A simple question on Shiite / Sunni violence in Iraq

Today on the news again, there are stories of [Shiite] reprisals against [Sunni] civilians in revenge for [Sunni]bombings of [Shiite] civilians. On any particular day, you could probably switch the two factions in that sentence multiple times. (If I get my adjectives wrong I apologize)

How do they know they are targetting folks of the opposite faction. For example, with the story today, Shiite gunmen take to the streets to exact revenge. Is there different form of dress between the different factions? Is it a question of location, where Shiite and Sunnis tend to live in particular areas, so a gunman or terrorist can be confident to just walk into an area and even if they are targetting some random people , they are of the correct target faction? I guess they target actual locations, like a mosque etc. But when they target a coffee shop or a restaurant or whatever, are the populations that seperated that there would be no Sunni in the same location as Shiites?

As far as I know, there are no genetic feature differences between the two populations, just a spiritual/cultural difference and of course... history. But those are internalized characteristics.

I can understand how if the religious affiliation of a family or school is known in a community, that will identify them as a target... but its the random seeming violence. If two groups of gunmen spot each in at far ends of the street, how do they even determine they are of opposing factions?

I just dont understand how folks can target each other in a random attack with such surety that they are hitting members of the right target faction. Is it just a numbers game, where even if there is some collateral dmg to ones own faction..that's ok as long as you get more 'of them?'

I apologize for being naive on this.. it just seems that folks must be inflicting a lot of collateral damage on their 'own' people also. I guess it isnt as random as it sometimes comes across.

Hey, you!

Yes?

Do you support the succssorship of Ali, or Abu Bakr, then Umar and Uthman?

Uh... Ali, what's it to you?

LALALALALALA *BOOM*

Ah, they blow up so fast.

Well, the short answer to that is that the grassroots intelligence and intimidation is really the role of the militias. Sectarian militias do the sorting of the sheep and the goats, so to speak. So when it comes time to extract some payback, they are pretty sure where the goats are.

This isn't at all new btw. The role of the volunteer militias in our own revolution was roughly the same. They were of little real battlefield combat effectiveness, but did a fantastic job of separating true blue Revolutionaries from traitorous Torries -- often using deadly force to run them off their land.

I'd imagine the factions don't live in the same neighborhoods.

LobsterMobster wrote:

I'd imagine the factions don't live in the same neighborhoods.

And the militias are largely responsible for enforcing that sort of sectarian segregation. Sunni and Shiite night riders make sure there ain't no race mixin'. It's all very Reconstruction.

An excellent article explaining that in a couple-weeks-old Time magazine issue described the roots and the current state of the issue, and also gave answer to your question on side notes. Unfortunately, the sidebar is not reproduced in the web archive version of the article.

What it spoke about was how Sunni/Shia are likely to dress differently in a run-up to a major holiday, how Shia frequently adorn their cars with images of their favored Imams, or how can you say where the car is from the pre-dominant Shia or Sunni are just by reading its license plate.

Also, a few years ago the population was failry integrated, and there were plenty of mixed Shia/Sunni neighborhoods and mixed marriages were a commonplace. Not so anymore, after the mutual cleansing took place on both sides. The gunmen or bombers intent on targeting this or that population can do so with a confidence now, as there are no more gray lines.

I think the Crips wear one color and the Bloods wear another.

From some sources I've read, because Iraq had been secular for so long under Saddam, there was little to no tension between Sunnis and Shias over religion itself. Most people simply didn't care. It was like Protestants versus Catholics; they disagreed, but nobody got killed over it anymore.

According to those claims, it was our expectation of religious violence and treating the Sunni/Shia split as being real, even before there was any violence to speak of, that ended up encouraging it. Per those claims (I've seen this in a couple of blogs by actual Iraqis), if we had simply treated the populace roughly like we would an American one -- that is, that religion exists but it's not important in a power-sharing sense -- the disintegration into factions wouldn't have happened.

