentators have said that Shia Iraq is now just a outpost of the Iranian theocracy. In the early days (roughly from 2003 to 2005/6), Shia Muslims allied with America and with American troops. But they only did so to defeat their ancient enemies – the Sunni Muslims of Iraq. As soon as Shia gained power, they treated the Sunnis just as the Sunnis had treated them. And that included death squads, terrorism, torture and anti-democratic measures against the Sunni minority.
In addition, it’s not just Sunni Muslims who’ve been killing civilians recently. A UN human rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, said that the Shia government itself had committed “excesses” when it shelled civilian areas on the 6th and 8th of June.
It won’t come as a surprise to those familiar with the Sunni-Shia war (which can be deemed an Islamic civil war) that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has called the Shia of Iraq “infidels” (or Rawafid). Then again, many Shia of Iraq, Iran, etc. see Sunnis as infidels (Nawasib) too.
One other important point to make is that what has happened recently isn’t all about ISIS or al-Qaeda – it’s a situation which embraces many other Sunni Muslims. For example, other Sunni groups have joined ISIS in its actions; including officers who were once part of Saddam Hussein’s military regime. So it can be said that this is a Sunni - not just a ‘militant’, ‘Islamist’ or al-Qaeda - battle.
Indeed even the BBC’s Middle East editor, the Arabophile and Islamophile Jeremy Bowen (a fierce and constant critic of Israel who’s been publicly reprimanded, even by the BBC itself, for that bias), has recognised the religious nature of what’s happening in Iraq. He told the BBC:
“Iran, which is a majority Shia Muslim country, shares a border with Iraq. It has a direct line to Iraq’s Shia Muslim Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki, and close links with some Iraqi Shia militias. The Iranians could direct their proxies, and even their own special forces units, at ISIS.”