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Shias and Sunnis

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Millions stage world's greatest pilgrimage
Millions of black-clad Shia pilgrims are converging on the holy city of Kerbala for the Arbaeen religious commemoration, the largest annual gathering of people anywhere on earth. Walking in long columns stretching back unbroken for as much as 50 miles, sleeping and eating in tents erected by supporters beside the road, the event has become... Read More
“The people of Mosul will receive their salaries, while the people of Basra will receive the bodies of their martyrs,” runs a bitter comment on Iraqi social media. Many Iraqis see the inhabitants of Mosul as willing collaborators with Isis during its three years in power in the city. In particular, there are calls for... Read More
President Trump leaves the Middle East today, having done his bit to make the region even more divided and mired in conflict than it was before. At the same moment that Donald Trump was condemning the suicide bomber in Manchester as “an evil loser in life”, he was adding to the chaos in which al-Qaeda... Read More
It was crude stuff. President Trump called on 55 Muslim leaders assembled in Riyadh to drive out terrorism from their countries. He identified Iran as a despotic state and came near to calling for regime change, though Iran held a presidential election generally regarded as fair only two days previously. He denounced Hezbollah and lined... Read More
The Iraqi armed forces will eventually capture west Mosul, which is still held by Isis fighters, but the city itself will be destroyed in the fighting, a senior Iraqi politician has told The Independent in an interview. Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurdish leader who until last year was the Iraqi finance minister and prior to that... Read More
The British Government’s fawning on the absolute monarchs of the Gulf, whose authority is enforced by beheadings, lashings and the torture chamber, is at once contemptible and pathetic. It is a measure of Britain’s decline as a great power that it is only in tiny, toxic, sectarian Bahrain, where Sunni rulers suppress the Shia majority,... Read More
Five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, his face bloody and bruised from bomb blast, stares out in bafflement at a world in which somebody had just tried to kill him. Pictures of his little figure in the back of an ambulance in Aleppo have swiftly become the living symbol of the slaughter in Syria and Iraq. In the... Read More
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Arab Spring was always a misleading phrase, suggesting that what we were seeing was a peaceful transition from authoritarianism to democracy similar to that from communism in Eastern Europe. The misnomer implied an over-simplified view of the political ingredients that produced the protests and uprisings of 2011 and over-optimistic expectations about their outcome. Five years... Read More
Saudi Arabia will be pleased that the furore over its execution of the Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr is taking the form of a heightened confrontation with Iran and the Shia world as a whole. Insults and threats are exchanged and diplomatic missions closed. Sunni mosques are blown up in Shia-dominated areas of Iraq. The Saudi... Read More
Conflicts among communities that once lived together in peace brings the prospect of a refugee crisis that will continue long after the fighting ends
Sectarian and ethnic cleansing by all sides in Syria and Iraq is becoming more intense, ensuring that there are few mixed areas left in the two countries and, even if the war ends, many refugees will find it too dangerous to return to their homes. Communities which once lived together in peace are today so... Read More
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This email from my driver in Baghdad proves it
I used to have a driver called Omar in Baghdad at the height of the Sunni-Shia slaughter between 2004 and 2010. He was a Sunni Arab and, at the peak of the sectarian bloodshed, he fled with his family to Damascus where they stayed for a year. On his return, he found that his house,... Read More
Ironically, they are the ones who inspire men to fight and who can prevent sectarian division
I spent last week in Karbala and Najaf, the Shia holy cities south-west of Baghdad, which I have always found to be among the wonders of the world. There is something entrancing and even magical about the sight of their golden domes and minarets rising above the roofs of the houses around them. I first... Read More
More influential than any politician, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani wants the West to send Baghdad more weapons to help the fight against the terrorist group
The most powerful Shia religious leader in Iraq has put out a call for the international community to send Baghdad more modern weapons to help it fight against Isis. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, widely considered to have more authority than any of Iraq’s leading politicians, also wants neighbouring countries to close their borders so that... Read More
