Links & Books


Sunnis and Shiites

New York Times: Can You Tell a Sunni from a Shiite?
In this article from the Op-ed pages of The New York Times, a journalist asks numerous Washington counterterrorism officials a fundamental question: "Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?" Astoundingly, most American officials, including the F.B.I.'s counterterrorism chief and members of Congress who sit on intelligence subcommittees, cannot answer this simple question. (October 17, 2006. Registration is required to access this article.)

BBC News: Long Path to Iraq's Sectarian Split
This article provides an excellent summary of the Sunni-Shiite schism throughout Iraq's history. It sums up the major differences between the two branches of Muslim, describes the political ascendancy of the minority Sunnis under British rule and then under Saddam Hussein and illuminates what happened once the U.S. toppled Hussein's government as the Shiites came into power and some Sunnis began to support militant insurgents opposing the occupation. (February 25, 2006)

Congressional Research (CRS) Report for Congress: Islam: Sunnis and Shiites (PDF)
This report traces the historical development of the two sects and outlines the basic tenets and practices of both Sunnis and Shiites.

Council on Foreign Relations
Iraq: The Sunnis   |   Iraq: The Shiites
The nonpartisan think tank publishes exhaustive reports on issues related to foreign policy, and these two backgrounders on Sunnis and Shiites in present-day Iraq are presented in a question-and-answer format. The reports address how Sunnis and Shiites feel about the U.S.-led occupation, who the religious and secular leaders of the groups are and their relationships to the Iraqi insurgency. (September 2, 2003)

Council on Foreign Relations: Iraq: Sunni and Shiite Unrest
Another report from the Council on Foreign Relations focuses on the status of the Iraqi insurgency, which includes a large Sunni force in Fallujah and Shiite fighters led by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The Shiite and Sunni resistance groups have not joined forces so far, but this report examines the groundswell of anti-coalition forces among both major Muslim sects in Iraq. (April 16, 2004)

National Geographic News: Uniting Iraq's Disparate Cultures a Challenge, Experts Say
This article points out how the boundaries of Iraq are the result of political decisions by colonial powers in the early 20th century. Since then, disparate groups with deep rifts between them -- Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds -- have coexisted in the same nation. How will post-Saddam Iraq balance the rights and needs of these divergent cultures? (April 24, 2003)

The Christian Science Monitor: On edge, Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq try to talk it out
This article from the secular, international newspaper The Christian Science Monitor points out that despite ongoing sectarian strife in Iraq, mutual distrust of the U.S.-led occupation could unite Sunnis and Shiites. (January 6, 2004)

Time Magazine: No Easy Options
In addition to the battles in Fallujah, the heart of the Sunni Triange where those who were loyal to Saddam Hussein fought the U.S.-led occupation, attacks on the coalition from the Shiite majority, led by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, sprung up in other regions of Iraq in 2004. The U.S. faces a two-front insurgency from both of Iraq's Muslim sects. This article examines the insurgency and fighting in detail, and analyzes the possible U.S. responses to continued fighting in Iraq. (April 19, 2004)

Truthout: Sunnis vs. Shiites and Kurds: Mayhem in Iraq Is Starting to Look Like a Civil War '
This article, originally published by The New York Times and reprinted here by Truthout, the progressive political website, was written by Edward Wong, the New York Times reporter shown in "My Country, My Country" shortly before the January 2005 elections. As sectarian violence continues in Iraq, the article outlines the continued divisions among Iraqis, examining whether the divisions will lead to a civil war. (December 5, 2004)

The Weekly Standard: How to Prevent a Civil War
The conservative magazine The Weekly Standard argues that the increase of sectarian violence in Iraq is a greater security threat than the insurgency, outlines the failure of creating a national unity between Sunnis and Shiites and reports on the escalating intensity of the divide between the two groups. The article, authored by the director of the Military and Security Studies program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, provides a number of policy suggestions to stabilize the situation in Iraq. (August 21, 2006)

Iraqi Elections, January 30, 2005

BBC News: Iraqi Elections: Who Ran
This article runs down the important figures and parties that participated in or boycotted the January 30, 2005 Iraqi election, during which Iraqis voted for a Transitional National Assembly. (January 31, 2005)

