Regional Sectarian divisions across borders overshadow Iraq’s Arab Spring

When the term “arab spring” is mentioned, Iraq is never considered among the countries involved.  This is strange as the main definition for the arab spring has been described as  wave of revolutionary protests and demonstrations calling for democracy, anti-corruption, better employment etc.  The country of Iraq exhibits all of these qualities.

On August 27th, author Vali Nasr, professor at Tufts University and  senior fellow at the Brookings Institution as well as the author of “The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future.” discusses the history and future projections for  the region of the Middle East and Iraq with the New York Times. The article is called, “if the Arab Spring turns ugly.”

Vali Nasr does not propose a hopeful picture for the Arab Spring, contending that it has the recipe to fail.  Historically, across MENA states, when a dictatorship/authoritarian regimes falls or is removed, the most powerful of sectarian divisions comes to power and democracy falls by the wayside. As Gause hypothesizes, the sectarian divisions across regional borders will play a role in which parties come to power.  The author uses case studies of MENA countries and their own Arab springs to discuss the fractioning of each society.  The fractioning of each society is single-handedly connected back to European colonialism of the area for putting larger members of minority in positions of power in military and government.

For the case of Syria, the Alawite minority is in control of the regime and in conjunction with the brutality of Bashar al-Asaad the Sunni majority population is in extreme opposition.  The same setup can be seen with the once in charge Saddam Hussein ruling the Iraqi regime with the minority Sunni in opposition to the majority Shi’i populations. It has even been argued that regimes heads perpetuate these sectarian divide to promote sectarian cleansing in wars-as Gause also theorizes. This problem of sectarian divisions in Syria is potentially spreading to Iraq, with recorded attacks of Sunni populations by the Syrian regime near the border of Iraq.  Nasr remarks, “The potential for a broader clash between Alawites and Sunnis is clear, and it would probably not be confined to Syria.” The “hopeful narrative” of the Arab Spring may very likely be overshadowed by a sectarian power struggle.

This author proposes, like Persian Gulf expert Gregory Gause, that there has been a long history of sectarian divides across borders, spreading from Pakistan-Karachi to Lebanon. One of the main concerns of the United States withdrawal from Iraq is the power struggle between predominately Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran.  For 2011, Shiite and Sunni tensions have been noted in all countries from Bahrain to Syria which together could pose a threat against the United States. Sectarian divides have been re-exacertabted by the arab spring’s call for democracy and dignity as most of the regimes in place are guilty of putting hands in the power of the minority and suppressing the individual rights of the majority.  The grudges and years of abuse can possibly outweigh the ideals of the arab spring.

The war in Iraq has been specifically blamed for further exacerbating the Shi’ite and Sunni populations, spreading the heightened rivalry to other regional states. The Arab Spring, as hypothesized by the author has allowed oppositions “to resurface by weakening states that have long kept sectarian divisions in place, and brutally suppressed popular grievances.”  As it stands, Shiites fight and protest for representation in Lebanon, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and Sunnis fighting for the same in Iraq and Syria.

More than anything-regional influence is of heightened importance in the Arab Spring in all countries-including Iraq.

Reference the article: If the Arab Spring Turns Ugly

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