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Discuss the Iraq Crisis in the Classroom

Below is a summary of the Iraq crisis and events leading up to it. Use the suggested discussion questions to prompt students' critical thinking regarding the ramifications of the violence in the Middle East.

The 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq (following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center) sparked an insurgency led by Sunni Arabs, who controlled Iraq under Saddam Hussein. This triggered large-scale retaliation from the Shia Arab majority.

Violence in Iraq, which peaked in 2006, has begun to increase again since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in late 2011. In December 2013, Sunni militants seized the central city of Falluja as part of an attempt to create an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria. The militants capitalized on Sunni Arabs’ existing anger over government leader Nouri Maliki, a Shia whom they accused of discriminating against them.

The attacks have been led by the “jihadist” group “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” (known as ISIS or ISIL). Although the U.S. said five years ago that the al-Qaeda splinter group was near defeat, ISIS is responsible for near-daily bombings in Baghdad and controls huge territories in western and northern Iraq, and even Syria. The group is considered among the most dangerous and cash-rich militant groups in the world.

In June 2014, Sunni militants took Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, plunging the country into crisis. Militants posted graphic photos that appeared to show massacred Iraqi soldiers. The BBC’s Jim Muir said if the photographs are genuine, “it would be by far the biggest single atrocity since the time of the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.”

While Iraqi troops outnumber the militants, many soldiers have become increasingly disillusioned by the vicious conflict, leading many to desert. Abuses and corruption have further weakened the country’s security forces.

The Obama administration is considering airstrikes to slow the insurgency, and the U.S. has evacuated and reinforced security at its embassy in Baghdad. U.S. officials have ruled out coordination of military efforts with Iraq neighbor Iran, but they are open to discussions about how Iranians might help end the violence.

Student discussion questions:

  1. How do Sunni Muslims differ from Shiite Muslims? Shiites make up 40-60% of Iraq’s Muslims. Which group is more powerful in Iraq, and what has been the historical relationship between the groups, whose conflict has been characterized as both religious and ethnic in nature? About what do Sunnis and Shiites agree/disagree?
  2. What do you know about ISIS? What are the group’s goals and beliefs? Why is ISIS considered more of a threat than al-Qaeda?
  3. What are jihadists, and how do “global jihadists” differ from militant Islamists, who might be considered “local jihadists”?
  4. Many believe this is the worst crisis Iraq has faced in years—explain why the country is on the verge of a breakup.
  5. What actions is the U.S. considering in response to the crisis? Why is the situation so complicated for America? What is the best course of action (consider this Forbes writer’s opinion)?
  6. What are the global consequences of the crisis in Iraq (consider this New York Times contributor’s opinion)?


Article by Celine Provini, EducationWorld Editor
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