DAKUK‚ Iraq — In the rugged landscape of northern Iraq where biblical tradition holds that Cain killed Abel, the ancient fault lines of sectarian and ethnic conflict are laid bare.
There is no map that points to where the Old Testament story of Adam and Eve’s first-born son killing his brother might have taken place. The Bible says only that it lays ‘East of Eden.’ But 13th century historian Yacout al-Hamawi places it in the shadow of the Hamreen Mountains near this ancient town that would have been on the road from Babylon to Nineveh.
Today, in this same troubled land, the divisions that have wracked the region for centuries are coming to the surface. On the tenth anniversary of the US-led war in Iraq, the struggle for power is playing out not just in the halls of government and parliament but in the car-bomb factories and bank accounts that fuel sectarian attacks.
Some believe the seeds of the popular movements across the Arab world that have toppled dictatorial regimes were sown with the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. In Iraq, the demise of his iron-fisted dictatorship blew the lid off of suppressed sectarian conflict and opened the door to regional extremists.
In a country known for its relative religious tolerance, one of the biggest forces at play has become an ideology in which a tiny number of Sunni Muslims believe it is a religious duty to kill Shia Muslims. Those attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq are again increasing. Some believe the al-Qaeda front group is hijacking a growing protest movement by Sunni Iraqis who believe they have been displaced by the Shia’s historic rise to power.
In a culture in which neighbors refer to each other as brothers, the parables of Cain and Abel are still being played out in this ancient land of prophets.
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