Shia, Sunni to battle for regional supremacy in 2012

Of course, there is nothing new about the conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims, but it is indeed new as a feature on the regional level in modern times. After all, as long as there were secular-style regimes preaching an all-inclusive Arab nationalist identities, differences between religious communities were subordinated. Once there are Islamist regimes, theology becomes central again, as it was centuries ago.

However, no one should misunderstand the situation. This is fundamentally a struggle for political power and wealth. When Sunni and Shia states or movements battle they are acting as political entities with strategies, tactics and goals.

The growing power and influence of Iran’s Islamist regime posed a tremendous problem for Arab Sunni Islamists. They generally did not like Iran because it was Persian and Shia, yet it was the only Islamist game in town. Thus, Arab Sunni Islamist Hamas became an Iranian client. The Iran-Iraq war reflected these antagonisms, as best seen in Iraqi propaganda. Yet Iraq’s regime was also able to keep the Shia majority there under control.

Saddam Hussein’s removal by a US-led international force opened up the question of communal relations in Iraq. Iraqi Shias are a three-to-one majority over their Sunni neighbors, so they will automatically win any election, especially with Iraqi Kurds opting out for what is, de facto if not de jure, their own state in the north. Despite the anti-American and al-Qaida elements of the Sunni insurgency, it was essentially a last-ditch attempt by the Sunnis to reclaim power. It failed and while violence continues, now the main Sunni emphasis will be on negotiating the best possible division of power....

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