Shi'as in Iraq

By: Ari Wilkenfeld (107), 8/19/94


Jonathan Fox (106), 10/5/95

Kathie Young, June 1999

Language: Arabic

Country Populaiton: 21,724,000. (1998 estimate, UN Census Bureau)

Group Population: 13,033,000, (60%) 

Religion: Shi'a (Moslem). It is one of the two main branches of Islam. They strictly adhere to the five pillars of Islam and the six articles of faith. They differ from Sunnis (the other main branch of Islam) in that they are followers of the Prophet Mohammed's son in law 'Ali. They believe in succession of infallible Imams or religious leaders who were all members of the Prophet's family and who interpreted the law and doctrine. Shi'ism is the established faith in Iran and Lebanese Shi'as have a continuing interest in events in that country. There is now a substantial Shi'a population living in Beirut, but Southern Lebanon and the Biqa region are the areas where the majority of the Shi'as have traditionally lived.

Only in the 19th century did the Arab tribes of southern Iraq become Shi'a. Their religious identity did not replace their strong identity as Arabs, and many of the rituals they adopted were modified to reflect their own values and customs. With the rise of the modern state in the 20th century and as barriers grew up between them and fellow Shi'as in Iran, the Iraqi Shi'a sought independence as Iraqis. Despite their numbers they were not to yield power in Iraq. The Shi'a identified with the state of Iraq anyway. During the Iran Iraq war in the 1980s, most of the Iraqi army consisted of Shi'as. The Shi'as did eventually rise up against Saddam Hussein in early 1991, but they did so to oust a regime which was not responsive to their community. Few Shi'a expected or desired independence or autonomy. 


Although Iraq's Shi'as constitute about half of the country's population, Iraq's government has been traditionally dominated by the country's Sunni minority. Although there are Shi'a in other parts of Iraq, much of the country's Shi'a population lives in the southern marshland regions near the Iranian border. Ba'athism is first and foremost a pan-Arab movement with broad appeal to the diverse sectarian interests in Iraq. The party regards existing national borders as West-imposed artificial barriers that must one day be eliminated if Arab unity is to be achieved. During the 1970s this viewpoint led to poor relations with some conservative Arab states whose leaders were reluctant to relinquish their national identity for unity in an all-Arab federation to be led, presumably, by Egypt or Iraq.

The Ba'ath party maintains that ethnic and linguistic modes of Identity should be suppressed. Socialism is upheld as the only way to destroy the traditional Arab aristocracy and extend economic benefits to the lower classes. Private ownership of homes, agriculture and businesses is permitted, but the renting of buildings and tenant farming is not.

Ba'ath party members are strategically placed at every level of government. There is no part of the government, bureaucracy or any embassies that do not have at least one Ba'ath member in a position of power. Party membership is selective and usually requires a long period of apprenticeship. Total party membership makes up less than 0.2% of the population of Iraq. If the behavior of a member is in any way deemed to be disloyal or scandalous, that member can be expelled from the party or even executed.

Starting in 1990, the situation in Iraq began to destabilize. Amid allegations that Iraq was trying to build a "super gun" the United Nations launched an investigation. After finding that several pieces of hardware and technology that could be used in an Iraqi effort to build the gun had in fact reached Iraq, U.N. sanctions were placed on Iraq.

On August 2, 1990 following a dispute over oil reserves, Iraq invaded, occupied and annexed Kuwait. They would eventually shift the bulk of their forces to the border of Saudi Arabia. In an effort to prevent an Iraqi attack on Saudi Arabia and to push the Iraqi army out of Kuwait, an international coalition of allied forces, under the auspices of the U.N., and under the military command of the United States, launched an air strike against Iraq's military communication structure and air defenses on January 16, 1991. On February 23, 1991 the allies launched a ground invasion and within a week they had pushed the Iraqi army back into Iraq at which point the offensive against Iraq was halted.

