Beyond Baghdad FRONTLINE

Baghdad/Iraqi Governing Council

Iraqi Kurds

Shiite Arabs


Sunni Arabs

Est. Population: approx. 8 million, about 33% of Iraqi pop.
Religion: Sunni Islam
Language: Arabic
Geographic Area: North Africa, Middle East
Major Political Groups: State Council for Sunnis (Shura council), Iraqi Islamic Party, tribal groups
Key Leaders: Mohsen Abdul Hameed, Adnan Pachachi

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
Hameed is a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood and sits on the Iraqi Governing Council as a Sunni and leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which had opposed the American invasion prior to the war. The party was founded as the Iraqi branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1960, and Hameed was imprisoned under the former regime because of his involvement with the Islamic fundamentalist group. Hameed has made it clear that his allegiance ultimately lies with his Sunni brethren, and that he is on the Iraqi Governing Council out of the necessity to represent them.
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Adnan Pachachi
Pachachi, a former foreign minister of Iraq and ambassador to the United Nations before the 1968 Baathist coup, is now president of the Iraqi Independent Democrats and an influential member of the Iraqi Governing Council. As a Sunni with secular, liberal democratic views, Pachachi has been mentioned as a potential Iraqi leader favored by the U.S. While Pachachi stresses that the secular-religious divide among the Iraqi people, and the influence of Shiite clerics such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Moqtada al-Sadr, must be addressed, he insists that Iraq does not have a history of ethnic violence. "This is not Northern Ireland," he says in an interview with FRONTLINE. "It's not Lebanon. It's not Bosnia."
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