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Biblical tradition holds that northern Iraq is the land of Cain and Abel. Across post-war Iraq, the ancient parable of fratricide seems to be playing out in a contemporary context: Muslim brothers killing Muslim brothers in spates of violence between the Sunni and Shia sects rippling out in waves across the Middle East.

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About This Project

Biblical tradition holds that northern Iraq is the land of Cain and Abel.

And from this rugged patch of earth to Baghdad and from Fallujah to Ramadi and all across post-war Iraq, the biblical parable of fratricide seems to be playing out in a contemporary context: Muslim brothers killing Muslim brothers.

Spates of violence between the Sunni and Shia have been rising steadily in Iraq in recent months. On the 10th anniversary of the US-led war in Iraq, it seems the Shia-led government is facing increasing resistance from a restive Sunni population. There are reports of bombings and demonstrations and counter-crackdowns by Shia authorities. The Sunni minority is increasingly intent on making it clear that they have suffered a decade of discrimination, and that they are simply not going to take it anymore.

The sectarian tensions in Iraq take on a regional context with neighboring Iran backing the Shia government, and neighboring Saudi Arabia taking the side of the Sunni.

This flare-up of Sunni-Shia tensions that emanates from Iraq is rippling out in waves across the Middle East. The ‘Arab Awakening,’ as the uprisings that toppled dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and in the bloody civil war in Syria are referred to here in the region, have also served to exacerbate sectarian tensions, particularly in Syria.

In this GlobalPost Special Report, we have dispatched a stellar team of veteran correspondents across the Middle East and in Washington, DC to provide a framework of understanding for the way in which the age-old rift between the Sunni and the Shia is being manipulated by regional powers that are trying to reshape the modern Middle East.

This first part of the project includes on-the-ground reporting from Iraq by Jane Arraf, one of the most experienced correspondents in Iraq who has covered the Middle East for more than a quarter century. And it features a reporting journey by veteran correspondent Reese Erlich through Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and an outstanding analysis from Washington by Pulitzer Prize winning correspondent Caryle Murphy. A photo essay by the legendary photographer Franco Pagetti provides perspective on his ten years of experience documenting Iraq at war.

The project is funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, which supports GlobalPost’s religion reporting and by other foundations which provide general support for GlobalPost’s foundation-supported Special Reports. As with all of our foundation-supported work, GlobalPost maintains complete editorial independence.

Marking the 10-year anniversary of the war in Iraq, this Special Report is only the beginning of a body of work that will continue throughout the year as we look at other aspects of the Sunni-Shia divide in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait and into Pakistan.

By Charles M. Sennott
Executive Editor and co-founder

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