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A Brief History of Anti-Shi’ism in Iraq

Iraq is home to more than 22 million Shia  Muslim . Although Shia hold the majority in Iraq, they have been victims of violence and discrimination throughout the history of the country. Most recent Anti-Shi’ism is Iraq can be divided to two main periods: Saddam’s dictatorship, and post-Saddam time.

Anti-Shi’ism during Saddam’s dictatorship

In February 1977, Ba’ath regime closed holy city of Karbala to pilgrimage at the height of religious ceremony, an event that triggered anti-government protests that spread to Shia city of Najaf. The Ba’athist troops cracked down on the protestors, who demanded religious freedom and rights as citizens. The Ba’ath regime executed eight Shia clerics, began mass deportations of 200,000 Iraqi Shia to Iran, seized their property, and took away their citizenship. On April 9th1980 leading Shia cleric Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr and his sister Bint al-Huda, who was an educator and political activists, were brutally tortured and executed. Baath regime forced Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr to watch his sister’s torture. Baath regime refused to return her body, and her burial site is still unknown. After the attack on his convoy in 1982, Saddam ordered torture and execution of at least 50 Iraqis and razing of the entire Shia village of Dujail (Yaphe, 2005). Saddam confiscated the villagers’ property, forced them out, and destroyed the entire village.

A Mass Grave in Iraq- Pool photo by Erik de Castro

A Mass Grave in Iraq- Pool photo by Erik de Castro

According to New York Times, Saddam killed between 100,000 to180,000 Shia in 1991 uprisings. According to US officials the number of mass graves may be around 270, forty of which has been registered and in which women and children have been found and were shot in the head along with men. There were some survivors that crawled out of the mass graves across sites that victims were buried alive, but many could not escape (BBC News, 2003).

Post-Saddam Shia Killings

In 2013 alone, the number of Shia  killed in terrorist attacks reached  more than 8000. Most of the attacks targeted Shia pilgrims and Shia populated areas.

BBC News. (2003). Mass graves ‘hold 300,000 Iraqis’.
Burns, J. F. (2006). Uncovering Iraq’s Horrors in Desert Graves . The New York Times.
Hiro, D. (2001). Neighbors, Not Friends: Iraq and Iran after the Gulf Wars.
Yaphe, J. (2005, June 7). Saddam Hussein and the Executions of Dujail. (S. Inskeep, Interviewer), NPR News.


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