It's also, apparently, just a few lunatics doing most of the killing; the great majority of Iraqis tell the poll-takers they don't want to see Iraq split. Whether that's their real opinion or not, I don't know -- they could consider telling the truth to pollsters to be dangerous -- but that's what they say.

Also, they have propensity to different popular names, going back to history of Caliphs for Sunnis and Imams for Shia..

LIke you can tell the level of someone's parents trashiness if their child is named Caitleen or Kathelyn...

Malor wrote:

From some sources I've read, because Iraq had been secular for so long under Saddam, there was little to no tension between Sunnis and Shias over religion itself. Most people simply didn't care. It was like Protestants versus Catholics; they disagreed, but nobody got killed over it anymore.

According to the claims I've read, it was our expectation of religious violence and treating the Sunni/Shia split as being real, even before there was any violence to speak of, that ended up encouraging it. Per those claims (I've seen this in a couple of blogs by actual Iraqis), if we had simply treated the populace roughly like we would an American one -- that is, that religion exists but it's not important in a power-sharing sense -- the disintegration into factions wouldn't have happened.

It's also, apparently, just a few lunatics doing most of the killing; the great majority of Iraqis tell the poll-takers they don't want to see Iraq split. Whether that's their real opinion or not, I don't know -- they could consider telling the truth to pollsters to be dangerous -- but that's what they say.

I'm not sure it is entirely fair to say there was little or no sectarian tension. SCIRI was still a very much living opposition movement and was entirely sectarian in nature even during Saddam Hussein. Much of that has to do with the legacy of British colonialism and the imposition of ethnically/sectarian class divisions. At the risk of belittling the impact of American slavery, it was much like the white/black divide in the Deep South during the post-Civil War years. There wasn't outright ethnic cleansing on the order you have today, but that wasn't to say that the groups got along famously either.

There was a great deal of intermarriage in fairly well integrated urban areas (like Baghdad), but individuals still traced their roots to deeply divided rural areas from which they drew their identity. Places like Tikrit (deeply Sunni) were very different from places like Basra (deeply Shiite). The identity was significant enough that folks identified themselves by their places of birth (eg: Saddam Hussein al Tikriti).

What you have now is an upsetting of the precarious order that once had a Sunni minority in charge of a Shiite majority. The destruction of ethnic/sectarian privilege is resulting in violent resistance out of both indignation and fear. The Sunnis are indignant at being treated like Shiite dogs and fearful that they will leverage their numerical superiority to repay them for hundreds of years of subservience (much like the whites in the Old South felt, and some say still do, about emancipation). The Shiites are indignant at the resistance of the Sunnis to accept present political realities and fearful that American and Saudi intervention will bring back a Sunni dictator in the model of Saddam Hussein (sort of like the "South rising again").

So far, we have done nothing to dissuade them that their worldviews are 100% accurate.

There was a great deal of intermarriage in fairly well integrated urban areas (like Baghdad)

Both the blogs I was reading were by Iraqis in Baghdad, which might explain a lot right there. We know how different the city and the country is here; I imagine it's just as different there.

And yes, absolutely. Had we been focused on human rights and making sure the new government was a just one for all Iraqis, we could probably have made it work. The way to convince someone your way is better is by actually being better. After Abu Ghraib, they realized we were every bit as monstrous as Saddam -- possibly, by Islamic standards, worse -- and that was where we lost the war. Once they understood that the American leadership wasn't what it claimed to be, and wasn't about justice in any way, shape, or form, they started seriously fighting back.

It will just get worse and worse until they kick us out of the Middle East so hard we bounce; we have no moral authority at all, and they will never accept any government we try to impose.

The BBC posted this map the other day that showed how the neighborhoods in Baghdad have changed in composition over the last few years.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/in_depth/baghdad_navigator/

Jesus Christ that's depressing.

If there's anyone who knows depressing, it's JC.