Al Jazeera has an interesting article about the Western media coverage of Iraq, and Iraq’s sectarian makeup in particular.
Among the complaints about Western coverage is the claim by Tariq al-Hashimi, Iraq’s Sunni Arab vice-president, that the media overestimates the number of Shia in the country:
Western media often refer to Iraq as being “overwhelmingly Shia”, or use other phrases to imply a large Shia majority. This, [al-Hashimi] says, is wrong — and it has resulted in over-representation of Shia parties in the Iraqi government at the expense of Sunni Arabs.
Al-Hashimi said: “The false allegations promoted by Western media have resulted in an [inappropriate] political process, and everyone is paying the price for its wrong foundations.”
Where the figures came from to back up assertions of a large Shia majority are unclear: no Iraqi census in modern history has ever included sect.
Sources such as Encyclopaedia Britannica put the Shia population in Iraq at 52 per cent of the total in 2001. However, figures circulated by the US military, which invaded Iraq in 2003, put the figure at 60 per cent.
The CIA’s World Factbook puts the Shia at 60 to 65 percent of the Iraqi population.
Other complaints include the characterization of the insurgency as essentially Sunni and the assertion that the Baath party was a Sunni-run apparatus that persecuted the Shia. According to the current Baath spokesperson,
“Actually, sect was never an issue in Iraq. I am a Shia and I have been a senior Baath official … No Baath party official — no Iraqi official — ever asked me about my sect.
“When the US army occupied Iraq they issued a list of 55 wanted top Iraqi officials, starting with President Saddam Hussein; half of those senior officials were Shia.
“The Committee of Debaathification issued a list of 100,000 senior Iraqi Baathists who would not be allowed to enjoy governmental posts, 66,000 of them were Shia – so how is the Baath party a Sunni party?
…Abu Muhammad voiced resentment at the the term “Sunni insurgency”, saying that Iraqis from different backgrounds are fighting the foreign presence in Iraq.
“This term plays down Iraqi nationalism,” he said. “I repeat, I am a Shia and I am resisting the US forces in Iraq, and we know for sure that resistance fighters from all background are fighting. Why do the Western agencies insist that only Sunni are fighting? Big question mark, I think.”
On the other hand, there are those who disagree:
However, Karim Bader, an independent Iraqi politician, said that Western media had done a decent job on reporting what had occurred under Saddam’s rule.
He said one had to look only at the senior army commanders and intelligence officers in Saddam’s day, all of whom he said were Sunni. Or to look at the sizes of houses in Shia suburbs – small and overcrowded – or in Sunni areas, where houses were far larger but with fewer occupants.
Bader said: “I think there was sectarianism under Saddam and the Western media reflected that, but the question is, should we hold the Sunni sect responsible for that? I think Iraqis must be careful in answering this question.”