Nir Rosen explores the origins of sectarian violence in Iraq, in the Boston Review.
Political parties didn’t overtly begin to speak in the name of sectarian groups until 2005. For Shias, it wasn’t necessary: after the war Iraq’s Shia triumphalism was shared by all Shia parties; Iraq was now theirs and could not be taken away except by the Americans. There was no threat of Sunnis retaking the country because they had never taken it before: they had been given it, first by the Ottomans and then by the British. Iraq’s Sunnis, unsurprisingly, felt intimidated, and they increasingly came to view Shias as Iranians or Persians, refusing to recognize that Shias were the majority or that Shias had been singled out for persecution under Saddam. Sunnis were the primary victims of American military aggression and viewed Shias as collaborators. As Shias became the primary victims of radical Sunni terror attacks against Iraqi civilians, they came to view Sunnis as Baathists, Saddamists, or Wahhabis. Yet Shias showed restraint amid daily attacks meant to provoke a civil war; they knew the numbers were on their side.
The attacks against Shia civilians did nothing to weaken their increasing power in Iraq, validated by the January 2005 elections. With many Sunni leaders boycotting the elections in protest of the occupation, the new government and the constitutional committee emerged with a large Shia majority. Throughout the region, sectarian tensions began to increase, and Sunnis in Jordan and Saudi Arabia were feeling threatened by the Shia renaissance in Iraq.