National Geographic News

Early Caliphates

The idea of a Sunni-dominated Islamic caliphate harkens back centuries to two empires: the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates. A caliphate is an Islamic state led by a religious and political leader known as a caliph. Sunnis believe their leaders should be elected from among the political successors of the Prophet Muhammad, the nonhereditary elite known as caliphs. The Shiites, however, believe their leaders should come from the direct family line of Muhammad. That schism remains to this day and is a defining element of the sectarian violence in Iraq.

The Ottoman Empire

At the height of its expansion in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ottoman Empire—whose leadership was Sunni and based in what is now Turkey—covered vast tracts of land in southern Europe, Asia, and North Africa. The empire allowed for multiple languages and religions and divided the area that is now Iraq into three provinces. The Kurds settled in Mosul, the Shiites in Basra, and the Sunnis in Baghdad. Like the British who followed them, the Ottomans sought to maintain the lands that would come to be known as Iraq as a predominantly Sunni-controlled region.

World War I Aftermath

World War I saw the end of several imperial powers, including the Ottoman Empire. The newly formed League of Nations, tasked with maintaining world peace, carved up the former Ottoman Empire and unified the three provinces under British rule, essentially demarcating the modern boundaries of Iraq. Displeased with this plan, the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds united for the first time to revolt against British colonial occupation, but they were unsuccessful in gaining full independence until 1932. In the decades that followed, Sunnis held political prominence through the monarchy and political leadership positions, including Saddam Hussein’s presidency beginning in 1979.

Toppling of Saddam Hussein

In 2003 the United States invaded Iraq and toppled the decades-long regime of Saddam Hussein. The violent insurgency that followed resulted in more than 4,000 U.S. deaths and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties. By 2006 the insurgency appeared to have devolved into a civil war between Sunni and Shiite factions. That same year, the election of a new prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who is Shiite, led to an unusual period of Shiite political dominance in Iraq and to claims of disenfranchisement by Sunnis, one key factor in the violent opposition to his leadership today. The year 2006 also witnessed the birth of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) as both a Sunni group (a renaming of al Qaeda in Iraq, and a precursor to ISIS) and as an Islamist-declared state in western Iraq.

The Rise of ISIS

Earlier this year, an al Qaeda splinter group based in Syria swept into Iraq with the aim of establishing an Islamic state in both countries, which—if successful—would effectively erase the borders imposed by the West in the wake of WWI. In recent weeks, this Sunni Arab militia, called ISIS, has seized significant resources and conducted mass executions in its dramatic push toward Baghdad. While they have faced little opposition in the Sunni-dominated northwest, the encroachment of ISIS into Shiite-dominated southern territories is expected to result in significant bloodshed.

Source: INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR

Map of Iraq

Map of Iraq.

Published July 2, 2014

Sunni Arab militants from the al Qaeda splinter group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL), have gained control of vast tracts of land along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Iraq, and are pushing south toward Baghdad. It’s all part of a wider aim to establish an Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq and—eventually—farther away in Asia and Africa. Over the centuries, however, the region once known as the cradle of civilization has seen significant changes. A seventh-century split within Islam itself between Sunni and Shiite would only grow wider as the centuries wore on and the region known as Iraq was traded between great powers.

26 comments
Ian Rollison
Ian Rollison

The only reason for any war is for business and banks to make money, why is there this story going around giving a lot of nonsense made up reasons for going to war..

One banking family controls half the money in the world....

Every government in the world is in debt to them, and you still think it is the President who is in control......

Naive!

Baraye Ashena
Baraye Ashena

در عراق همه برادر هستند شیعه وسنی فرقی نمیکند 

ANIRBAN MANDAL
ANIRBAN MANDAL

I don't understand one thing...! who made US the authority to judge, criticize and poke nose and destroy civilization in rest of the world ! sometimes to get oil or flourish war and weapons business..


why can't US mind its own business?

Edwin Cannon
Edwin Cannon

Maps prior to 1950's are wrong. Majority of the people in northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey were the Assyrian Christians. Kurdish population increased after 1950 in those areas

N Gas
N Gas

Bush had an international coalition & congressional approval that most democrats agreed to when entering Iraq, Obama went against our Generals advice and pulled the troops out which for the second time, created a vacuum effect for the terrorists to resume their activity and slaughtering (in the name of Allah). But in all reality, this has nothing to do with the West. These Muslim and Islamic wars have been going on for almost a thousand years. It's the Muslims who are truly responsible for the chaos in their world. It's not like Greek Orthodox Christians are blowing up Catholic Churches. Unfortunately, 1/2 of the Koran is filled with warmongering, hate and violence...

Until the Muslim people learn that their faith & their religion has lead them a stray this violence will not only continue, it'll get worse (as it has over the last 3 years).

After 1000 years of war its obvious, it's time to stop praising Muhammad and Allah and start reading the Bible. I feel bad for these people, they don't know the love of the Lord. Blame the Jews, blame the Christians, blame the West and then look at the facts - Islam is a very intolerant religion and has NO place in the modern/civilized world. 

Marcos Toledo
Marcos Toledo

The ninety years house of cards is coming to a end thanks house of Bush. Another fine mess you've created hope your happy with your work.

Jon Norris
Jon Norris

Smithsonian Magazine ran an article describing the British occupation of Iraq and the resulting revolt by a united Iraq.  It's description of the era is painfully similar to the events we see today. 

The bottom line conclusion was that Iraq and its 'tribes' will only come together to defeat anyone who occupies that miserable country, after defeating that occupier, they immediately go back to warring against each other.  It's been this way forever.  Can we learn nothing from History?

It's further amazing to me that the basis of the disagreement between Sunnis and Shite's is essentially who speaks for Ali, a close relative or a distant relative!  The hatred of others because they don't believe like you do it sooo sad.  And deadly!!!!