Shia militiamen believe the nuclear deal will herald more American help in battle to liberate Iraq
They are home to more than a million of Iraq’s Shia Muslims, and contain the tombs of that faith’s holiest figures. In recent months they have provided thousands of fighters for the militias battling Isis, but their inhabitants have watched in frustration as US air power has been deployed in support of the less effective... Read More
But lack of experience risks heavy casualties
Tens of thousands of Shia militiamen are poised to join the battle for Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, in a bid to recapture it from Isis fighters who seized the city 18 months ago. The battle is likely to be one of the decisive military engagements of the Iraq war as Fallujah has been... Read More
The seven wars in Muslim countries where 'Islamic State' is powerful or growing in strength
There are seven wars raging in Muslim countries between the borders of Pakistan in the east and Nigeria in the west. In all seven – Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and north-east Nigeria – local versions of Isis are either already powerful or are gaining in influence. Key to its explosive expansion in Iraq... Read More
Iraqi government deploys Shia militiamen to assist in counter-offensive to retake city from jihadists
Shia militiamen and Iraqi government forces are preparing to launch a counter-offensive to recapture Ramadi as Isis fighters tighten their control of the city after seizing it in a three-day battle. The loss of Ramadi has discredited the Baghdad government and US policy of relying on the regular army backed by US air strikes to... Read More
Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis
Foreign states that go to war in Yemen usually come to regret it. The Saudi-led military intervention so far involves only air strikes, but a ground assault may follow. The code name for the action is Operation Decisive Storm, which is probably an indication of what Saudi Arabia and its allies would like to happen... Read More
Mahmoud Omar, a young Sunni photographer, is angered though not entirely surprised by the way in which the Baghdad government continues to mistreat his fellow Sunnis. Political leaders inside and outside Iraq all agree that the best, and possibly the only, way to defeat Isis is to turn at least part of the Sunni Arab... Read More
Tehran may have formed an unlikely alliance with its sworn enemy, but a policy of open confrontation and covert co-operation with the US is likely to continue
The United States says Iranian F-4 Phantoms have carried out bombing raids against Isis north-east of Baghdad, a claim that appears to be confirmed by film of the aircraft taken from the ground. Iran, however, denies that any of its planes are carrying out combat missions in Iraq. The raids are said to have taken... Read More
The Home Secretary's counter-terrorism Bill is unlikely to make the militants lose any sleep
There have been two interesting initiatives on "terrorism" over the month, both highly revealing in different ways about opposition to Islamic State (Isis). The first is a ludicrous document issued by the government of the United Arab Emirates that lists as "terrorist organisations" no less than 85 groups, coupling well-regarded Muslim charities with violent jihadis... Read More
Exclusive: CIA has hugely underestimated the number of jihadis, who now rule an area the size of Britain
The Islamic State (Isis) has recruited an army hundreds of thousands strong, far larger than previous estimates by the CIA, according to a senior Kurdish leader. He said the ability of Isis to attack on many widely separated fronts in Iraq and Syria at the same time shows that the number of militant fighters is... Read More
The US plan of strengthening local tribes is no match for the brutality of the jihadis
Islamic State (Isis) has a grisly ritual whereby its victims are compelled to chant "the Islamic State remains" in the moments before they are executed. Unfortunately, the slogan remains all too true: five months after Isis defeated the Iraqi army and captured much of northern and western Iraq, it is still tightening its grip on... Read More
Shia militias 'abducting and killing Sunni civilians in revenge for Isis attacks'
Iraq is descending into savage sectarian warfare as government-backed Shia militias kill, torture and hold for ransom any Sunni whom they detain. Isis is notorious for its mass killings of Shia, but retaliation by Shia militiamen means that Iraq is returning to the levels of sectarian slaughter last seen in the Sunni-Shia civil war of... Read More
Possibility of civil conflict within Baghdad looms as Maliki deploys elite forces and his supporters take to the streets
Iraq’s new President appointed Haider al-Abadi as the Prime Minister today, damaging the hopes of Nouri al Maliki of serving a third term in the position and raising the possibility of civil conflict in Baghdad, even as militants threaten the capital. Mr Maliki is reluctant to give up his ambition despite military defeat and the... Read More
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A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade.
