The Myth of Sectarianism

The Policy is Divide to Rule

Published on Dissident Voice, by Dahr Jamail, January 7th, 2008.

If the US leaves Iraq, the violent sectarianism between the Sunni and Shia will worsen. This is what Republicans and Democrats alike will have us believe. This key piece of rhetoric is used to justify the continuance of the occupation of Iraq.

This propaganda, like others of its ilk, gains ground, substance, and reality due largely to the ignorance of those ingesting it. The snow job by the corporate media on the issue of sectarianism in Iraq has ensured that the public buys into the line that the Sunni and Shia will dice one another up into little pieces if the occupation ends.

It may be worthwhile to consider that prior to the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq there had never been open warfare between the two groups and certainly not a civil war. In terms of organization and convention, Iraqis are a tribal society and some of the largest tribes in the country comprise Sunni and Shia. Intermarriages between the two sects are not uncommon either.


Soon after arriving in Iraq in November 2003, I learned that it was considered rude and socially graceless to enquire after an individual’s sect. If in ignorance or under compulsion I did pose the question the most common answer I would receive was, I am Muslim, and I am Iraqi.On occasion there were more telling responses like the one I received from an older woman, My mother is a Shia and my father a Sunni, so can you tell which half of me is which? The accompanying smile said it all …

… In the context of these facts let us now return to the big question: Will Iraq descend further into a sectarian nightmare if the occupation ends?

An indicator of how things will likely resolve themselves upon the departure of foreign troops may be drawn from the southern city of Basra. In early September, 500 British troops left one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces in the heart of the city and ceased to conduct regular foot patrols. According to the British military, the overall level of violence in the city has decreased 90 percent since then.

This may or may not be a guarantee of a drop in sectarianism upon the departure of the invading armies, but it does prove that when the primary cause of the violence, sectarian strife, instability, and chaos is removed from the equation of Iraq, things are bound to improve rapidly.

Are we still going to believe that the occupation is holding Iraq together? (full text).

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