Once a cease fire was in place, the Iraqi Kurds in the north and the Iraqi Shi'a in the south launched an armed revolt against the regime of Saddam Hussein. Amid allegations that the Iraqi army used chemical and biological weapons in their efforts, the revolts were to a certain extent quelled. The Shi'a revolt was suppressed while the Kurdish revolt ended in the granting of political autonomy to the Kurds.


1918: The British capture Iraq from the Turkish Ottoman Empire during World War I.

1921: The British created a constitutional monarchy in Iraq and installed Fisal ibn Hussein as Meccan Prince.

1932: Iraq formally became an independent state but British influence over Iraqi public officials continued for another 28 years.

1933: King Fisal died and Iraq experiences a series of coups until 1939.

1958: In a military coup King Fisal II was assassinated and a new regime was established ending British influence in Iraq.

1961: The Kurds launched an armed rebellion against the government, Persians fought a protracted conflict with Arabs, Turks fought with Kurds, and Shi'as fought with Sunnis. Out of this the Pro Syrian Arab Socialist Resurrection Party (Ba'ath) established itself politically and seized control of the government.

1963: The Ba'ath party lost power to a pro-Nasser group that favored a confederacy with Egypt.

1968: A coup brought the Ba'ath party back to power. Al-Da'wa al-Islamiya (The Islamic Call) was formed. This group did not take any overt political stance on how the government should be run or who should run it. Al-Da'wa al-Islamiya was an organization that promoted strict adherence to Shi'a doctrine as a guide for every facet of life. The Ba'athist regime founded this organization.

1970: A special branch of the secret police was formed to watch the Al-Da'wa al-Islamiya. Members of the group were routinely arrested, questioned and harassed by the authorities.

1974: Barzani and the KDP attacked Iraq.

1977: Religious demonstrations were held in the Shi'a holy cities of Najaf and Karbala with tens of thousands of Shi'as taking part. The Iraqi army forcibly broke up the gatherings killing 7 people. In addition over 2,000 Shi'as were arrested. This event served to harden the anti-Ba'athist sentiments among the Shi'as. 

1979: Saddam Hussein became the Ba'athist President of Iraq.

1980: Iraq invades Iran with the objective of securing the long disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway and toppling the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Iraq announced that death sentences would be imposed on all persons affiliated with the Al Da'wa Party. Over 40,000 Iraqi Shi'as were deported to Iran and another 96 were executed.

1982: The Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SCIRI) was formed in Iran with the aim of providing an opposition to Iraqi aggression against Iran. Following the Iran-Iraq war the organization continued to operate with the aim of toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein. The SCIRI is an umbrella organization for 6 Shi'a opposition movements.

1988: Iraq and Iran agree to a cease fire.

1989: Hussein announced plans for Iraqi political reform.

1990 January 26: Iraq was accused, by exiled opposition sources, of unleashing a two week military campaign against Shia villages in the south killing or injuring up to 10,000 people. The operation was said to have involved artillery attacks, helicopters, gunships, and special forces gunmen. The operation was said to have been undertaken to create a secure border zone on the frontier with Iran.

1990 January 30: Iraq dismissed reports that they had recently attacked Shi'a villages in the south killing and injuring as many as 10,000 people.

1990 August 3: Amnesty International reported that Iraqi troops had arrested hundreds of Iraqi exiles in Kuwait after house to house searches in predominantly Shi'a areas.

1990 August 14: Dr Sahib al-Hakim, a prominent Shi'a and Secretary General of the Organization of Human Rights in Iraq, asserted that Hussein's call for a Jihad against the allied troops was illegitimate because such a call can not come from a politician and also because this call clearly had "sinister political motives".

1990 August 15: Shi'a leaders in exile in Iran asserted that they would be able to mobilize as many as 50,000 men to fight against Saddam Hussein's army when the time is right.

1990 August 21: Naji al-Hadithi, Iraq's director of information said in an interview that Shi'as were voluntarily enlisting to fight against the Americans at the same rate as Sunnis in Iraq's heartland.

1990 September 24: Leaders of the Iraqi Kurdish, Shi'a, and communist groups asserted that they had solved their differences and were working to provide a unified front against Saddam Hussein.

