Ethnic Conflict in Iraq

Kurds, Sunnis, Shiites

Background Information

The population in Iraq is approximately 26 million and about 97% of these citizens practice Islam. There are two major sects within this religion known as Sunni and Shiite. Nearly 80-85% of Muslims across the globe are Sunnis, however in Iraq and Iran the majority are Shiites. Shiites form 60-65% of the population while Sunnis constitute 35-37% of the population. Kurd's are also affiliated with Islam, mainly Sunnis, yet they have adapted the title of the "Kurdish people." The Kurd's comprise 25-27% of the population of Iraq and generally live in the mountainous northern range, sharing boundaries with eastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, as well as smaller parts of Syria and Armenia. Sunnis and Shiites originate in Southwest Asia on the Arabian Peninsula while Kurd's derive from Indo-European tribes and were converted to Islam.

The Conflict

The Roots of the Conflict

The Sunnis and Shiites separated in 632 CE when Mohammed was met by his death. Unfortunately, this resulted in a disagreement of his disciples debating who should be titled the successor to Mohammed. The Sunnis decided to adhere to Abu Bakr, Mohammed's closest and most loyal friend, while Shiites believed him to be Ali, Mohammed's son-in-law. Both branches embarked on their own journeys of worship as they drifted farther apart.

The Kurd's first resided in the mountains, north of Iraq, which they called Kurdistan. They followed the largest ethnic religion in the world until they were invaded by Arabs and converted to Islam. Their desire for their own Kurdish nation caused major uprisings and conflict between the groups.

Form of Conflict

This massive ethnic conflict consisted of various forms of tension, discrimination, open violence, and persecution. The Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurd's were essentially unable to live together in peace and harmony. Instead, they battled over power and domination.

Spatial Extent

This conflict expanded throughout multiple regions of the Middle East, apart from Iraq, including Iran, Turkey, and Syria.


The most recent conflict arouse in the 20th century when the Sunnis and Shiites fought over the leadership of Iraq while the Kurd's were desperate for separation. Sunnis believed in a secular government run by political leaders while Shiites believed in a sectarian government run by religious leaders.

People Affected

People in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and surrounding countries in the Middle East have been the most physically affected by the feud. They have had to deal with frequent violence towards innocent people.

At a Global, Regional, and Local Scale

This conflict has affected the boundaries of surrounding nations. Throughout the conflict, numerous new regions have been established only to become dismantled by the Iraqi government. The distribution of the three ethnicities across Iraq has changed multiple times and a portion of the Shiite population moved to Iran for freedom from the Sunni government. This also included the involvement of other nations to prevent further violence. In the 20th century, Britain had to appoint a leader to avoid a dispute between the Sunnis and Shiites. The U.S. had to invade Iraq in 2003 as leader Saddam Hussein lost his power. In 2006, the U.S. aided in strengthening the police and military force in Iraq and embedded peace through a new constitution. During the conflict, the Muslim Brotherhood was created in other states. Its purpose was to avert Western influences on the Muslim population. This groups still exists and is very well known.

Time Line

  1. 632 CE: Mohammed's death and the separation of Muslims into Sunnis and Shiites.
  2. 1534: The Middle East joins the Ottoman Empire.
  3. 1918-1920: Loss of the Ottoman Empire.
  4. 1920: Modern era Iraq history.
  5. 1920: Kurd's allowed self-rule.
  6. 1928: Muslim Brotherhood founded in Egypt.
  7. 1963: Baath Party rises to power (Sunni political party)
  8. 1960's: The establishment of pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism. (Both methods to unify Islamic states and cultures)
  9. 1971: Baath Government took over all Iraqi oil facilities that were formerly owned by foreign countries (process began in 1961)
  10. Saddam Hussein rises to power (part of the Baath Party)
  11. 1980: Iraq war with Iran. Strife between Kurd's and Turkish people.
  12. 1980's: U.S. assisted Iraqi rebels in wiping out the Soviet Union powers held in Iraq. Kurd's suffer genocide through chemical attacks.
  13. 1990: Hussein attacks across Kuwait and into Saudi Arabia. The U.S. helped Saudi Arabia in stopping Iraqi forces.
  14. 1991 Gulf war: Permanent U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia. U.S. and UN provides safety and freedom for Kurd's
  15. 1990's: Islam based conflicts erupted in Algeria, Sudan, and Nigeria.
  16. 1996: Taliban gained power in Afghanistan.
  17. 2001: 9/11 attack in the U.S.
  18. 2003: War between the U.S. and Iraq.
  19. 2005: U.S. helps to create a fee government with a constitution to create peace.
  20. 2006: conflict continues between Sunnis and Shiites.
  21. End of 2006: Iraqis finally abide by constitution and elect a representative.


It was right for the U.S. and the UN to lend support for the Kitd's because they were primarily a target. They experiences genocide and lacked freedom and their own land. Both the Sunnis and the Shiites heavily contributed to the violence, attacks, and discrimination involved in the conflict.


Sinead Martin, Geeta Pandya, Sydney Rubin, and Vibha Vishwa