N A
N A

All because of a belief in some invisible friend in the sky. Great work, everyone.

TJ Friedlander
TJ Friedlander

@ANIRBAN MANDAL Well, because so much of what comes out of the Middle East threatens the rest of the world.  Perhaps you would prefer maybe China or Russia being the world's superpower?  How's that working out for Ukraine and Tibet?  As for the oil comment, we have plenty of our own thank you very much, don't need any from the Middle East.

Ian W.
Ian W.

@ANIRBAN MANDAL  We couldn't just sit back and let a power-mad tyrant threaten the entire region.  Need I remind you that Saddam claimed to have nuclear weapons? Sometimes you just have to do something, even if you make the situation worse, sometimes you can't just turn a blind eye: you have to act. What if we had decided to mind our own business in the last World War? We'd all be speaking German. Even though Saddam had uttered an empty threat, we couldn't take the chance that he wasn't lying and that he really did have nuclear weapons.

Samuel Hayden
Samuel Hayden

@N Gas Although perhaps a little extreme, you make a good point, (some) Muslims violently disagree to the point of hate about which offshoot of their faith is true, the Muslim extremists have killed more Muslims in this 'war on the west', than they have anyone from the West.

If you look at the religious violence that takes place, and the magnitude of that violence, Islam tends to be more violent than other religions.

BUT, people are entitled to their faith, and most Muslims, the vast majority in fact, are peaceful. They have the same righ to believe what they want as much as we Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, do. It's just the ignorant few that hypocricise and cause all this terror... on their own people.

Gregory S.
Gregory S.

@N Gas

The bible and especially the old testament is full of atrocious things. For example read :2 Chronicles 25:12. From what I have heard from people who have read the Koran it also contains similar verses. It only takes a person with a fundamentalist mindset to read allegory literally in order to justify violent actions in the name of their religion. Such things are never necessary and the vast majority of religious teachers do not preach to their followers in this way.

thecutecat Cat
thecutecat Cat

@N Gas : Both Moslem and Christian has extremists.. 

Blaming entire believer is not a fair idea.

If you consistent to your logic, then also need to ban Christianity too.

Centuries of colonialization to eastern world.. WW1 and WW2.. all of those time you could see Christian people making bad things. 

  

TJ Friedlander
TJ Friedlander

@Marcos Toledo Again with no facts for your argument. ISIS grew in Syria as part of its civil war.  Has nothing to do with Bush. But the facts never stand in the way of an "informed" lefty.

Justin Hineline
Justin Hineline

@Marcos Toledo The Bush administration created stability by bringing troops it was the current administrations decision to pull out a couple years earlier than they should of that returned the region to instability. However, Obama couldn't have known this would have happened and that is why it is important that the commander in chief had prior military experience.

TJ Friedlander
TJ Friedlander

@thecutecat Cat @N Gas Your examples are false because those wars were not fought in the name of religion. Additionally, who is to blame for colonialism?  Many in the local populations cooperated with European colonialists because they brought peace and stability where there was none before. Plus, Mohammedism was born of a warrior and he and his followers forced his religion down people's throats for a thousand years. It is more of a control mechanism than a religion. It is not now, nor has it ever been a religion of peace. Remember that Egypt, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Lebanon and Turkey (Asia Minor) were once all Christian lands and people. What happened there?

N Gas
N Gas

@Charles Olafson @Marcos Toledo Bush had an international coalition & congressional approval that most democrats agreed to when entering Iraq, Obama went against our Generals advice and pulled the troops out which for the second time, created a vacuum effect for the terrorists to resume their activity and slaughtering (in the name of Allah). But in all reality, this has nothing to do with the West. These Muslim and Islamic wars have been going on for almost a thousand years. It's the Muslims who are truly responsible for the chaos in their world. It's not like Greek Orthodox Christians are blowing up Catholic Churches. Unfortunately, 1/2 of the Koran is filled with warmongering, hate and violence...

Until the Muslim people learn that their faith & their religion has lead them a stray this violence will not only continue, it'll get worse (as it has over the last 3 years).

After 1000 years of war its obvious, it's time to stop praising Muhammad and Allah and start reading the Bible. I feel bad for these people, they don't know the love of the Lord. Blame the Jews, blame the Christians, blame the West and then look at the facts - Islam is a very intolerant religion and has NO place in the modern/civilized world. 

craig hill
craig hill

@N Gas @Charles Olafson @Marcos Toledo Typical lying Christian warmonger. Bush's "international coalition" consisted of a tiny number of tiny nations, governments on the take from satanic traitors to the Constitution like Bush (and "N Gas"). Just because the cowardly Republican-brownnosing scum Democrats approved Bush's mass murder doesn't give it any credibility, invasive Christian jerk. 

Justin Hineline
Justin Hineline

@N Gas @Charles Olafson @Marcos Toledo Well Said.

I do believe however whichever party the decision is up to, America needs to maintain our presence as the foremost democracy and promoter of peace. And while all of us might differ on whether Bush, Obama, or Reagan is responsible it is important that our nation finishes the job. We should not be letting nations such as Iran and Saudi Arabia who are known for human rights abuses be the nations resolving the situation. It is time that we put aside our partisan views and be one nation under God promoting the unalienable rights endowed upon man by our creator. Unless this is accomplished the Islamic Caliphate will be knocking at our doors and as they food they will come to New York and America will experience 9/11 2.0.

Justin Hineline
Justin Hineline

@N Gas @Charles Olafson @Marcos Toledo However I would like to add not all chaos is caused by Islam, I have met muslims who are peaceful and promote human rights. It is Islamic Extremism not Islam that is a problem in the Middle East.

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