BBC News: Q&A: Iraqi Election
The results of the Iraqi elections are outlined in this succinct article, which lists the "winners and losers" of the elections among the majority Shiites, the Kurds and the Sunnis, who boycotted the elections. (February 13, 2005)

Council on Foreign Relations: Iraq: Organizing the Elections
The procedures and practices around the Iraqi elections are outlined in this document by the nonpartisan foreign policy think tank, which answers questions about the security concerns, voting procedures and international observers around the elections. (January 25, 2005)

Council on Foreign Relations: Iraq: Election Politics
While the previous document from the Council on Foreign Relations focuses on the procedures of the election, this document focuses on the political parties participating in the elections and other related issues. Questions answered include whether the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr would be a candidate and why one of every three candidates on the ballot is a woman. (December 31, 2004)

Time Magazine: Iraq's Choice: The Iraqi Elections
This special report on the Iraqi election brings together many of the magazine's resources on the situation in Iraq, including a timeline of the road to the election, a photo essay on the security forces deployed for the election and many additional articles. (January 2005)

Positive Assesments of the Elections

BBC News: World Leaders Praise Iraqi Poll
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and others all praise the January 30, 2005 elections in this article, which quotes a figure of eight million votes cast, or participation by approximately 60 percent of the registered voters in Iraq. (January 31, 2005)

Slate: Birth of a Nation?
While citing problems in Iraq, this article from the online magazine Slate points out that the election is one of several hopeful steps in the right direction for democracy in Iraq. (January 30, 2005)

The Economist: Iraq's Elections: Can the Voters Build on Success?
Despite irregularities and attacks, the elections were deemed a success in this article from The Economist, which describes a mood of hope and euphoria in Iraq in the days immediately after January 30, 2005. (February 3, 2005)

Negative Assesments of the Elections

The New Yorker: Get Out the Vote: Did Washington try to manipulate Iraq's election?
This extensive article, authored by journalist Seymour Hersh, outlines the Bush administration's approach to the Iraqi elections. While the likely winner of an open and transparent election would have been a religioius Shiite party allied with religious leaders in Iran, the administration sought to elect a secular Shiite party. Hersh argues that funding and other support before the elections was covertly provided to "favored parties" by the U.S., who attempted to manipulate the elections in its own favor. (May 7, 2005)

The Nation: Getting the Purple Finger
In her column for The Nation magazine, progressive journalist and author Naomi Klein points out that Iraqis voted overwhelmingly to throw out the government of the U.S. installed Iyad Allawi and voted for the United Iraqi Alliance, whose platform calls for a timetable for the withdrawal of international troops. Klein supports the Iraqi voters, but argues that they risked their lives for a vote that will be completely ignored by the U.S. (February 10, 2005)

Alternet: Hijacking Democracy in Iraq
Although the Iraqi elections were embraced by a majority of Western media as a step in the right direction, this article from liberal website Alternet, written by a former U.N. chief weapons inspector in Iraq, argues that the elections were an American-brokered event, and that the U.S. lowered the Shi'a vote to ensure that the Iraqi Constitution from being overtly religious. (March 23, 2005)

POV in the Media Live Discussion with "My Country, My Country" Filmmaker Laura Poitras
Laura Poitras answered questions from users and "My Country, My Country" viewers on Dr. Riyadh, her impressions of Baghdad and the future of Iraq. (October 26, 2006)

NOW: An American Woman's Startling Tale of Life in Iraq
David Brancaccio, host of NOW, speaks to Laural Poitras about her experiences in Iraq on the PBS news show. A video of the show and audio of their conversation are available on NOW's website. (October 13, 2006)

WNYC: The Leonard Lopate Show: Documenting Life in Iraq
Director/cinematographer Laura Poitras talks to Leonard Lopate and describes her startling documentary, My Country, My Country, shot in Iraq in the months leading up to the elections in January of 2005. Download an MP3 of the segment on WNYC's website. (August 3, 2006)

