Timeline of Sectarian Violence (2003 – Present)

Over the past three years, tensions between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims in Iraq have escalated exponentially. Shi’a, which represent a majority in Iraq (about 60%) have been traditionally repressed by the Sunni (32%) ruling class. While sectarian riffs were quieted by the previous regime, as Iraq has moved towards democracy, allowing open political participation to all religious sects, Shi’a and Sunni groups have struggled for power.

In an attempt to make sense of all the recent violence, which some are calling “civil war,” this timeline traces sectarian violence, and the political struggle which may be its foundation, to the beginning of the war in Iraq. While there may appear to be lulls in the fighting, it is likely that violence was occurring, but was not attributed to sectarian conflict.

Last updated on July 21, 2006.

2003 August

    29th – Bombing at Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf kill 125 Shi’a and Muhammed Baqir al-Hakim; Sunni and Ba’athists arrested. This is the first major mosque bombing attributable to sectarian strife.

2004 February

    4th – Shi’a leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani survives an assassination attempt.

2004 March

    2nd – Three suicide bombings at Ashoura Festival in Baghdad and Karbala leave 150 killed. Bremer says bombers are trying to stir sectarian violence.

2004 July

    28th – Bombing in Baquba, leaving 68 killed, might be sectarian-related.

2004 December

    13th – Series of car bombs target Shi’a civillians.

2005 January

    12th – Sunni militiamen kill two assistants of Shi’a leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
    21st – Attack on Shi’a Mosque kills 22.
    30th – Sunni leaders boycott parliamentary election.

2005 February

    18th – Attacks kill 30 during Shi’a holy festival of Ashura.

2005 March

    11th – Suicide bomber kills 47 at Shi’a funeral.

2005 April

    7th – Prime Minister Jaafari appointed in early April by a one-vote margin, winning election in Parliament due to influence of radical Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who sways the votes of up to 35 legislators.

2005 May

    6th-11th – Sectarian attacks kill hundreds over week-long period.

2005 July

    16-17th – Several bombings in Shi’a areas of Baghdad kill hundreds.

2005 August

    15th – Constitution deadline missed because of Sunni protests. Deadline missed again on August 22nd, and August 25th.
    29th – Sunnis angry with constitution draft protest in Baquba, carrying pictures of Sadaam Hussein. As it became clear that Sunni political power would be marginalized (compared to what it was in previous regimes), political leaders became frustrated with the process, accusing the United States of preparing unfair elections. Political disenfranchisement may have led to an increase in sectarian violence.
    31st – Stampede, caused by rumors of a suicide bomb, at Shi’a religious event kills 1,000. Mortars had been fired into crowd by Sunni village hours earlier. The bridge where stempede took place links the Sunni area of Adhamiya and the Shi’a area of Kadhimiya.

2005 September

    14th – 112 killed in bombing in Kadhimiya district of Baghdad. During the night, gunmen killed 17 in Sunni town of Taji.
    26th – Shi’a schoolteachers shot down.

2005 October

    The National Assembly tries to make it harder for Sunnis to vote down the constitution, but changes rules back after pressure from the UN.
    25th – Constitution is passed.

2005 November

    15th – 170 detainees discovered being held and tortured by government, most of them were Sunni.
    18th – Suicide bombers destroyed two Shi’a mosques in Khanaqin, near the Iranian border, killing at least 74 people at the Sheik Murad mosque and the Khanaqin Grand Mosque.

2005 December

    As many as 14 people from one Shi’a family who had been warned to leave a Sunni district south of Baghdad were killed after assailants broke into their home.
    15th – Elections
    26th – At least two people were killed and 26 injured when a suicide motorcycle bomber rammed into a Shi’a funeral ceremony.

2006 January

    20th – Shi’a dominate elections.
    4th – Attack bombing at Shi’a funeral in Muqdadiyah. 50 die.

2006 February

    2nd – 14 Sunni found dead in back of truck. Sunni group accuses government forces of pushing country towards civil war. February saw the beginning of Shi’a militias killing Sunni civilians, likely due to the increased responsibility given to Iraqi security forces, which were almost entirely Shi’a.
    22nd – Al-Askariya Shrine destroyed by bombings; no one killed. Perhaps the most significant event in the timeline of sectarian violence, this attack left one of the Shi’a’s holiest sites in ruins. Up until this point, many Shi’a had resisted retaliation, even as they were targets of sectarian bombings and attacks. They had been wary of risking the dominance achieved through the political process since 2003. After the Askariya bombing, however, Shi’a militias began mass revenge killings, openly targeting Iraqi Sunnis.
    22nd-28th – Shi’a muslims retaliate, destroying dozens of Sunni Mosques and over 100 people, followed by reprisal killings back and forth leaving hundreds dead.

