Iraq Faces Seemingly Inevitable Sectarian Violence

Iraqi Shiite women hold their weapons as they gather to show their willingness to join Iraqi security forces in the fight against Jihadist militants who have taken over several northern Iraqi cities, on June 18, 2014 in the southern Shiite Muslim shrine city of Najaf. Iraq's premier vowed today to "face terrorism" and insisted security forces had suffered a "setback" rather than defeat, as militants pressing a major offensive attacked the country's largest oil refinery. (Haidar Hamdani/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week, the extremist Sunni Muslim militant group known as ISIS swept Iraq, taking control of large areas of the country. As the group continues to advance on Baghdad, many Iraqis worry that the situation may devolve completely into a sectarian war between Shiite and Sunni Arabs.

NPR’s Leila Fadel joins Here & Now’s Robin Young from Erbil, Iraq, to discuss the ISIS takeover in the wider context of Shiite and Sunni conflict in Iraq.

Interview Highlights: Leila Fadel

On Iraqis’ confidence in the government

“People don’t really have faith that Maliki can take his army and go against these militants when they saw it crumble in Mosul, when they saw people deserting…people are thinking Maliki and what army?”

On sectarian conflict brewing since 2006 and 2007

“A lot of people I spoke to described the situation as a pressure cooker exploding. They say that the prime minister has led this country in a corrupt and sectarian way…and those groups that the U.S. encouraged to turn against insurgents felt marginalized, felt shut out of the system by Maliki and are now in an uneasy alliance in some way with ISIS, and are calling this more a “Sunni counter-revolution” against the state.”

On how to decrease tensions

“Among a lot of Sunni leadership, they say [Maliki] has got to go. That’s the first step to solving this in a political way, otherwise there’s no way of stopping a much bloodier civil war than we saw in 2006 and 2007. But the other concern is…no matter how much of this offensive is being conducted by ISIS, that name instills huge amounts of fear among the Shia community…there is a fear that basically, they will all be killed as unbelievers if ISIS gets anywhere near Baghdad. So it’s a really difficult situation, and some even say maybe it’s too late to save Iraq as we knew it just two weeks ago.”


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