1990 December 6: Iraq began to issue passports allowing Shi'a Moslems from Iran to visit the Shi'a shrines in Iraq.

1991 February 17: Iraqi officials stated that 250 Shi'as from the city of Najaf were killed as a result of allied bombings.

1991 March 3: Official reports from Iran, Syria, and Western officials claimed that demonstrations and clashes between government forces and opposition groups, including the Shi'as, had spread from Basra to several towns in southern Iraq.

1991 March 4: In the worst civil unrest since the beginning of president's Hussein's rule, uprisings continued in Basra and many other southern cities as well as in Kurdish areas to the north. Reports alleged that Iraqi soldiers had joined Shi'a fighters in battles against Republican Guard units. Some 7,000 Iraqi soldiers were moved from the Turkish and Iranian border in order to protect Baghdad.

1991 March 7: In an effort to quite the uprising President Hussein offered the Shi'a and the Kurds shares in the central government in exchange for loyalty. Both groups rejected the proposals and the rebel offensives continued. Meanwhile, Republican Guards using tanks and artillery gained ground on the rebels in the city of Basra.

1991 March 12: Refugees leaving Iraq accused the government of using napalm in their efforts to quell the uprisings.

1991 March 13: U.S. President Bush warned Iraq not to use helicopters or fixed wing aircraft as part of the effort to put down the uprisings. "Massive" demonstrations were reported in Baghdad by Teheran radio and "several" deaths were reported when the army broke them up. Clashes continued between government forces and the rebels in the south.

1991 March 17: The Iraqi army went on the offensive against the Shi'as in the south attacking the rebel held city of Karbala and killing 400 people. Two Shi'a shrines were reported damaged in the fighting. Meanwhile rebel forces took partial control of the cities of Kut, Jessan, and Zorbaiyeh.

1991 March 19: In Safwan, 5,000 refugees (mostly Shi'a) arrived fleeing the fighting in the south and seeking refuge and basic humanitarian care. The US military agreed to distribute food and water on a temporary basis.

1991 March 21: Exiled Iraqi opposition groups claimed that Iraqi forces were crushing the uprising in the south through widespread killings and the establishment of concentration camps for civilians to deter further unrest. The Iraqi government declared a state of emergency in Baghdad.

1991 March 26: Iraqi and international sources agreed that the Shi'a uprising in the south had been quelled.

1991 March 28: SCIRI leader Hakim conceded that rebel forces had withdrawn from all southern cities in the preceding week and that fighting was limited to rural areas.

1991 April 5: The UN Security Council approved resolution 688 which condemned the Iraq's oppression of the Kurds.

1991 April 12: The US military initiated Operation Provide Comfort designed to set up safe havens for Kurds in the north.

1991 April 20: Guerrillas from SCIRI began to launch hit and run strikes against Iraqi government positions in the south.

1991 April 23: Iraqi Shi'a rebels claimed to have captured and put to death nine Iraqi Army executioners. Hit and run military operations by the Shi'a had been increasing in the past few days.

1991 April 24: An estimated 15,000 Iraqi Shi'a were camped out at the border between Iraq and Iran who wished to cross over.

1991 April 25: Iraqi Shi'a leaders expressed dismay over the peace negotiations between Druze leaders and Saddam Hussein. They claimed that the talks could hamper the efforts of the anti-Hussein opposition in Iraq.

1991 May 2: Iraqi Shi'as rebels claimed that they had killed as many as 180 government troops in 9 different attacks in the south.

1991 May 12: Iraqi officials took journalists to view the corpses of 100 men in a mass grave near the Iran Iraq border. The officials alleged that the men had been killed by Iranians and Shi'a rebels in the south.

1991 June 11: Iran's U.N. representative submitted a letter to the Security Council warning that the Iraq Army was "preparing for a general moping up operation" of Shi'a refugees in the south.

1991 June 13: Iraq denied reports that they were planning an offensive against Shi'as who had sought refuge in the southern marshlands.

1991 July 10: The U.N. announced plans to open a humanitarian center in Hammar to care for Shi'a opposition members hiding in the southern marsh lands.