How far is Saudi Arabia complicit in the Isis takeover of much of northern Iraq, and is it stoking an escalating Sunni-Shia conflict across the Islamic world? Some time before 9/11, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence until a few months ago, had a revealing... Read More
Tom Malinowski met with leaders of the al-Wifaq party, who claim the order shows that those opposed to reform and reconciliation within the ruling al-Khalifa family are prevailing
Bahrain has ordered a top US diplomat visiting the island to leave the country after he met leaders of the main Shia opposition party. The government said that the US assistant secretary for human rights, Tom Malinowski, was “unwelcome” and he should end his official three-day visit to Bahrain “due to his interference in its... Read More
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi puts persecution of Shias at heart of his ideology ahead of push on Baghdad
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declares himself leader of a new caliphate in asermon in the Grand Mosque in Mosul and says the victories of his forces are a sign of divine guidance. He praises jihad, or holy war, and recalls that the Prophet Mohamed used to pray in the front line of his battles. It is... Read More
A demoralised army is hoping that the US will step in with drones, but their use could bring devastating revenge attacks
The meltdown of American and British policy in Iraq and Syria attracts surprisingly little criticism at home. Their aim for the past three years has been get rid of Bashar al-Assad as ruler of Syria and stabilise Iraq under the leadership of Nouri al-Maliki. The exact reverse has happened, with Mr Assad in power and... Read More
Credit: MSgt. James Bowman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
He is being touted as country's next prime minister. But could his controversial record rule him out?
The enemy is at the gates of Baghdad. A small insurgent force has humiliatingly defeated an enormous Iraqi army. The government has no authority in that half of Iraq lying north and west of the capital. The Syrian civil war has spread and capsized the Iraqi state. In his eight years in power Iraqi Prime... Read More
The city has long been a divided society. But the murder of a Sunni doctor – two bullets to the head – demonstrates a new chapter in the killings
Dr Mustafa Khalil Ahmed, a young heart surgeon, was sitting with his father in their house in the mixed Sunni-Shia neighbourhood of Yarmouk in Baghdad when the doorbell rang at 11pm. There were two men outside, one of whom said he was sick. Dr Mustafa opened the door and the two men rushed in, producing... Read More
The country has already divided into three regions with Shia, Sunni and Kurds exchanging little more between them than gunfire
William Hague has told Iraqi leaders in Baghdad that national unity was needed to overcome the present crisis, but gave a sense of speaking of an Iraq which has already passed away. In the past month, Iraq has divided into three regions – Shia, Sunni and Kurdish; little is exchanged between them except gunfire. Mr... Read More
Hated by Sunni, Shia and Kurds, the PM must go immediately. But is an inclusive regime possible?
