(by Carmen Gentile, Dec. 13, 2005, WashingtonTimes.com) HAWIJAH, Iraq — It started with an ominous “pop” in the distance, followed by a “whoosh” that grew louder as the rocket-propelled grenade raced toward the armored Humvee.
    “RPG, RPG, 12 o’clock,” Spc. John Alden shouted as the rocket headed toward the driver’s side of the vehicle before veering off course, hitting the pavement about 10 feet away, ricocheting and exploding.
    In the distance, the source of the attack emerged through a trail of smoke. The insurgents were scrambling into their car and speeding away.
    Spc. Alden gunned the 7.5-ton truck toward the car in flight and engaged in a high-speed chase through the dusty narrow streets of Hawijah, a Sunni Muslim stronghold of 70,000 in northern Iraq that has experienced more than its fair share of violence in the past few months.
    Despite reports that Sunni insurgents are scaling back their violence to boost participation in parliamentary elections this week, attacks on U.S. forces in the area around Hawijah are on the rise.
    Troops at Forward Operating Base McHenry were uneasy after a weekend sniper attack wounded a Humvee gunner in the neck.
    Though the soldier has been stabilized and is recovering, the men and women of McHenry were frustrated with the stealthy shooter dubbed the “Hawijah sniper.”
    Sgt. 1st Class Pete Chambers promised his troops that they eventually would capture the sniper who has been hitting their vehicles on an almost daily basis.
    “Hopefully, someone takes a shot at us because by the end of the day, that [person] is going to be dead,” Sgt. Chambers said.
    After the rocket attack, troops doggedly pursued the insurgents’ vehicle for blocks past blind alleys where other shooters or triggermen for roadside bombs could have been lurking.
    When the car made a sharp right and disappeared from view, the barreling Humvee arrived moments later to find it abandoned, with the attackers nowhere in sight. Then, as the troops secured the site, sniper fire rang out again. Black Hawk helicopters circling overhead located a suspect, who was detained for questioning.
    Though disappointed that the perpetrators escaped, the troops were elated to find a cache of weapons and incriminating evidence, including a video camera with which the insurgents had recorded their attack on the Humvee.
    U.S. forces have encountered stiff resistance in this city with an estimated 98 percent Sunni population, some of whom adamantly support the continuing insurgency and even the return of Saddam Hussein to power. U.S. troops have torn down posters along Hawijah’s busiest thoroughfares that praised Saddam as the “savior of Iraq.”
    Even some Iraqi police who work alongside U.S. forces and receive training at McHenry would like to see fewer soldiers deployed to this volatile area.
    Hawijah police Capt. Saban Kalif Abid said U.S. troop levels should be cut in half.
    “I know thousands of people [in Hawijah] that say the same thing,” he said.

Copyright 2005 News World Communications, Inc.  Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times.  This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.  Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com


1.  What is the population of Iraq?  What is the population of Hawijah?

2.  What is the motive of the insurgents for attacking U.S. soldiers in Hawijah?

3.  Why will the insurgents ultimately fail in their attacks on U.S. soldiers?

4.  Why do you think that some residents of Hawijah support the continuing insurgency and even the return of Saddam to power?

5.  Do you think that all Sunnis would prefer a dictator over democracy?  Explain your answer.



  • Just as there are many denominations of Christianity (such as Catholic or Protestant) and Judaism (such as orthodox or liberal) there are a number of denominations of Islam. 
  • The major denominations of Islam are Sunni and Shi’a.
  • Sunni and Shi’a have significant theological differences from each other, but possess the same essential belief.
  • Sunnis make up the majority of Muslims worldwide (80%- 85% of all Muslims are Sunni).  
  • However, Shi’as are in the majority in Iraq (approximately 60-65% of Iraq’s population are Shi’a).
  • Sunni Muslims are the minority in Iraq (approximately 32-35% of the population are Sunni) Of the Sunnis in Iraq, only 12-15% percent are Arabs, wile 18-20% percent are Kurds.
  • Kurds are not Arabs, but a different ethnicity.  Under Saddam Hussein, some 4,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed. At least 50,000 Kurds died – many were tortured and murdered by order of Saddam Hussein.
  • Sunni Arabs enjoyed favor under Saddam’s rule.


For more information on the Sunni-Shi’a split, click here.

For a map of the Middle East religions, click here.

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