World View: ISIS Stokes Sectarian Sunni-Shia Clashes Across the Mideast and Asia

AP Photo
AP Photo

This morning’s key headlines from

  • ISIS stokes sectarian Sunni-Shia clashes across the Mideast and Asia
  • Iraq’s government changes name of military operation to recapture Ramadi
  • Sunni Arabs are being forced to choose between ISIS and Shias

ISIS stokes sectarian Sunni-Shia clashes across the Mideast and Asia

A Pakistani security official displays cartridges from the scene of an attack on a bus, killing 45 Ismaili Shias two weeks ago(AP)
A Pakistani security official displays cartridges from the scene of an attack on a bus, killing 45 Ismaili Shias two weeks ago (AP)

I am not among those who worry that the Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh) is going to take control of the entire Arabian Peninsula, but one thing that is clear is that ISIS is becoming the focal point of the increasingly hostile fault line between Sunnis and Shias.

Pakistan has long been a hotbed of Sunni-Shia clashes, as certain branches of Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP – Pakistan Taliban), such as Jundullah and Lashkar-e Jhangvi (LeJ), specifically target Shias. But this is being taken to a new level, as we reported two weeks ago, when terrorists in Karachi attacked a bus full of Ismaili Shias, killing 45, and left behind leaflets accusing Shias of “barbaric atrocities,” and warning of the “Advent of the Islamic State!” That is not to say that previous terrorist attacks on Shias were not equally horrific, but the overlay of referring to the advent of ISIS is inflaming sectarian tensions throughout the region.

Similarly, we reported last week of the bombing of a Shia mosque in Saudi Arabia. ISIS claimed responsibility, and said it would not rest until all Shias were driven from the Arabian Peninsula. VOA and Reuters

Iraq’s government changes name of military operation to recapture Ramadi

After ISIS’s stunning seizure of the city of Ramadi a few days ago, with the Iraqi army fleeing from the approaching ISIS militias, the Iraq government has launched a military operation to recapture Ramadi, using Iran-trained Shia militias known as Hashid Shaabi (popular mobilization units). This is raising sectarian fears among the Sunni tribes around Ramadi, who are afraid that the Shia militias will commit similar atrocities on Sunnis that they did after the earlier recapture of the city of Tikrit.

In fact, Iraq’s government seemed to be headed in that direction, when they called the attack “Operation Labaik ya Hussein,” which roughly translates as “We are at your service, Hussein.” The name refers to Hussein ibn Ali (or Husayn ibn Ali) who is considered to be a revered Shia saint. He was killed in 680 at the Battle of Karbala, which was the seminal battle that resulted in the Sunni-Shia split.

The choice of that name was severely criticized by Sunni leaders, and was described as “unhelpful” by the Pentagon. Because of the pressure, the Shia militias have renamed the planned attack “Operation Labaik ya Iraq,” meaning, “We are at your service, Iraq.”

This kerfuffle over the name of the operation shows how sensitive the Sunni-Shia split is, and how many officials are concerned about a sectarian backlash. Rudaw (Iraq) and Reuters

Sunni Arabs are being forced to choose between ISIS and Shias

With sectarian conflict growing in the Mideast, many Sunni Muslims are in a position where they are going to be forced to choose between ISIS and Shias. This is true to some extent in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, as neighborhoods and groups become polarized along sectarian lines. For these Sunnis, the choice may be facing atrocities by ISIS versus atrocities by Shias.

