Sistani and Sectarianism in Iraq

This was an interesting article recently on the growing Shi’a-Sunni sectarianism in Iraq.

If the details in this article are true than it seems really unfortunate to hear that the Shi’a are treating their Sunni countrymen with the same amount of discrimination and harassment that the Shi’a faced under the Sunni majority. It seems almost ironic to hear a description of the current Sunni viewpoint about the ‘territorial, institutionalized and psychological segregation’ being enforced on them because it is eerily reminiscint of the complaints that the Shi’a made during Saddam’s rule. Given the extent of persecution that the Shi’a population faced it is understandable that the continue to hold grudges against the Sunnis but flaunting their demographic power on the streets and harassing ordinary people is something that deserves to be condemned.

Another aspect of the article that I found interesting is the perspective they have presented from Ayatollah Sistani, which sounds really uncharacteristically aggressive and provocative coming from him. Sistani has been known to be a pacifist without any overt socio-political agenda and a big proponent of peace between the Shi’a and Sunnis, so it comes as a great surprise to come across quotes attributed to him such as him telling his visitors that, ‘You are the majority and your enemies are trying to reduce your numbers” etc.  It also seems remarkable to hear that a reclusive person like Sistani, who hardly ever appears in public and refuses to be photographed, would commend or even allow his followers to display lifesized displays of him at every street corner. This was certainly not the case until last year. So in this regard the information in the article seems a little exaggerated or hyped.

This is a picture of Sistani’s humble residence outside the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf, which I thought  would be interesting to share  regarding the kind of power that Sistani yields in the Shi’a world. The following links present different viewpoints on Sistani and other  aspects of the sectarian conflict in Iraq.,9171,993974,00.html

3 responses

  1. I also found Sistani’s comments to be strangely out of character with the other descriptions I’ve read about him. The part about the second NYT article I found to be particularly interesting was when clerics declared that Sistani was the “guarantor of the country’s fledgling democracy.” That’s a risky political bet to wager in a country whose government is still in a very tenuous state.

  2. Just a thought: I wonder if some parallels could be drawn between the flip in Sunni-Shia domination and the evolution of Hutu-Tutsi dynamics? It’s just an interesting historical phenomenon that an oppressor and an oppressed group would switch positions. I wonder if the new oppressor is oppressive as a result of being oppressed before – as revenge – or if they are unrelated and simply oppress because they have the power to.

  3. One observation… Sectarianism is Iraq historically has only emerged in moments of crisis and change. The relations between the Sunni and Shia in Iraq has typically been stable and friendly.

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