Who Are the Sunni, Shia, & Kurds in Iraq & Syria? What Are Their Goals?
The media and the administration are miss-characterizing Muslim terrorist groups by using their brand names instead of their religious affiliations. In any given theocracy, religious affiliations are as important, if not more important, than their country of origin. In the Middle East, borders of countries are not as important as religious nationalism.
The Muslim population of the Middle East is divided into three main religious groups:
A theocracy is a form of government where a deity has supreme rule over its people and is governed by a set of religious laws, such as the Koran.
The main difference between Sunni and Shia is centered around who leads Islam after Muhammad dies. The Sunnis believe it should be a person who is qualified to be their leader. This person is called a Caliph. The country they control is called a Caliphate. The Shia believe it should be a direct descendant of Mohammad. This person is called an Imam. Saudi Arabia is predominantly Sunni, while Iran is predominantly Shia. The Kurds include a mixture of many religions, including Sunni, Shia, Christian, and many off-shoots from all of those religions.
Much to my surprise, while doing my research, I found that Sunnis have many more terrorist groups than Shia. The tables below show the groups and their country of origin.
Sunni Terrorist Groups
Iraq and Syria (was part of Al Qaeda)
South East Asia (offshoot of Al Qaeda)
Nigeria, Cameroon (part of ISIS)
Saudi Arabia (sharia law enforcement)
JAT Laskar Jihad
Jamaatal al Muslmeen
Shia Terrorist Groups
We have all seen the ISIS flag. Have you ever wondered what the inscription on the flag means? The writing on the top half of the flag is called the Shadaha or the declaration of faith. It reads: “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God.”
The white circle at its center, is the second part of the shahada which reads: "Muhammad is the Messenger of God." It’s meant to represent the official seal of the Prophet Muhammad, but some scholars have long debated what that seal actually looked like.
The two Arabic phrases, the black color of the flag and even the ancient looking font of Arabic all work to evoke an image of the historical Islamic caliphate, the massive state that ISIS claims to have resurrected.
Source: The Middle East Independent News
Let's Rewrite the Headlines (Updated 6/5/2017)
Now that we understand their religious affiliations, let's re-write some headlines to be more accurate and make more sense. Below, I have captured some headlines from 5/4/2015. These are typical news headlines. But what they don't show is the religious affiliations of the various groups. Below each headline is my re-write in blue showing the affiliations.
Editorial note: The headlines shown below are from when I originally wrote this article. However, they are still a good example of how Muslims are all lumped to together without any distinction of their religious affiliations.
Saudi-led Sunni alliance mulls Partial truces in Yemen with Shia Houthis.
Sunni Car Bombs Across Iraq Kill at Least 26 Shia Led Troops and Civilians.
Dozens of Sunnis killed across Syria in Shia led air raids report say.
Map of Shia/Sunni Population
The map above shows the percentage of Shia/Sunni population in the mid-east today. Notice Iraq has a much larger Shia population than Sunni. It is approximately 65 to 70% more than Sunni. And Iran is about 90 to 95% majority Shia. However, Saudia Arabia has about 10 to 15% Shia, with the remainder all Sunni. Also notice that the largest percentage in the mid-east is Sunni. Therefore it makes it easier for ISIS to recruit members and control large areas of the mid-east because the Sunnis are the largest population in the mid-east.
It's interesting to also note that the largest population in Syria is Sunni, even though it is controlled by a Shia dictator. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni and the majority population in Iraq was Shia. He also controlled Iraq as a dictator. It seems that if you are a leader and your sect is in the minority, you will have to control your country as a dictator.
Source: The Times of Israel.com
The above map shows the areas of Kurdistan. This is where the Kurdish population lives. It is not recognized as a country by the world powers. However, it has a very large population that occupies many countries. It occupies parts of Turkey, Iran, and Syria. They do have their own military and have defended themselves against ISIS.
Source: The Kurdish Project
Mid-East Countries' Relationships to the U.S
I have created the diagram below to show the countries in the mid-east in relation to their religious factions and their relationship to the U.S. It shows how conflicted the U.S. is by supporting and selling arms to conflicting countries.