According to an article translation by Memri, an Egyptian cleric Sheik Dr. Ahmad Al-Naqib was asked this question. He uses the word “Rafidites,” which is a pejorative term for Shias:

I was asked: What is your opinion about ISIS and its conduct? Should one pledge allegiance to ISIS? Does refraining from this constitute a sin? This question is part of the catastrophe that has afflicted the lands of Islam. …

We must not say that this creation [ISIS], with its rulings and its conduct, is in keeping with the rightly-guided Islamic state that we must obey, especially since much consideration is required to determine whether this “Islamic State” qualifies as a state. They experience ups and downs. Again and again, they conquer land, which is then taken from them. In addition, as far as their upbringing is concerned, most of them are non-Arabs. This is a very dangerous issue. …

There is no doubt, however, that they are much better than the criminal Rafidites [Shias], who kill the Sunnis because of their Sunni identity, and who kill, rape, and burn the Muslims wherever they may be. They are better than the [Shias], and their victories over the Rafidites are good for Islam, but God knows best. …

Despite their transgressions, injustice, wrongdoing, and aggression, they are better than the Rafidites. They are better than the criminal Rafidites, who kill Sunnis just because they are Sunnis.

There have been numerous sectarian wars between Sunnis and Shias over the centuries, and there have been numerous atrocities committed on both sides. But in recent times, Al-Naqib was undoubtedly referring to Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad.

Like many, Arab Sunnis are appalled that Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad has been conducting virtual genocide against his own people. Syria’s Shia/Alawite president Bashar al-Assad has flattened entire Sunni villages with Russia’s heavy weapons, he has killed children by sending missiles into exam rooms and bedrooms, he has killed dozens with sarin gas, and has killed countless more with barrel bombs loaded with explosives, metals, and chlorine gas. In addition, he has used electrocution, eye-gouging, strangulation, starvation, and beating on tens of thousands of prisoners on a massive “industrial strength” scale, and does with complete impunity, and in fact with troops and weapons from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.

So, from the point of view of Americans, Al-Naqib’s remarks about ISIS and Shias seem revolting, but from the point of view of Sunni Arabs, ISIS is the lesser of the two evils.

In the political news the last few days, it seems that both the Democratic President Barack Obama and the Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul have come to full agreement that ISIS was created by the Republicans. This conclusion is absurd on its face, since ISIS was formed in Syria, not Iraq. The bizarre conclusion is part of the conceit of Americans that everything is caused by Americans, and other people have no histories of their own.

Once again, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was created by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. As I wrote in 2007 in “Iraqi Sunnis are turning against al-Qaeda in Iraq”, al-Zarqawi was unable to find Iraqis who were willing to be suicide bombers, or shed blood in any way, so he had to bring in Jordanian and Saudi terrorists from abroad. Al-Zarqawi was killed by an American drone strike in 2006, and AQI was completely driven out of Iraq in 2007 by Iraqi Sunnis in the “Anbar Awakening,” with the help of President George Bush’s “surge.”

As I have written many times, ISIS came into existence because of al-Assad’s actions. By 2012, it was becoming obvious that Sunni jihadists from countries around the world were heading for Syria to fight against al-Assad. These jihadists became the fighters that formed the backbone of the militias that became ISIS, and other salafist militias. There were no jihadists heading for Syria during the Bush administration, and there were no jihadists heading for Syria during Obama’s first term, so neither Bush or Obama can be held responsible for creating ISIS. However, it is possible to blame Obama for the growth of ISIS, for not killing al-Assad in 2011-12 when he had the chance, and for not leaving any troops behind in Iraq after the December 2011 withdrawal.

Whatever happened in the past, Al-Naqib’s remarks represent widely held opinions in the Arab Sunni world, and they indicate that the Muslim world is headed for a massive Sunni-Shia sectarian war. Memri

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Pakistan, Karachi, Ismailis, Shias, Lashkar-e Jhangvi, LeJ, Jundullah, Taliban, Saudi Arabia, Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, Iraq, Ramadi, Tikrit, Hashid Shaabi, popular mobilization units, Operation Labaik ya Hussein, Operation Labaik ya Iraq, Hussein ibn Ali, Husayn ibn Ali, Battle of Karbala, Syria, Bashar al-Assad, Lebanon, Ahmad Al-Naqib, Rafidites, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaedi in Iraq, AQI, Jordan
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