NPR: News and Notes: Film Shows Iraqi Election Through Local Eyes
Filmmaker Laura Poitras talks about her documentary film on the occupation of Iraq with Farai Chideya. My Country, My Country chronicles the life of an Iraqi doctor in the days leading up to the Iraqi elections of 2005. (September 19, 2006)

Education for Peace in Iraq Center: Interview with Laura Poitras
This extensive interview with filmmaker Laura Poitras about the making of My Country, My Country was conducted by the non-profit Education for Peace in Iraq Center. It is part of the organization's GroundTruth Project, which captures the on-the-ground perspectives of Iraqis, aid workers, military personnel and others who have lived, worked or served in Iraq. (September 2006)

"My Country, My Country" Film Reviews

Boston Globe: Intimate "Country" Offers a Revealing Look at Iraq (October 25, 2006; Registration required)

Newsday: A Cinematic Lamentation for Iraq (October 24, 2006)

New York Times: Iraq Under a Microscope in "My Country, My Country" (August 4, 2006; Registration required)

Also on PBS and NPR Websites
Online Newshour: Iraq in Transition
This special website from Online Newshour compiles all of the show's stories about Iraq, documents key players in the country and provides many articles on governing in Iraq, including segments around the January 30, 2005 elections.

NOW: Focus on Iraq
A wealth of resources on Iraq is provided on NOW's website, which has featured stories on the situation leading up to the war, the role of women in Iraq and other thoughtful discussions.

Frontline/World: Iraq - Reporting the War
Nick Hughes visits the chaotic streets of Baghdad for Frontline/World to find out how journalists survive in a war in which they have become targets. He travels with men and women whose quest for the story not only requires body armor as a tool of the trade, but also can lead to sudden death. (January 2005)

Frontline/World: Truth and Lies in Baghdad
Reporter Sam Kiley goes inside Iraq to investigate Saddam Hussein's weapons program, the impact of sanctions on Iraqi civilians, and reports of shocking human rights abuses. FRONTLINE/World reveals what it's like for a journalist trying to gather information in a country hostile to the press. (November 2002)

Religion and Ethics: Anthony Shadid on Iraq
Anthony Shadid, an Oklahoma-born, Arabic speaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post, analyzes the situation in Iraq for Religion and Ethics. Shadid is the author of NIght Draws Near, about everyday Iraqi life and death, and in this interview, he talks about two influences on Iraqis -- guns and the major types of Islam. (October 14, 2005)

NPR Stories

NPR: Iraq
NPR's frequently updated Iraq page includes the latest news, views and analysis and related conversations about the situation from the radio network.

Taking Issue: Iraq Two Years Later: Taking Stock
The war in Iraq enters its third year on March 20, 2005. Over the previous two years, a free election was held in Iraq; Saddam Hussein was imprisoned; and more than 1,500 Americans died. With 135,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq and a rife debate over whether to even consider a timetable for withdrawal, asked experts from a variety of fields and perspectives to consider the situation in Iraq today and what it suggests about where the country will be a year from now. (March 14, 2005)

Morning Edition: Iraqi Election Security Limited Impact of Violence
Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, talks about the impact of insurgent attacks on polling places on Sunday. The two also discuss how the Kurds made-out and whether the United States should start to develop an exit strategy. (February 1, 2005)

All Things Considered: One Official's View of the Iraqi Election
One day after Iraqis went to the polls, the country's Kurdish deputy prime minister is hopeful that the election will solidify public commitment to ending the insurgency. Robert Siegel talks with Barham Salih about what's next for the country. (January 31, 2005)

All Things Considered: Election Is Only a First Step to Self-Government for Iraq
President Bush's gamble in not postponing the Iraq election has paid off, and he is entitled to call the vote a success, says Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr. But he warns that the election is only the first step in a difficult journey towards Iraqi sovereignty. (January 31, 2005)

All Things Considered: Turnout High in Iraq Election, Tallies Under Way
Turnout is high in Iraq's landmark elections Sunday, especially in the Kurdish north and Shiite south; but far fewer Sunnis went to the polls. Credible results will not be available for several days. Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, told a Baghdad news conference Monday that he will work to make sure that the voice of all Iraqis is represented in the new government. (January 30, 2005)