Skip to main content

Iraq’s New Sunni Awakening

A resurgence of Sunni identity and demonstrations against the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is weakening Iraqi nationalism and intensifying sectarianism, writes Harith Hasan.
Iraqi Sunni Muslims chant "Allahu Akbar", which means god is great, during an anti-government demonstration in the central city of Samarra March 8, 2013. Thousands of Sunni Muslims protested after Friday prayers in huge rallies against Shi'ite Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, demanding that he steps down.   REUTERS/Bakr al-Azzawi (IRAQ - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION CIVIL UNREST) - RTR3EQO4

Most Sunni politicians who publicly lead or address the current protests in Anbar, Mosul and other Sunni areas were part of electoral coalitions that identified themselves as nationalist, non-sectarian and even cross-sectarian.

In the last general election in 2010, most of them were running in the Iraqiya coalition, which was defined as cross-sectarian and formally led by the secular Shiite Iyad Alawi. What triggered the current demonstrations was the case of Rafi al-Issawi, the former finance minister whose house was assaulted by security forces, with several of his bodyguards arrested on charges of terrorism. Issawi is among the few Sunni politicians who seemed to have gained a broader base by identifying themselves with the protesters. Others are, for example, Ahmed abu Risha, the former leader of the "Awakening group" which allied with the US army in the battle against al-Qaeda in Anbar. He was a leading figure in the "Unity of Iraq" coalition led by the former Shiite minister of interior, Jawad Boulani.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 for annual access.