2006 March

    2nd – Sunni insurgents attack brick factory in Nahrawan, a Shi’a town.
    14th – Estimated 86 bodies found in suspected sectarian attacks.
    19th – Allawi uses the term “civil war” to describe state of Iraq. Murtha calls Iraqi situation “civil war.” Cheney says there is no “civil war.”

2006 April

    7th – Triple suicide bomb at Shi’a mosque kills 74 and wounds 130. Shi’a cleric calls for calm despite the massacre.

2006 May

    10th – Report released that says that 1,091 Iraqis were killed by sectarian violence in April.

2006 June

    4th – Masked militants stop two minivans full of students just north of Baghdad and execute 21 Shi’a among them. They let the four Sunni Muslims passengers go.

2006 July

It’s difficult to pinpoint the catalyst of the massacres that occurred in early July 2006. The increased violence could represent simply an escalation of tit-for-tat bombings or might foreshadow an all-out civil war.

    2nd – Sunni members of Parliament boycott proceedings in response to the kidnapping of a Sunni colleague, Tayseer Najah al-Mashhadani, the previous day saying that they would withdraw members from the Prime Minister’s cabinet unless al-Mashhadani was freed within 48 hours. The group claims that the Sunni lawmaker was kidnapped by Shi’a militia, militia that the government is failing in their opinion to control. In a similar attack on Sunday, Shi’a legislator Laqa al-Yaseen was kidnapped when gunmen attacked his convoy in a predominantly Sunni area south of Baghdad.
    6th – A suicide car bomber killed and wounded a group of Iranian pilgrims on their way to a Shi’a mosque in the city of Kujaf south of Baghdad. An estimated 13 are killed and 41 are wounded.
    7th – A car bomb outside of a Shi’a mosque kills 6 and wounds 46 in Tal Banat. A bomb exploded outside of a Sunni mosque in Baquba wounding 7 worshipers.
    8th – A car bomb explodes outside of a Shi’a mosque in Hay al-Jihad, wounding 4. The bodies of six Shi’a men are found in the predominantly Sunni Dora district of Baghdad. The men had been executed. Sunni Insurgents bomb the Zahra Shi’a mosque killing 8 worshipers and passersby.
    9th – Two car bombs explode near a Shi’a mosque in Baghdad killing 17 and wounding 45. Shi’a militiamen kill an estimated 42 Sunni Arab men using fake checkpoints. Sunni insurgents then detonated a bomb next to a mosque killing 19 and wounding 59. A Shi’a family of five is killed when a grenade is tossed by gunmen into their home.
    10th – Local residents of the Sunni Dora neighborhood and Shi’a militiamen clash. An estimated 6 are killed and 7 are wounded.
    11th – Shi’a family of eight forced out of their minibus by gunmen and executed. Gunmen open fire on a bus killing 10 people in a Sunni district of Baghdad.
    12th – The bodies of 20 bus drivers are found. The bus drivers were kidnapped in a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad when gunmen singled them out as being Shi’a.
    13th – Gunmen fire on a group of Shi’a pilgrims killing 2 and wounding 5.
    14th – Five Shi’a pilgrims are killed when gunmen shoot at their minibus in Kut. A bomb kills 7 and wounds 5 outside of a Sunni mosque following a prayer service. 2 are killed and 4 are wounded in the town of Balad Ruz when 6 mortar rounds strike a Shiite mosque.

    July 19th

    UN Report

    – The UN reports that over 6,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in sectarian violence during the months of May and June alone. Average deaths per day due to sectarian violence has risen to 100 per day, a jump of 77% from January. UN officials as well as the Iraqi and American governments, along with Shia Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and other religious leaders call for peace. An overwhelming ammount of the killings occured in Baghdad. During this week, violence rose 40% according to the US military. On the day the UN report was released, 53 Shia were killed in a bombing in Kufa.

    Kidnapped workers – Gunmen kidnapped 20 aid workers from the Sunni Endowment, an association which represents several Sunni mosques and shrines. The Sunni Endowment suspended operations.