Sixty-three percent of Iraq’s population is Shia Muslim, thirty-three percent is Sunni Muslim. For the part five centuries the minority, Sunni Muslims have held political power in Iraq it was not until recently that the majority, the Shia Muslims, were able to experience political power. The tensions between Sunni and Shia in Iraq are not due to religious differences formed after Muhammad’s death 1,382 years ago and are not inevitable, as proven by the relationships between Sunni and Shia in other countries and in the past. The state of unrest surrounding the Sunni and Shia Muslims of Iraq is due to politics, power, and privilege, caused by the change of attitude in Islamic leaders in government and the discrimination of the Shia by the Sunni minority. This has been partly due to the fact that early in their history Shias were not the majority and therefore lost political power. This unbalance and the differences between the two sects are most unstable and evident during times of political unrest.
Islam was broken into two different sects immediately fallowing Muhammad’s death; this was due to arguments surrounding whether or not he had named a successor. These two sects were the Shia and Sunni. The Shia believed that leadership of the Muslim community should stay with in the prophet’s family and therefore believed Ali, Muhammad’s son in law, to be the rightful leader of the Muslim world. The Sunni believed that this honor and responsibility should be given to someone deemed responsible to lead the community by the community. The Sunni’s large numbers won this debate and they chose the first caliph. This was the first and not the last time the Sunni would be in political power. Ali would be chosen as the fourth caliph and soon after assassinated. Ali’s son Hussein lead an army against the Sunni caliph and was defeated caused a deepening in the rift between the Sunni and Shia.
The next clash between Shia and Sunni Muslims would take place between the Safavids and Ottomans. The Safavids had named Shia Islam the official religion of Iran and wanted to use the people of Iraq’s beliefs in Shia Islam in order to gain control of Iraq, where as the ottomans feared Shia Islam would then spread to Asia Minor. The Ottamans fought to keep a strong Sunni presence in Iraq to act as a buffer for the rest of the Ottoman Empire against the Shia majority in Iran and Southern Iraq. These political decisions made by the Ottomans and Safavids used the Sunni and Shia religion to gain the support of the people and caused the rift between the two sects to grow larger. It also shaped the course of Sunni and Shia relations in Iraq for the future. During Ottoman occupancy of Iraq, Sunni were favored and able to gain political experience. The Sunni supremacy leads to a large difference between the education and economic stability of the Sunni over the Shia. These benefits allowed the Sunni to “monopolize political power in the twentieth century”.
At the end of ottoman...