1991 July 11: Iran reported that Iraqi forces were massing on the edge of the marshlands were most Shi'as fled during the unsuccessful Shi'a revolt against Hussein.

1991 July 19: The UN reported that Iraqi forces were not allowing UN relief workers into the swamplands or Shi'as out of the swampland in an effort to cut them off from food and supplies.

1991 October 7: Iraqi forces closed in on the remanents of the Shi'a rebellion in the southern marsh lands.

1991 November 19: A UN human rights report accused Iraq of strapping men and children to tanks used in the effort to put down the Shi'a uprising following the Gulf War. The report also claimed that Iraq had used torture and murder against perceived enemies.

1992 March 15: According to an article in the New York Times, for two week Iraqi soldiers had been attacking some 10,000 Shi'a fighters and 200,000 displaced persons hiding in the southern marshes. The report said that the government had prevented food and supplies from reaching people in the marshes.

1992 March 23: A US Department of State report claimed that Iraq dumped toxic chemicals in the waters of the marshlands in the south in an effort to drive out the Shi'a. The report also described military attacks on Shi'a villages that have resulted in "hundreds" of deaths. The report went on to say that the Iraqi government have severely restricted access by foreigners to southern Iraq, so information on death and injuries was difficult to come by.

1992 April 21: According to a report by SCIRI, government troops had launched a large scale offensive against Shi'a dissidents hiding in southern marshes near Amara, Basra, and Nasiriyya.

1992 July 2: According to western and Iraqi sources, the government had begun trying to drain the southern swamplands as part of their efforts to control the Shi'a dissidents in that region. They allegedly were relocating civilians from the area.

1992 July 22: Iraq used fixed wing aircraft to bomb Shi'a dissidents in the south killing 30 people. The Washington Post reported that during the first two weeks of July, the government had ordered the residents of Adl and al-Salaam in the southern marshes to evacuate. The Iraqi army them moved in and burned down the homes there to prevent them from returning. A 10:00 PM to 5:00 AM curfew was being enforced throughout the south.

1992 July 30: Iraqi troops had surrounded Shi'a stronghold in the southern marshlands and were using ground attack aircraft in their efforts to defeat the rebels.

1992 August 10: Iraq cut phone lies and imposed a curfew on the holy city of Najaf in an attempt to prevent thousands of mourners from turning out for the funeral of the worlds most senior Shi'a Muslim scholar, the Grand Ayatollah Abdolqassem al-Khoei.

1992 August 11: At a special meeting of the UN security council, Britain, France, and the United States accused Iraq of conducting a "systematic military campaign" against the Shi'a in the southern marshlands. They further warned Iraq to halt the campaign or face possible intervention.

1992 August 22: Shi'a Moslems came under attack by Iraqi forces in the very area that was about to be declared a no fly zone. No information was available on casualties or injuries. US President George Bush announced that the United States and its allies had ordered Iraq not to fly any aircraft south of the 32nd parallel. Bush said the flight ban was needed to protect Shi'a dissidents from attack by the government and was sanctioned by UN Security Council Resolution 688, which required Iraq to respect the human rights of its citizens.

1992 August 27: Iraq reported that they would continue to fly planes and helicopters over the southern no fly zone.

1992 August 30: There were several reports in the preceding week of Iraqi government forces arresting and moving large numbers of Shi'a out of the south and into military camps.

1993 March 2: A UN investigation reported that the Iraqi government had executed hundreds of Shi'a from the southern marshes in the preceding months. The report asserted that the army's behavior in the south was the most "worrying development (in Iraq) in the past year". Following the formation of the no fly zone the army switched to long range artillery attacks. Among the tactics attributed to government forces were artillery attacks on Shi'a villages followed by ground force attacks resulting in "heavy casualties" and widespread destruction of property. There were allegations of mass executions.

1993 July 21: A UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokes person announced that during the past several weeks, more than 3,000 Iraqi Shi'a had fled to Iran to avoid Iraqi Army attacks and poor economic conditions brought about by the government's drainage of southern marshlands.

