In addition to concerns about sectarian tensions, concerns about religious extremism in general also are widespread in the countries surveyed, with about two-thirds of all Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, half of all Muslims in Lebanon and roughly a quarter of all Muslims in Iran expressing worry about radical religious groups.
Amid Syria‘s worsening crisis, there is another unprecedented, yet overlooked phenomenon that bodes ill for the entire region: the rise of global Shia jihadism. The number of foreign Shia jihadists in Syria is arguably greater than Sunni ones. So what will this new trend mean, asks Hassan Hassan,
Yet again Iraq finds itself at a ‘crossroad’ – a euphemism for political intransigence to the point of paralysis coupled with a spike in violence, cruelty and ethno-sectarian entrenchment. As with all such crossroads since 2003 the idea that Iraq needs to – or indeed inevitably will – fragment into three states with neat ethno-sectarian labels has gained purchase during the recent crisis.
Sunni Iraqis are fighting for their rights, which are completely legitimate. But a select few have carried flags of Saddam Hussain‘s regime during the demonstrations, losing them legitimacy in the eyes of Shias, who are worried about a returning Baathist tide to return under the cloak of Al Qaeda.
Making matters worse, the truth is unclear. Every Iraqi channel – owned by their various political parties – portrays a different perspective on the story, casting blame in different directions.
At the end of the Second World War, an anonymous pamphlet surfaced in the seminaries of Qom, the bastion of Shia learning. The Unveiling of Secrets accused Iran’s monarchy of treason…It’s unlikely that anyone outside Qom read The Unveiling of Secrets; even inside the seminaries few would have embraced its programme. Yet just three decades later the pamphlet’s author, Ruhollah Khomeini, helped launch a revolution against the monarchy and established himself as Iran’s supreme leader, with powers even the shah would have envied.
Iraq’s nascent democracy faces a new dilemma: whether or not to embrace the political comeback of a former militia leader. Muqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand Shia cleric, has launched a public relations campaign, rebranding himself as a voice of sectarian harmony. Should Iraqis welcome Sadr with open arms, or be wary of his new persona?
Sadr first made a name for himself as an erratic demagogue who stoked sectarian fighting and helped bring Iraq’s young democracy to its knees. From 2003 to 2008, Sadr’s Mahdi Army took up arms against successive Iraqi governments and committed widespread atrocities against the country’s Sunni minority, in addition to targeting U.S. installations and personnel until American forces left Iraq at the end of 2011.
Eighteen days of protests in Egypt in 2011 electrified the world. But more than twice that many days of protest in Iraq have gone almost unnoticed in the United States. Iraqi army troops killed five Sunni protesters in Fallujah on Jan. 25, after a month of anti-government protests in Anbar, Nineveh and Salahuddin provinces and elsewhere for which thousands turned out. Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Iranian-backed Shiite militias are re-mobilizing. Iraq teeters on the brink of renewed insurgency and, potentially, civil war.
Even by Pakistan‘s standards, it has been an exceptionally busy week. Terrorist attacks targeting the Hazara Shia community in Quetta killed over 100, leading to widespread protests and the subsequent sacking of Baluchistan‘s elected assembly and the imposition of Governor law. Tensions flared up on the border with India with troops from both sides being killed.
A moderate cleric, Tahur ul Qadri, is holding a long march in the capital, demanding the dissolution of the current elected government and the installation of a neutral caretaker government leading to elections. Finally, the Supreme Court has ordered the arrest of the current Prime Minister on corruption charges. Yes all of that happened in just one week.