Iraqi royal: ‘Shias were blind to Sunni suffering’

Al-Sharif Abdullah bin al-Hussein tried to resurrect the Iraqi monarchy in 2003 photo: Jerome Starkey

Iraq’s Shia government was blind for years to the suffering of the country’s Sunni Muslims, fuelling a discontent that helped to give rise to Islamic State, according to an heir to the country’s royal family.

Al-Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, who tried to resurrect the Iraqi monarchy in 2003, said that Sunnis had been killed, abused and marginalised at the hands of the army and the government, but reports of “real grievances fell on deaf ears” in Baghdad.

“They didn’t understand that people were being kidnapped by the security forces, who were then demanding ransom,” he said. “They didn’t realise the extent of the arrests, without evidence. Thousands of Sunnis were put in jail and there was no recourse. There was marginalisation in decisions, marginalisation in the participation in government. The Sunnis feel totally out of the system and the Shia just don’t see this.”

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Mr bin Hussein was two years old when his cousin, King Faisal II, and the prince regent, his uncle, were murdered in a military coup in 1958.

The former investment banker, who grew up in Holland Park, London, said that his role was to “bridge the gap between Sunni and the Shia and to stand against politics on a sectarian basis”.

Islamic State militants, who espouse a ruthless strand of medieval Islam, captured huge swathes of mostly Sunni areas in Iraq, during a lightning advance in June. They had already captured the Sunni heartland of Fallujah, in January, where residents had been protesting at the government’s alleged excesses for months.

Mr bin Hussein said the only way to reverse Islamic State’s gains was for the government to make “cast iron” concessions to the Sunni community in order to turn them against the insurgents. “The only way, in the short term, is if the local Sunni population turns against ISIS in a significant way, which is what happened last time,” he said, referring to the Sunni Awakening of 2005.

He said that the Sunnis wanted devolution because they had lost faith in the central government. “You need to give real concessions, not just pay lip service,” Mr bin Hussein said.

Justine Greening, the international development secretary, promised yesterday another £10 million in emergency aid for refugees in the north of Iraq.