1993 July 27: Iranian official appealed to the world to sen aid to help Shi'a refugees who had fled from Iraq to Iran. Over 4,000 Shi'as had crossed the border by this point. The drainage of the marshlands and continuing attacks by the Iraqi army forced most of them out.

1993 October 22: Several unconfirmed reports from refugee camp workers near the border of Iran and Iraq allege that nerve gas had been used during an Iraqi army attack on the Shi'a city of Basra

1993 November 17: Iran reported that as a result of the drainage of the southern marshlands, Iraqi Shi'as could no longer fish or grow rice. Since 1991 over 60,000 Shi'as had reportedly fled to Iran. Meanwhile unconfirmed reports surfaced that the Iraqi army had used poisonous gas had been used against Shi'a villages near the border of Iran.

1993 November 23: The UN reported that 40% of the marshlands in the south had been drained.

1993 December 27: In a US Department of State report of human rights Iraq was accused of "indiscriminate military operations in the south, which included the burning of villages, emplacement of bombs in village areas, and forced relocation of non-combatants". They reported that in 1993 numerous Shi'a civilians were reportedly arrested and moved to detention centers in the central part of the country. There were also reports of executions.

1994: The UN estimated that since mid 1993 over 7,000 Iraqi Shi'a had fled to Iran and a total of 50,000 had lost their homes in the marshlands.

1994 February 23: Iraq diverted waters from the Tigris river to Shi'a areas south and east of the main marshlands producing floods of up to 10 feet of water. This had the dual effect to rendering the farmlands there useless and of driving rebels who has been hiding there to flee back into the marches which were being drained of water.

1994 March 7: Following an investigation the UN found that there was no evidence that Iraq had used chemical weapons in its efforts to repress the Shi'a uprising following the gulf war. They did not rule out the possibility that Iraq could have used phosgene gas which would not have been detectable after the attack.

1994 March 17: A team of English scientists estimated that 57% of the marshlands had been drained and than in 10 to 20 years the entire wetland ecosystem in southern Iraq will be gone. The report included satellite images of Swamplands on fire which lent support to the theory that Iraq was deliberately draining the mashes in an attempt to snuff out Shi'a rebels.

1994 April 25: Iraq announced that it had completed work on the "Mother of all Battles Irrigation Canal". The canal which diverts water from the Tigris and Euphrates was said to be used for irrigation purposes, will have the effect of totally drying out the southern marshlands inhabited by the Shi'as.

Update 10/5/95

29 April 1994: Reuters reports that US officials say Iraq is still launching a military campaign in Iraq's remote southern marshes against the Shi'i.

18 May 1994: Reuters reports that some members of the UN Security Council, including the US, are demanding that Iraq end its persecution of its Shi'i population as part of the requirements for the easing of the UN sanctions on Iraq. Throughout the period covered by this update, the UN Security Council as well as several other international organizations and individual countries condemn Iraq's treatment of its Shi'i population. Such condemnations will not be further noted unless otherwise noteworthy.

20 May 1994: The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a Shi'i resistance group, says that Iraq has launched a heavy attack on the Shi'i populated southern marshes in the Amarah province. This attack includes the heavy artillery bombardment of civilian areas.

24 June 1994: SCIRI says that a new canal through the southern marshes is part of Iraq's efforts to crush the Shi'i opposition by depriving the Shi'i of their means for making a living and driving them from the region. Throughout the period covered by this update Iraq is repeatedly accused of a scorched earth policy in the southern marshlands that is turning them into desert. Such accusations will not be further noted unless otherwise noteworthy.

22 July 1994: The Iraqi government is blamed for causing a car accident which kills a leading Iraqi Shi'i cleric. Sayyed Mohamed Taghi al Khoei, the son of a Grand Ayatollah who died in 1992, had been running Shi'i affairs since his father's death and had lobbied for the release of over 100 Shi'i clerics detained since 1991. He had been constantly harassed by the Iraqi authorities and had been twice summoned to the Security Headquarters in Baghdad in the past week. Iraqi President Hussein is widely believed to eliminate many opposition leaders in "accidents."

