Middle East

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Explainer: What’s happening in Iraq?

Brian O'Reilly

Published 13/06/2014 | 10:13

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Members of the Iraqi security forces pose as they guard volunteers who have joined the Iraqi Army to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants, who have taken over Mosul and other Northern provinces, travelling in army trucks, in Baghdad, June 12, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad
Members of the Iraqi security forces pose as they guard volunteers who have joined the Iraqi Army to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants, who have taken over Mosul and other Northern provinces, travelling in army trucks, in Baghdad, June 12, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad

The current situation in Iraq boils down to a centuries-old conflict between two different groups of Muslims – the Shia and Sunni.

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About 63pc of Iraq’s population are Shia, while about 34pc are Sunni.

Iraq’s current government is led by a Shia Prime Minister, and the current rebellion led by an extremist Sunni group.

The same conflict is being played out in Syria – President Assad is a Shia, however only 13pc of the population there are.

The Syrian rebels are Sunni, and they make up about 74pc of the population.

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) is the name of the group currently rebelling in Iraq.

Iraq’s government is widely seen as corrupt, and lacking in any solid power structure since the 2003 US invasion means its poorly organised army are crumbling to the rebels.

The ISIS has been steadily building a power base in lawless northern Syria, and has now moved to create nation state of Sunnis in north-west Iraq and northern Syria.

They would never have succeeded in launching such a successful attack under the regime of Saddam Hussein, who crushed any dissent by brutal military means. 

The group enjoys widespread support by sunnis in the region, who view the nation’s largely Shia-controlled army as an occupying force.

Prime Minister al-Maliki has allowed tensions to simmer between the groups, treating the Sunni like second-class citizens.

The focus now moves to Baghdad as the group pushes south – with many believing if Baghdad falls the country itself will disintegrate.

The US and other western powers would be anxious not to see the current government fall - fearing that in a power vacuum extremists and terrorism would flourish.

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