Date of Graduation

Summer 2009


Master of Science in Defense and Strategic Studies


Defense and Strategic Studies

Committee Chair

Kerry Kartchner


Shi'a crescent, Sunni-Shi'a conflict, Iran, nuclear proliferation, Shi'ism

Subject Categories

Defense and Security Studies


This paper examines the Sunni-Shi'a divide within Islam and the role it plays in shaping Sunni Arab governments' response to the rising "Shi'a crescent” and a revolutionary Shi'a Iran. Sunnis have politically dominated every country in the region, except non- Arab Iran, since their initial victory over the Shi'as in the 7th century. However, Shi'as rose to power in place of Sunnis within an Arab country for the first time in Arab-Islamic history, when the Iraq War removed Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime from power in Iraq. This rise of Shi'as' political power in Iraq overlapped with the "re-revolutionizing” of Iran in 2005, as Shi'ite fundamentalists regained power in Iran and accelerated its nuclear program. As a result, by 2006 Sunni leaders felt they faced a dual threat from Shi'ism, as Shi'as' political empowerment in Iraq fed and was being fed by a re-revolutionized, Shi'a Iran with nuclear aspirations. This dual threat formed a "Shi'a crescent” in the region in the minds of Arab leaders and threatened to overturn the social, political, and sectarian order of the Sunni-dominated Middle East. Soon Sunni Arab governments began responding to this threat with increasingly assertive rhetoric, as well as diplomatic and military actions to counter Iran, its nuclear program, and the spread of Shi'ism throughout the region. Of particular concern were their sudden declarations of interest in nuclear programs once the threat from the Shi'a crescent reached its peak in 2006. This paper outlines how events since 1979, to include the Iranian Revolution, the Iran-Iraq War, the Iraq War of 2003 and Iran's accelerated nuclear program, have influenced the current dynamics of the Sunni-Shi'a conflict and politicized the threat of Shi'ism in the minds of Arab leaders, in turn serving to explain their current actions in countering Iran and the Shi'a crescent since the 2005-2006 timeframe.


© Jennifer Elizabeth Knepper

Campus Only