Sunnis and Shiites Head Toward a Showdown in Iraq

There has been plenty of talk about the re-emergence of sectarian violence in Iraq post-US withdrawal. What’s been left out of that dialogue is the shape that violence will take, whether that is unknown or ignored, and this article speculates on exactly that.

This short but insightful piece suggests that the violence might take the form of the Sunni minority pushing for an autonomous Sunni region in Iraq. Of course, al-Maliki criticizes this idea because it undermines the central government of Iraq–however, it is legal under the Iraqi constitution to establish autonomous regions within the country. Obviously, this has already been accomplished with the Kurdistan region, so with that precedence set it seems like it will be difficult for the Iraqi government to simply undermine Sunni requests for their own autonomous region.

The most problematic aspect of a Sunni region would be regional, as is explained:

“If an autonomous Sunni region is established, Iraq would face a de facto split along sectarian lines. And that might tempt Shiite Iranian leaders and the Sunni rulers of Saudi Arabia to ramp up their support for their respective communities in Iraq. A former senior Iraqi official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, says he has seen documents indicating that the Saudi government has begun funding Sunni leaders to push for an autonomous region.

Any attempt by the Saudis to increase their influence will not sit well with Iran, which has deep ties with the Iraqi government as well as militant leaders like Sadr. The depth of their influence was on display three weeks ago: the same day that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta addressed the Senate Armed Services Committee about the readiness of Iraqi troops, the head of the Iraqi Army, Babakir Zebari, was being feted like a royal in Tehran. Zebari, who has made headlines in the past by announcing that American troops should stay in Iraq until 2020, seemed to be hedging his bets. He met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the trip, as well as with top commanders of the Revolutionary Guards.”

It looks like what might be best for Iraq is irrelevant to the interests of the rest of the region and even the world.

Sunnis and Shiites Head Toward a Showdown in Iraq

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