August 1994: An Iranian official says that 8,000 Iraqi marsh people have fled to Iran over the previous 18 months.

26 August 1994: The Iraqi Vanguard for National Salvation (IIVNS), a newly formed Shi'i resistance group with close ties to Iran, claims responsibility for a car bomb in Baghdad, saying that it is the start of a campaign to "get rid of the unjust regime of the criminal [Iraqi President] Saddam [Hussein.]" The IIVNS appears to have been established some time earlier this month.

31 August 1994: SCIRI accuses the Iraqi government of deliberately polluting the Tigris river which flows into the Shi'i populated southern marshlands. This pollution is said to be responsible for the spread of serious disease among the Shi'i living there.

4 September 1994: Baghdad accuses Iran of providing refuge for Iraqi Shi'i dissidents who cause instability in the southern marshlands with hit and run attacks on targets in southern Iraq. Iraq makes such accusations, with considerable justification, throughout the period covered by this update. Such accusations will not be further noted unless otherwise noteworthy.

7 September 1994: A CIA estimate claims that over 100,000 of the 150,000 Shi'i believed to have sought refuge in the Hawr al Hamman and Al Amarah marshes have been driven out by Iraq's scorched earth policy, mostly across the border to Iran.

8 September 1994: SCIRI announces that 5 Iraqi Shi'i children and 2 adults have died from disease and hunger in marshes on the Iranian border. This situation of starvation and disease is indicative of the situation of thousands of Iraqi Shi'i refugees. Such reports will not be further noted unless otherwise noteworthy.

8 October 1994: The Movement for Islamic Concord, which is a part of the SCIRI, proposes that the international community give the Iraqi opposition control of an area in Southern Iraq as a first step toward overthrowing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Over the next few weeks Iraqi Shi'i organizations make several similar demands in the context of an Iraqi military buildup on the Kuwaiti border. This situation makes several foreign powers, including the US, receptive to the idea but nothing, as of yet, has been done to implement such a plan.

12 October 1994: The SCIRI reports clashes between opposition groups and Iraqi forces in the Diwaniya province between Baghdad and Basra. They also accuse Baghdad of transporting chemical and biological weapons to the southern areas of Iraq.

16 January 1995: The UN refugee agency asks Iran to move a group of 4,000 Shi'i refugees away from an area bordering Iraq due to concern over conditions in the camps. Iran eventually complies. Iraq has accused the Iraqi Shi'i opposition of using this camp as one of its bases for attacks against targets in Iraq.

5 March 1995: The Iraqi National Congress (INC), an umbrella organization for Shi'i, Kurd and Sunni opposition to the Iraqi government, reports fighting between Shi'i fighters and Iraqi troops in Qurna, 450 km (250 miles) southeast of Baghdad.

2 August 1995: Syrian President Assad meets with SCIRI leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim.

15 August 1995: The SCIRI denounces the son-in-law of Saddam Hussein who had recently defected to Jordan as a killer and says that "dealing with this person is completely out of our calculations."

17 September 1995: The SCIRI announces that it has attacked 3 Iraqi army positions in Baghdad earlier this month.

UPDATE, June 1999

16 December 1995: Jordan's King Hussein offered to sponsor discussions among all Iraqi opposition groups to allow them to discuss the future direction of their country. (Reuters)


20 May 1996: Iraq and the UN signed an agreement easing the embargo imposed on Iraq in 1990, allowing Iraq to resume the sale of oil in return for food and medicine. (Kaliedoscope)

3 September thru 13 September 1996: The US launches air strikes on Iraq in response to the aid Saddam's regime provided to the KDP attacks in the Kurdish enclave of Iraq. Iraq responds by firing missiles at American, British, and French planes patrolling the no-fly zone in northern Iraq. (The Economist, September 7; September 21)

11 September 1996: Diplomats in Kuwait deny SCIRI reports of the buildup of Iraqi forces in southern Iraq. (Reuters)

17 September 1996: Kuwait agreed to allow 3300 more US soldiers intended to be stationed within Iraq in order to maintain military pressure on Iraq. (New York Times)

