RECENT events in Iraq and Syria confirm once again the major problem of religious-based conflict in our world.  With the rise of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the world is now confronted with another major problem.  Though ISIS itself is about 4 years old, most were surprised when it became active in northern Iraq in the summer of 2014.  And, it is now certainly the most major and most recent example of religious-based conflict in our world.  Why?  Because ISIS are a heterogeneous group of people, from many countries, who are over-emphasizing their social, cultural and religious differences with all others, are categorically against all beliefs other than their own, and are using conflict and violence to further that ideology

Shiite Muslims versus Sunni Muslims

The conflict between these two branches of Islam epitomized itself in the Iran-Iraq in the 1980′s which we have characterized as the Crusader War of the twentieth century.

The Muslim religion is the youngest of the great religions and carries inside of itself several dramatically divergent branches. Of these, one of the most radical is the Shiite, particularly as practiced in Iran. The fundamental Shiite branch of Islam, led in Iran by the then Ayatollah, Ruhollah Khomeni, set its sights on “converting” its neighbor in Iraq, which follows the more moderate beliefs of Sunniism, into Shiitism, in a manner sadly reminiscent of the Crusader Wars of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. Thus, it has been the missionary goal of Shiite Islam to form a united Muslim nation guided by the Koran, free of all wholly secular notions. Khomeni’s consuming ambition was to spread the wings of Shiite Islam over (at least) the other countries of the Persian Gulf region. This religious passion precludes the existence of any other religions in this region. Besides religious conversion, the Ayatollah desired Iraqi territory so he could make good on his threat to march two million of his followers through Baghdad on their way to Jerusalem. This war, which officially began on September 22, 1980, lasted more than eight years and cost hundreds of thousand of lives and untold property damage, including a number of foreign oil tankers and related vessels in the Persian Gulf.

Though this religious philosophy of Khomeni is clearly the aggressor philosophy of the two branches of Islam, it is curious to note that it was the Sunni under the regime of Saddam Hussein of Iraq that initiated the 1980 war with Iran. Iraqis frequently referred to it as Saddam’s Qadisiya, in reference to a battle in 637 A.D. during which the Arabs triumphed over superior numbers of Persians from the Sassanid Empire. As we know, Iran is Persian, not Arab, and a country of 44 million, as opposed to Iraq’s 27+ million people.

Though Khomeni has passed from the scene, there remain strong forces in both countries dedicated to his philosophy – causing unabated tensions. The so-called Second Gulf War which began in 2003 and succeeded in evicting Saddam Hussein and his Ba’ath Party from power has so far changed little of these powerful undercurrents between these two nations.

Iraq, itself, now being rid of the despot, Saddam Hussein, who for more than 30 years controlled – and even temporarily stopped – conflict between the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam, now finds itself a hotbed of religious-based conflict between these two branches of that major religion.  Sadly, as Iraq emerges from the totality of dictatorship, this new freedom and lack of iron-fisted control has opened the festering religious hatreds of yesteryear.  The road to freedom from tyranny can be long and difficult.