By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Ignoring the lessons of Middle East history

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The Shiite government that threw us out of Iraq in 2011 is requesting U.S. air strikes against the insurgent Sunni militant group, ISIS. First, maybe should review some history of Middle East Muslim conflicts.

When the Prophet Muhammad died in 632, most Muslims believed his successors should be determined by the elite of their religious community. Those Sunni Muslims were opposed by the minority Shiite Muslims, who thought succession should remain in the Prophet Muhammad’s family. In most other respects, their religious beliefs and practices were the same.

Resulting wars, however, produced deaths and martyrdoms that created centuries of a split between Sunnis and Shiites.

In the 10th century, the 12th in a series of Shiite leaders was considered a Messiah who would return to make manifest the full message of Muhammad. A majority of Shiites today are known as “Twelvers” in their practice of that messianic faith.

The Sunnis and Shiites have murdered one another for more than 1,450 years, albeit with extended times of peace.

Those centuries brought the European crusaders, Mongol conquerors and Ottoman Turks. In 1500, the Azeri established a Shiite nation that is modern-day Iran, while Sunnis — the vast majority of Muslims — populated the Ottoman Empire and east to India.

After World War I, led by then-Colonial Minister Winston Churchill, the British created an unstable kingdom of Iraq by stitching together Sunni and Shiite Arabs with the Kurds, an early ethnic outgrowth of the region. It was a legendary colonization disaster.

A review of the 2004 book, “Churchill’s Folly,” says, “After the British occupiers left, Iraq endured 58 governments in 37 years … a pattern of chaos ended only by the rise of Saddam Hussein.”

After 9/11, we invaded Iraq and eliminated Saddam, a brutal Sunni dictator who suppressed the Kurds and Iraq’s majority Shia population. We later backed a new Shiite government and withdrew all troops in 2011 when Iraq refused to let our forces remain. We failed to prevent the government’s persecution of Sunnis, exposing how little we had done to reverse 15 centuries of religious and ethnic strife.

Surrounding all this are the complexities of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Eqypt and Israel, to name a few, and Muslim militant parties such as Hezbollah, the Taliban and now ISIS. And of course, oil.

Some say we should jump back into Iraq and simply return order to the region. Those people don’t understand, or choose to ignore, the lessons of Middle East religious history.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at or 503-687-1223.

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