12 December 1996: Members of outlawed Iraqi Shiite party al-Daawa claimed responsibility for an assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein's oldest son Uday, who was critically wounded (but not killed) in an attack in downtown Baghdad using gunfire and grenades. (AFP)

29 December 1996: Al-Daawa announces that the attack on Uday Hussein would be the first of many against Iraqi officials. (AFP)


9 February 1997: SCIRI claims that several officials have been executed following an attempted coup against Saddam Hussein. (Rueters)

13 May 1997: 105 Iraqi soldiers are killed in clashes with members of the Bani Said tribe in southern Iraq. (AFP)


January thru February 1998: Saddam Hussein's refusal to grant UN arms inspectors access to suspected weapons sites in Iraq causes increased tension, as the US threatens to launch the most severe air strikes since the Gulf War against Iraq in order to force its compliance with UN demands. Russia objected to the US strategy and pursued independently a diplomatic approach to dealing with Baghdad.

23 February 1998: UN Secretary General Kofi Annan brokers a deal with Saddam Hussein, insuring UN weapons inspectors access to all suspected weapons caches in Iraq. The conclusion of this deal ended the threat of another round of US air strikes on Iraq. (New York Times; The Economist, February 28)

23 October 1998: The US Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act, a bill allotting $97 million for weapons, training, and financing Iraqi opposition groups. This represents the first public move by the US to pursue the ouster of Saddam Hussein, a goal it has apparently been unable to achieve working clandestinely. (Christian Science Monitor)

29 November 1998: Representatives of Iraqi Shi'ias expressed concern and doubt about US and British efforts to oust Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Such a movement should come from within Iraq, they argued. (AFP)

December 16 thru December 20 1998: The US and Great Britain launch air strikes on 89 different targets in Iraq after UN arms inspectors reported Iraq's refusal to grant inspectors access to suspected weapon sites. Russia and China objected to the attacks. (New York Times; The Economist, December 19)


December 28 1998 thru summer 1999: The US launches a series of attacks on air defense systems and communication networks in northern Iraq. Between late December and early March, bombs were dropped on 30 different days. (New York Times)

4 January 1999: Iraqi opposition leaders revealed that Iraqi officials, led by Saddam Hussien's son Qusai, had executed more than 100 Shi'ite dissidents in November 1998. Most of the executed prisoners has been arrested during Shiite uprisings after the Gulf War. (Kaliedoscope; AFP, March 22)

21 January 1999: SCIRI leaders rejected US military and financial assistance to help them oust Saddam Hussein. (AFP)

18 February 1999: A leading Shi'ite cleric--Ayotollah Sadr--and his two sons were murdered in Najaf. Deadly riots broke out in Baghdad and throughout southern Europe following the announcement of this event. (AFP)

20 February 1999: SCIRI officials accused Baghdad of being responsible for the murder of Ayotallah Sadr, alleging that it was part of a plot by Hussein to eliminate all Shiite opposition. (AFP)

21 February 1999: Iraqi security forces killed 20 people participating in Shiite protests in southern Iraq, and more than 250 others were arrested at anti-Saddam demonstrations across the country. Later in the day, Shiite protestors attacked a government building in Nassiriya, leading Iraqi forces to shell the town. (AFP)

3 March 1999: SCIRI leader Hakim reported that it had attacked a series of government buildings in the southern Iraqi town of Kerbala as revenge for the murder of Ayotollah Sadr and his sons. (AFP)

9 March thru 10 March 1999: Clashes occured between Iraqi security forces and SCIRI fighters in two southeastern Iraqi provinces. SCIRI reported that over 100 people were killed and that 8 Iraqi tanks were destroyed. (AFP)

24 April 1999: Clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and members of the opposition in southern Iraq. (AFP) 

