Will Iraq’s Shiites Secede?

The following article was published by Reidar Visser, an historian of Iraq educated at the University of Oxford. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

After the Rise of ISIS, Will Iraq’s Shiites Secede?

As Iraqi Shiites celebrate the holy month of Muharram and its key holiday of Ashura (3 November), it can be argued that radical sectarian mobilization among them has risen to a level unprecedented in modern Iraqi history since 1927, when a series of episodes prompted calls among the Shiites of Iraq to form their own separate state.

This year, too, visions focusing on the possible separation of the Shiite-majority provinces of Iraq as a separate political entity are back on the agenda.

The last time such ideas were being considered in an even remote way was in 2005, when Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim of SCIRI launched his scheme for a single Shiite federal entity stretching from Basra to Najaf.

It was the first time since 1927 that anything in the way of territorial separation of Iraqi Shiites had received any serious attention whatsoever. However, back then the project was characterized by only fragmented levels of support, with most Iraqi Shiites still speaking in the name of a unitary state. An even more radical movement to separate the south entirely had even less of a support base.

However, following the rise to prominence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2014, Iraqi Shiite discourse on the Iraqi state appears to have changed quite dramatically – in the direction of separatist solutions. It is true that some of the talk of a separate Shiite entity, often referred to as the “Sumer” project in a reference to one of the ancient civilizations of Iraq, may have gained extra prominence because of the proliferation of social media, meaning that a wider array of Iraqi Shiite voices are accessible to outside analysts than at any point in history.

However, it is noteworthy that also more established political parties among the Iraqi Shiites appear to be warming up to ideas that were considered a taboo just a few years ago. A case in point is the State of Law alliance of former PM Nuri al-Maliki and current PM Haydar al-Abadi. In a first, during Ramadan, a key website supportive of Maliki accorded much prominence to an article that openly hinted at the possible secession of the Shiite areas from the rest of Iraq.

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