Sectarian Violence in Iraq

Sectarian Violence in Iraq

Civil war in Iraq due to rising Sunni-Shia sectarian violence


Sectarian violence in Iraq continues to worsen as clashes erupt between Sunni and Shia groups. The conflict escalated beginning in December 2013 in Iraq’s Anbar Province, following attacks by the al-Qaeda franchise Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Iraqi security forces have launched a major offensive to regain ISIS-controlled areas, but the group continues to make gains, capturing the city of Fallujah in early January 2014, as well as Mosul and Tikrit in June.

U.S. president Barack Obama authorized limited air strikes against ISIS militants in northern Iraq in August 2014 to prevent the killing of religious minorities and any threats to U.S. personnel and interests in Baghdad and the Kurdish capital of Erbil. The United States has also sent humanitarian assistance to Yazidi refugees fleeing ISIS-controlled areas, deployed nearly one thousand U.S. troops for support and training,  and also sent arms to Kurdish forces.

According to the United Nations, more than eight thousand people were killed in 2013 due to sectarian violence—the highest number of fatalities since the upsurge in civil violence between 2006 and 2008. The fight against ISIS has internally displaced more than one million Iraqis and killed thousands in 2014 alone. ISIS has also targeted Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities, including the killing of at least five hundred Yazidis in August 2014.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, dividing lines between religious groups have widened and certain groups have become empowered over others. The Shia—which constitute more than 60 percent of the total population—have been able to extend greater influence in Iraq’s political atmosphere.

To ease sectarian tension within the country, Iraq’s president nominated Haider al-Abadi to replace Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on August 11. Maliki’s Shia-dominated government had increasingly removed Sunni officials and arrested hundreds of Sunni extremists in response to bomb attacks by Sunni fundamentalist groups targeting Shia neighborhoods. If sectarian violence continues to take hold of the country, Iraq may plunge into a deeper state of chaos and potentially into a state of civil war. The United States seeks to establish a stable Iraq, and prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorist organizations.

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