Risk Assessment

The situation of the Shi'a in southern Iraq worsened between 1990 and 1992 and has remained the same since then. There are no reliable statistics on Shi'a casualties during the revolt of 1991. The best estimates place the number of dead during the actual revolt in the hundreds and the number of arrested in the thousands. Since the revolt the Iraqi army has been conducting "sweeping up" operations on the south using a number of tactics, the goal of which appears to be the elimination of any possibility the Shi'a might revolt again. In addition to arrests and executions, the Iraqi army has tried to encourage the Shi'a to leave Iraq and seek refuge in Iran. Towards this goal the army has opened dams flooding Shi'a areas with water up to 10 feet deep. The army has also forcibly removed inhabitants of entire villages and then burnt them down to discourage them from returning. At the same time Iraqi engineers have diverted the waters of the Tigress and Euphrates rivers away from the southern marshlands where the Shi'a have traditionally sought refuge. So far almost 50% of the marshlands have been converted to desert and it is estimated that the entire ecosystem will be gone in 10 to 20 years. This "scorched earth" policy has created a large number of refugees, food shortages and a severe health crisis among the Shi'a.

In Shi'a cities, reconstruction after the war is not progressing at the same rate as in the rest of the country. The government is unwilling to provide the funds for reconstruction at this time. In addition there is a large military presence in Shi'a cities and they are routinely harassed and arrested by the authorities.

International observers are not allowed into the southern part of Iraq so it is difficult to get a clear picture of the situation of the Shi'a living there. The only sources currently available are the Iraqi news agency and the accounts of Shi'a refugees who have fled to Iran. Both sources are fairly unreliable.

The Shi'a in Iraq, who are often thought of as mere extensions of the Shi'a population in Iran, had never openly rebelled against Iraq until 1991. Iraqi Shi'a have usually been more faithful to the notion of Iraqi political integrity as opposed to Shi'a Islamic revolution. Even during the rebellion of 1991, few Shi'a actually sought autonomy from Iraq, preferring to simply topple Saddam Hussein who had become increasingly hostile to their community. They seek equality within Iraq and representation in the central government. The ruling Ba'ath party views the Shi'a as a threat because most Shi'a advance the notion that Islam should be used as a guiding force in everyday life. This contradicts the most basic principle of Ba'athist ideology which upholds secularism and nationalism as guiding principles. The ties between the Iraqi Shi'a and Iran have also contributed to the Iraqi government's hostility toward them.

While SCIRI has not yet agreed, other Iraqi opposition forces have decided to accept US assistance and to work with US officials to oust Saddam Hussein. It seems likely that SCIRI will soon agree to this collaboration, especially given the outrage which followed the assassination of Ayatollah Sadr in February 1999. Such a move would appear to increase the chances for a change of leadership in Iraq but may lead to increased hostilities within the country, as Hussein may increase repression of opposition groups in an effort to consolidate power. Further, a change in leadership in Baghdad would not guarantee improved conditions for any group--Sunni, Shi'a or other.


Congressional Quarterly Inc, 1990, "The Middle East Seventh Ed" Congressional Quarterly, Washington D.C.

Dgenhardt, Henry W. (ed), 1987, Revolutionary and Dissident Movements: An International Guide, A Keesing's Reference Publication, (London: Longman)

Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Reports 1993: Events of 1992, 1993, (New York: Human Rights Watch- Africa Watch, Americas Watch, Asia Watch, Helsinki Watch, Middle East Watch, and Fund for Free Expression)

Keesing's Contemporary Archive, 1990-1993, Keesing Record of World Events: Record of National and International Current Affairs with Continually Updated Indexes, Keesing's Publication, (London: Longman Group Ltd.)

Lexis/Nexis: All news Wires 1994-1999.


Muntakheb Ul  Aqwaal
"Knowledge is better than wealth because it protects you while you have to guard wealth. it decreases if you keep on spending it but the more you make use of knowledge ,the more it increases . what you get through wealth disappears as soon as wealth disappears but what you achieve through knowledge will remain even after you." MORE..
(Hazrat Ali Ibne Abi Talib (A.S)

< GO TO HOME > | < GO TO TOP >

Send Your Views and Suggestions to : webmaster@jafariyanews.com