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Religious and Ethnic Complexities in Iraq


Christopher Westley's article is solidly libertarian. But I should like to indicate here, some of the very real complexities of Iraq.

1. Iraq is not 'composed of three nations, Shia, Sunni & Kurd'. 'Shia' & 'Sunni' are religious divisions, dating back to the 8th century, & found right through the Islamic world. Sunnis are in a large majority amongst Muslims; Iran & Iraq are the only two areas with Shiite majorities. In addition, Iraq has significant Christian minorities.

2. In addition, in Iraq, there are ethnic groups & divisions. Most Iraqis are Arabs, but there are Kurds & Turkmen in the north. Kurds are in a majority there, with significant Turkmen & Arab minorities. Kurds speak Kurdish; Turkmen speak Turkish. Kurds & Turkmen are mostly Sunni, but again, there are important Shia minorities amongst them.

3. The Shias are mostly concentrated in the South. But the region also has a Sunni minority.

4. The central region, which includes Baghdad, has a Sunni majority. But it also has a very important Shia minority. The Shia suburbs of Baghdad are the stronghold of Muqtada al-Sadr, who has very large followings in many Iraqi towns & cities from north to south. Al-Sadr is a cleric whose family line descends from the Prophet. He & his immediate family suffered greatly under Saddam. Al-Sadr strongly favours a powerful central government, because his powerbase is found through most Iraqi cities.

5. The present impasse in Iraqi politics results from the political rivalries between Al-Sadr & another significant Shia cleric, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, whose family line also goes back to the Prophet. His family too were persecuted under Saddam. Al-Hakim leads the 'Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq' (SCIRI), which rules the Shia majority areas in the South. His family & that of Al-Sadr have competed for decades to lead all Shias. It is this rivalry which has prevented the formation of a central government.

6. Thus: a key Shiite political leader is strongly in favour of a central government, because his main power base is in Baghdad, & his followers are found throughout Iraq's cities.

7. Minorities in all regions are permanent minorities, because they are ethnic/religious minorities. Hence they too favour a strong central government: hoping this will curb the regional & provincial governments, run by the majority groups.

8. Thus it is not the case that 'Iraqis' prefer a central power vacuum, while the occupying powers want a strong central regime. Iraq in 2006 is Iraq in 2006. It is not a carbon copy of America in 1776 or 1861 or any other period.

Sudha Shenoy (1943–2008) was a lecturer in economic history at the University of Newcastle, Australia. She held visiting posts at California State University, Hayward; Ohio University, Athens; George Mason University; and the Mises Institute. She was the author of India: Progress or Poverty (London, IEA, 1971), Underdevelopment and Economic Growth (London: Longman, 1970), and articles in the South African Journal of Economic and Management Sciences and other journals, as well as book chapters. She is also the editor of A Tiger By the Tail: The Keynesian Legacy of Inflation by F.A. Hayek. See her interview in the Austrian Economics Newsletter.

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