BAGHDAD—Relations between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Middle East could plunge to new lows as the violence in Syria worsens and sectarian rhetoric looms in upcoming Iraqi elections, experts say.
Fears of worsening ties came as Shiites commemorated an anniversary of the symbolic split between them and Islam’s other main branch, and in the aftermath of a twin suicide bombing last week at the Iranian embassy in Beirut which was claimed by an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group and killed 25 people.
Bombings and shootings also continue to plague Iraq.
“The state of play is awful and it’s getting worse,” said Fanar Haddad, a research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and author of “Sectarianism in Iraq”.
“You’ve got the cumulative effect of 10 years of Iraq, and at the tail end of that, you’ve got Syria.... I shudder to think where all this is heading. It seems to be heading towards an even wider divide between Sunnis and Shiites.
“In the next few months and years, I think the worst is yet to come.”
The vast majority of the world’s Muslims are Sunni. But Shiites comprise a significant minority, forming the majority population in Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain with large communities elsewhere.
Although the two branches of Islam grew apart over time, their modern differences are arguably most clearly on display during the Ashura and Arbaeen commemorations, which are currently ongoing.
The ceremonies mark the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, a venerated figure in Shiite Islam, at the hands of the armies of the Caliph Yazid.