Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Shiites, Lebanon, Iran and Hezbollah?

Islam is not all that different from Christianity as far as the way the religion is divided; within the Christian religion there are many different ways to practice and believe in a Christian God. The analogy that comes to mind, off the top of my head, would be the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. Although there are many differences…a quick glance at the discord between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland reveal a similarity to the Sunni/Shiite conflict.

Countries with Shiite Majority:

Iran – 90% Shiite
Iraq – 60% of the population but previously under Sunni rule.
Syria – 70% are Shiite
Azerbaijan – 70% are Shiite
B’ harain – Shiites make up 75% of population but Sunnis rule

In Lebanon, about half of the population is Shiite (40-50%)

In other countries the Shiites comprise the following percentage of the population.

Kuwait – 30% Shiite

Afghanistan and Pakistan – 20% Shiite

Saudi Arabia – 10% Shiite

Outside of Iran, the Sunnis have shut the Shiites out of power. Many of the countries with a Shiite majority are ruled by the minority of Sunnis, which has been the case for the last 1,000 years or so. In addition Shiites are normally not allocated their fair share of resources. For example, in Saudi Arabia, virtually all the oil is located in the Shiite region but they get none of the proceeds.

During the 1960’s and 70’s the Shiites began to question their commitment to Arab nationalism and started to demand their rights. During the Israeli/Palestinian conflict the Shiites, under much pressure, began to assert a separate identity from Palestinians. The Shiites created the Amal militia, which was very anti-Palestinian when it first began. At one time Amal greeted the Israelis with flowers

Hezbollah, born from the Amal militia, has been associated with Iran for 20 years; Iran considers Hezbollah as an asset in a broader regional power game with Israel. Hezbollah adopted the same ideology as the Amal militia, however, in a much less sectarian way, couching power behind a cause of unity with the Sunnis around the cause of the Palestinians. Hezbollah was and is far more hostile toward Israel.

In 1990, after the tithe agreement, Hezbollah agreed to participate in the existing political system in Lebanon, participating in elections and did quite well in the last election. Hezbollah has become very pragmatic and Hezbollah is divided into two wings, the military and political wings; the political wing manages a vast array of social services, in Shiite neighborhoods. Hezbollah could be compared to the IRA in Ireland.

Hezbollah, early on proved to be a very highly effective military force. Hezbollah has made very effective use of suicide bombing or martyrdom missions against Israeli targets, and has served as a model for Sunnis as well as Shiites. Hezbollah controls (militarily) the southern border of Lebanon, which is just across the border from Israel.

Hezbollah has proven it is a force to be reckoned with after forcing Israel to move out, using suicide bombings as their main method of attack, and was able to achieve casualty parity with Israel which no other Arab military force has been able to do.

Hezbollah was able to overshadow Amal because of its militaristic success on the battlefield and the social services it offered, schools, clinics, orphanages making it a dominant force in South Beirut and South Lebanon. Once Israeli forces left, Hezbollah moved very rapidly into that territory and established military control over it not only thru its military units but also thru its control over the villages and their economy and society as well.

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