Est. Population: approx. 8 million, about 33% of Iraqi pop.
Although a minority, Sunni Muslim Arabs have long dominated Iraq, enjoying favoritism not only under Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime, but also under past Iraqi governments dating to the 1920s, when the British established modern Iraq after Word War I and installed a Hashemite king. Now, many Sunnis fear they will find themselves dispossessed of power and prestige in the new Iraq.
Most commonly associated with the so-called "Sunni Triangle" -- an area of central Iraq to the west and north of Baghdad that has become notorious as a pocket of violent resistance to the U.S.-led coalition -- Sunni Arab leaders have begun to regroup and work against the perception that the largely tribal Sunnis, with their Baathist connections, are unfit to take their part in the new Iraq.
[Editor's Note: The political information that follows was the situation as of February 2004.] The Iraqi Governing Council was drawn up according to U.S. estimates of Iraq's population, with Sunnis comprising about a third overall. However, Sunni Arab leaders have argued that Turkomans and Kurds are also Sunni, and the groups combined make up about half of the country's population. Only five Sunni Arabs sit on the Governing Council, and in response, representatives from the various sects and groups within Sunnism -- Sufis, Salafis, the Muslim Brotherhood, Kurds, and Turkomans -- convened on Dec. 25, 2003, to form the State Council for the Sunnis, or Shura council.
Plans for the Shura council had been in the works for some time, but the capture of Saddam Hussein in early December was a turning point for many Sunnis, driving support to create an organized body to counterbalance the Shia majority on the Iraqi Governing Council. The Shura hopes to eventually wield the same type of influence over Sunnis that the Hawza, the powerful Shia religious council in Najaf, wields over the Iraqi Shiite community.
With its 85 members, the Shura Council has gained the support of Iraqi Governing Council member Mohsen Abdul Hameed, a professor at Baghdad University, prolific scholar of the Koran, and leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a prominent Sunni political front. Adnan Pachachi, a secular Sunni and respected pre-Baathist foreign minister of Iraq, has also visited the Shura council's Baghdad headquarters, conferring some legitimacy on the council, some of whose members have been suspected of supporting the anti-coalition insurgents.
Mohsen Abdul Hameed