A View from Iran: War between Sunnis and Shiites

War between Sunnis and Shiites?   When I was in high school in Iran and just getting interested in politics I often heard this expression that “if there is a fight even between two fish in the sea, there must be an Englishman around.”  Most Iranians were aware of the British colonialism and its history dominating Africa and the Americas, but also Asia and the Persian Gulf region in the 19th and early 20th century.  Many of the Arab kingdoms were established by, or owed their very existence to  Great Britain, France and later on to the USA. After the discovery of oil in1930s the role of these kingdoms became even more important for the West, so much so that today GB, France and especially US maintain many military, air and naval basis in the Arab-speaking countries and the Persian Gulf emirates to ensure the free flow of oil and natural gas to their economies.

Iran, on the other hand never became a complete puppet of the Western powers, even during the Shah who enjoyed a great relationship with the West and was even called “the US policeman of the Persian Gulf.”

Now, of course the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) is the number one enemy of the West and is even more despised by the Arab rulers than Israel.  Saudi Arabia’s king Fahad had, according to Wikileaks cables released over a year ago, famously called Iran “the head of the snake” and demanded that the US attack Iran militarily and overthrow its regime.

Animosity between Sunnis and Shiites dates back to the beginning of Islam, when conflicts between Islamic leadership after Prophet Mohammad led to murdering of his cousin, imam Ali, his grandsons Hassan and Hossein and other descendants and relatives, including their children, all the way to the 12th imam, Mehdi, who is believed by Shiites to have been “disappeared” by god in tenth century and will one day resurrect along with Jesus Christ to save the world.  But before September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, followed by Afghanistan and Iraq wars there was not much actual attacks and wars among Sunnis and Shiites.  Since then, however, we have been witnessing too many bombings and suicide attacks by al-Qaeda and like- minded terrorists against Shiites in Iraq and other countries of the region.  Thousands of innocent non-combatant men, women and children have been slaughtered while shopping, praying in mosques and even during the mourning ceremonies such as Ashura and fasting months of Ramadan!  There have been reprisals by Shiites as well.

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