Viewing Iraq from the outside is made easier by compartmentalising its people (at least the Arabs among them) into Shi'as and Sunnis.
But can such broad terms, inherently resistant to accurate quantification, description and definition, ever be a useful reflection of any society?
If not, are we to discard the terms 'Shi'a' and 'Sunni' in seeking to understand Iraq? Or are we to deny their relevance and ignore them when considering Iraqi society?
How are we to view the common Iraqi injunction that 'we are all brothers' or that 'we have no Shi'as and Sunnis' against the fact of sectarian civil war in 2006?
Are they friends or enemies? Are they united or divided; indeed, are they Iraqis or are they Shi'as and Sunnis?
Fanar Haddad provides the first comprehensive examination of sectarian relations and sectarian identities in Iraq.
Rather than treating the subject by recourse to broad-based categorisation, his analysis recognises the inherent ambiguity of group identity.
The salience of sectarian identity and views towards self and other are neither fixed nor constant; rather, they are part of a continuously fluctuating dynamic that sees the relevance of sectarian identity advancing and receding according to context and to wider socioeconomic and political conditions.
What drives the salience of sectarian identity? How are sectarian identities negotiated in relation to Iraqi national identity and what role do sectarian identities play in the social and political lives of Iraqi Sunnis and Shi'as?
These are some of the questions explored in this book with a particular focus on the two most significant turning points in modern Iraqi sectarian relations: the uprisings of March 1991 and the fall of the Ba'ath in 2003.
Haddad explores how sectarian identities are negotiated and seeks finally to put to rest the alarmist and reductionist accounts that seek either to portray all things Iraqi in sectarian terms or to reduce sectarian identity to irrelevance.