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is rejecting calls for an interim “national salvation government” that would seek to represent all Iraqi communities, claiming that such a government, under which he would step down, would be “a coup against the constitution”. Mr Maliki is opposed by the Sunni, Kurds, several Shia parties, the US and the... Read More
Islamists seize border crossing with Jordan and sweep towards Baghdad
The US Secretary of State John Kerry sounded upbeat after a 90-minute meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at the end of which he said: “That was good.” But if Mr Kerry is optimistic about the situation then he is about the only person in Baghdad feeling that way as news comes of... Read More
US and Iran need to work together fast, as the barbarians are at the gate
Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned against US intervention in Iraq, but US officials suspect that Iran wants to use its cooperation in political changes in Baghdad to extract concessions in negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme. The Independent has learned that US officials have told Iraqi leaders that the Iranians are linking their... Read More
Isis is closing in on Baghdad and the government is faltering, but the Shia’s militias are mobilising
The Iraqi army and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) are battling for control of Iraq’s largest refinery outside Baiji north of Baghdad, with each side holding part of the complex. But in the town of Baiji itself, a few miles away, which is completely under the control of Isis, residents say... Read More
The US has told senior Iraqi officials that the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, must leave office if it is to intervene militarily to stop the advance of Sunni extremists, The Independent has learnt. The Sunni community sees Mr Maliki as the main architect of its oppression and the Americans believe there can be no national... Read More
Both sides are using well-publicised massacres to encourage the demographic changes they want
Iraq is slipping over the edge into a future dominated by sectarian massacres and counter-massacres amid evidence that 63 Sunni prisoners were killed by either Iraqi police or Shia militiamen during an insurgent attack. The killings took place in Baquba on the north-eastern approaches to Baghdad when an attack by Sunni militants threatened to overrun... Read More
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Collapse of Shia-dominated regime could provoke Iranian intervention
Iraq is breaking up. The Kurds have taken the northern oil city of Kirkuk that they have long claimed as their capital. Sunni fundamentalist fighters vow to capture Baghdad and the Shia holy cities further south. Government rule over the Sunni Arab heartlands of north and central Iraq is evaporating as its 900,000-strong army disintegrates.... Read More
A spokesman has given the first clue to Isis’s response to its spectacular gains
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) is itself amazed by its spectacular victories this week, but vows to press on to Baghdad and the holy Shia cities of Karbala and Najaf. Its spokesman says that “enemies and supporters alike are flabbergasted” by its triumphs that he attributes to divine intervention. He calls... Read More
In the final part of his series, Patrick Cockburn explains how Sunni fundamentalist groups are successfully winning recruits through well-funded internet propaganda
Since 9/11, the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s GCHQ have justified their mass interception of their citizens’ private communications by claiming that this helps them to identify “terrorists”. At the same time, the US Treasury has made great efforts to detect and block financial donations to al-Qa’ida-type movements across the world. But, given... Read More
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Anti-Shia propaganda threatens a sectarian civil war which will engulf the entire Muslim world
Anti-Shia hate propaganda spread by Sunni religious figures sponsored by, or based in, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, is creating the ingredients for a sectarian civil war engulfing the entire Muslim world. Iraq and Syria have seen the most violence, with the majority of the 766 civilian fatalities in Iraq this month being Shia... Read More
Where there are Sunni minorities in Iraq, they will be killed or forced to flee
The civil war in Syria is reigniting the sectarian civil war in Iraq. A vast area of eastern Syrian and western Iraq is turning into a zone of war. Well-armed and well-organised al-Qa’ida-linked movements are launching attacks with suicide bombers from the shores of the Mediterranean to the Tigris River. They may also be over-playing... Read More
The West's Strange Bedfellows
It is a ferocious war waged by assassination, massacre, imprisonment and persecution that has killed tens of thousands of people. But non-Muslims – and many Muslims – scarcely notice this escalating conflict that pits Shia minority against Sunni majority. The victims of the war in recent years are mostly Shia. Last week a suicide bomber... Read More
2012 Threatens to be a Very Violent Year
In three of the Arab countries east of Egypt – Syria, Bahrain and Yemen – protesters have challenged their governments over the past year but failed to overthrow them. The reasons for those failures are very different though they have important points in common. In each of these states protesters were frustrated because a significant... Read More
Sunni v. Shia
A war of extraordinary brutality is being waged across the Muslim world which is largely ignored by the media. It is a war in which victims are assassinated or massacred with no chance to defend themselves. Most of those who die are poor people murdered in obscure places without the world paying any attention. Few... Read More
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Patrick Cockburn
About Patrick Cockburn

Patrick Cockburn is the Middle East correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent. He was awarded the 2005 Martha Gellhorn prize for war reporting. His book on his years covering the war in Iraq, The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (Verso) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for non-fiction.


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