Who are the Sunnis and the Shiites and why are they killing each other in Iraq? The media reports that violence is at an all time high between these groups. In Sadr City near the heart of the Shiite Muslim community more then 200 people were killed. The other group responded by burning Sunnis alive and destroying Sunni mosques and homes. It’s reported that 3,700 civilians were killed in October, more then any month since the fighting began.
These two groups are engaged in a religious, political and economic war against each other. The dispute dates back to the start of Islam with the question of succession to the Prophet Muhammad. The Shiite’s claimed only a member of the prophet’s family was entitled to leadership but a non family member became a successor. The Sunni’s did not agree. The Shiites believe that only the heirs of the fourth leader, Ali, are legitimate successors because he was related to Muhammad. The Sunnis disagree. They won control of the political institutions and began to suppress the Shiites. Killing and war began. The Sunnis became the majority both economically and politically. The Shiites have about 100 million followers primarily in places like Iran, Iraq and Lebanon. Osama bina Laden is a Sunni Muslim.
While the Shiite’s represent only 10% of the Muslims world wide, they represent 60% of the Muslims in Iraq. When Saddam Hussein lost power in 2003 the blood feud began again. Saddam had oppressed the Shiite majority in favor of the Sunni’s. The instability of the country contributed to the fighting and killing between them. The Iraq Shiite majority have become the primary targets of the insurgents. They have been attacked at mosques, weddings, funerals and crowed markets. But when Iraq got it’s first ever Shiite majority government, there was a wave of attacks on Sunni Arab leaders. Sunni’s claim Shiites working with official police forces are responsible. The Shiites, who for years were the oppressed, took power in the election and now control Iraq’s government, parliament as well as the police and security forces. The Sunnis, who ran Iraq from the time of the Ottoman Empire are enraged. "Insurgents" can be said to be the fundamentalists who are responsible for much of the killing. Within Islam there are groups generally called "fundamentalists" usually identified as Khawarij, Salafi and Wahabi. Wahabi is the official state religion of Saudi Arabia. The Taliban of Afghanistan were aligned with the Wahabi of Saudi Arabia.
The Shiites new political power in Iraq concern the rest of mostly Sunni Muslim Middle East. Saudi Arabia has a significant number of Shiite’s as does Egypt who fear similar unrest. This concern results in political and economic complications involving the whole region. The situation is seen by some at a tipping point.