Today the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims all agree that Allah is the only God and Muhammad his messenger. The Sunnis rely heavily on the practice of the Prophet and his teachings, the Shia see their Ayatollahs as reflections of God on earth. This has led Sunnis to accuse Shia of heresy, while Shia point to Sunni dogmatism. Being the minority party the Shia have been careful not to be drawn into large scale conflict with the Sunni’s, although the Iran Iraq war in the 80s was an exception to this pragmatism. The "Shia Crescent" runs from Iran, through Syria to Hizbullah in Lebanon and is at the centre of much of the trouble in the region today.
|Shia Muslim distribution|
Meanwhile with unenviable timing President Barack Obama’s has decided to send unspecified “direct military support” to Syria’s Sunni rebels ramping up the stakes with Shia globally (The Assad Regime is Shia), just at the moment when moderates need encouragement in Iran. The evidence that has been used to give cover for this active participation (use of poison gas) seems pretty thin and is strangely reminiscent of the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ ruse used in Iraq. Despite the opportunities to further the moderates cause in Iran it seems that Obama wants to keep up the Presidential tradition of starting an unwinnable war, that has been in place since the time of Bill Clinton.
Sunni-Shia tensions became centre stage after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 that catapulted the Shia majority in Iraq to power. Iraq became a sectarian bloodbath, with Christian communities caught between Sunni and Shia bloodletting. Syria is now in the same place and the last thing we need is for the USA to be taking sides. Neutrality is particularly important as the sectarianism is the consequence not the cause of this conflict, which started as a civic uprising against the Assad family (part of the Arab Spring). Obama is getting into very deep water as he will be directly attacking Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanese proxy, as well as the Shia Islamist government of Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq.
What no one in the Pentagon can tell us is the impact this direct attack on the Shia world will have on neighboring states such as Turkey where the Sunni ruling party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan already have major issues with the minority Shia population that make up a fifth of the country’s population. Mr Obama is belatedly entering a very complex geo-religious drama and he would be well advised to leave well alone.