Iraq’s unique place in the Sunni-Shia divide | Pew Research Center


The Sunni-Shia divide: Where they live, what they believe and how they view each other

The ongoing and intensifying conflict in Iraq has fallen – at least in part – along sectarian lines, with the Sunni Muslim militant group ISIS(the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) advancing against the Shia Muslim-led Iraqi government and Shia militias. Sectarian affiliation has played a role in the politics of the region for hundreds of years.

Where Sunni and Shia Muslims populationsIran and Iraq are two of only a handful of countries that have more Shias than Sunnis. While it is widely assumed that Iraq has a Shia majority, there is little reliable data on the exact Sunni-Shia breakdown of the population there, particularly since refugees arriving in Iraq due to the conflict in Syria or leaving Iraq due to its own turmoil may have affected the composition of Iraq’s population.

The few available survey measures of religious identity in Iraq suggest that about half the country is Shia. Surveys byABC News found between 47% and 51% of the country identifying as Shia between 2007 and 2009, and a Pew Research survey conducted in Iraq in late 2011 found that 51% of Iraqi Muslims said they were Shia (compared with 42% saying they were Sunni).

Neighboring Iran is home to the world’s largest Shia population: Between 90% and 95% of Iranian Muslims (66-70 million people) were Shias in 2009, according to our estimate from that year.

Their shared demographic makeup may help explain Iran’s support for Iraq’s Shia-dominated government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Iran also has supported Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, where only 15-20% of the Muslim population was Shia as of 2009. But the Syrian leadership is dominated by Alawites (an offshoot of Shia Islam). Under Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, which was dominated by Sunnis, the country clashed with Iran.

The Sunni-Shia divide is nearly 1,400 years old, dating back to a dispute over the succession of leadership in the Muslim community following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632. [ …]


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2 thoughts on “Iraq’s unique place in the Sunni-Shia divide | Pew Research Center”

  1. However, the Iraqi Ba’ath Party which came to power in the 1960s was a secular party whose rise to power was accompanied by economic growth. Saddam Hussein was part of a coup within the party which toppled the Ba’athist President, and he became head of Iraq 10 years later in 1978.
    He opposed the Camp David accords, his regime swept in with harsh repression of the Shiia revolt and a border war with Iran which lasted nearly 10 years, leaving the country in poor economic shape.
    My point being– It appears to me that if Sunnis were anything, they were Ba’athists, which while anti-Western, were at least secular. The Sunnis do not appear to have sought a theocracy as the Shiia have. Unfortunately, U.S. intervention under Bush brought about a chain of events displacing Sunni power completely under PM Al-Maliki, resulting in an ungovernable Iraq.

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