- For example, we sell arms to Saudi Arabia, who are Sunnis who are currently attacking Shias in Yemen.
- But ISIS is also led by the Sunnis. We are in negotiations with Iran, who are Shia, but Saudi Arabia attacks Shia in Yemen.
- Syria is another story. Syria has a Shia Alwite dictator as its leader, but the population is predominantly Sunni, who leads ISIS.
No wonder Obama wanted to stay out of Syria. It gets very confusing because the media and the government call the majority population by its country name and everybody else who fights them are called rebels or militia. So they lose their real religious identity.
Sunni's and Kurds make up the minority population of Iraq. While the Shia are in the majority. Their military is dysfunctional as it comprises about the same mix as the population. Therefore sometimes they support the Shia and sometimes they support the Sunni ISIS, and Al Queada. The U.S. supplies them with military arms and training.
Iran (updated 2/8/2020)
The majority population in Iran is Shia. They have been known to support Al Qaeda, but they fight ISIS because ISIS is led by the Sunni's. Trump has removed all nuclear sanctions imposed by Obama. They have no watchdog overseeing their nuclear program. However, Trump has placed heavy sanctions on their economy.
As far as their demographics are concerned, they are a young country, because during the Saddam Hussein era, he gassed most of the population, leaving only the younger people age 15 to 64 as the majority of the population.
Saudi Arabia (Updated 6/5/2017)
The majority population in Saudi Arabia is Sunni. They buy arms from the U.S. and they tacitly support ISIS. The 9/11 terrorists including Bin Laden were from Saudi Arabia. They are currently attacking Shia Houthis' in Yemen.
Trump has just struck a deal to supply the Saudi's with arms for over a 10 year period. They in turn will pay us 350 billion of which 110 billion will be available immediately.
Yemen shares a border with Saudi Arabia. Yemen's majority population is Houthi Shia. The Saudi Sunni military has attacked the Houthi Shia with arms bought from the U.S.
Israel doesn't like any of the Arab religious factions. They hate Sunnis (Hezbollah) and Shias (Hamas). They hate and fear Iran and they want the Palestinians to leave Palestine because Israel says it is their God-given right to colonize the Palestinian land. Most Jews believe that God has made them the chosen people; therefore, the Palestinian land belongs to them. They also buy arms from the U.S.
Syria is governed by Bashar Al Assad, a Shia Alawite dictator. The Syrian population is a mix of Sunni, Shia, and Kurds. Except for the Shia Alawite population, everyone else are called rebels or militia. Russia has brought in their air defense systems to protect and kill those who do not support Bashar Al Assad, except for ISIS. More recently, they have pulled out about half of their air defense system and reports indicate they are starting to conduct air strikes on ISIS. The bombings in Syria have left many of the population homeless and caused many of the people to leave the country as refugees.
The Muslim Collective (Added 6/5/2017)
I believe that Trump's Travel Ban and the media are doing a dis-service to not only the public, but to the Muslim world by lumping all Muslims into one category. They need to be defined by their religious affiliations and not by their country of occupation. It will then become clear that most terrorists are Sunnis who have been inspired by ISIS or are members of ISIS who are also Sunni.
After doing my research and analysis, I believe the U.S. should pull all their interests out of the mid-east and let these people resolve their differences. Borders are drawn by men, but ethnicity, cultures, and religion don't always obey the borders that are drawn. ISIS wants to take the mid-east back to the time of the Ottoman Empire when the region was ruled by a Caliph.
It's obvious that the Sunnis and Shia want their own form of Islam and they are willing to not only sacrifice their blood and treasurer, but also ours. The thinking of our government is that all they have to do is form an inclusive government where all these religious factions live under one roof called democracy.
That is not going to happen, because Islam is an ancient theocracy that they follow as their form of government and religion. The problem is the Koran, just like the Bible, can be interpreted by extremists to justify the killings of people to achieve their goals.
I hope you have learned something from this article. I know I have and thanks for dropping by.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2015 Mike Russo