I have been observing Middle-east for past 5/6 years and have observed a clear biased approach by US towards Sunni and Shia militants

US Behaviour towards Sunni Militants

  • Countless Drones in North-western Pakistan (now Baluchistan too), Yemen and Afghanistan
  • Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp full of Sunnis, many of them are kept without any proper evidences (will cite references soon)
  • Pressing Pakistan to block those Sunni militant organizations like Jamat ud Daawa, Lashakr Jhangvi, et al. as well which are not a threat to US
  • Pressing for restrictions on Pakistan's Nuclear Program that it will go in hands of Taliban
  • Pakistan is ally but it was denied of even sniper guns by US in 2013

    and so on..

US Behaviour towards Shia Militants

  • Hezbolla is banned but Lebanon's Military aid doubled since 2013/14. (There are tweets of US Embassy Beirut on it on record)
  • Iraq's leadership deliberately handed over to Maliki resulting in formation of lot of Shia Militia groups which are (WARNING: VERY GRAPHIC!!)butchering Sunnis and Kurds mercilessly
  • There is no word from White House over so much brutalities and killings by Shia Militias in Iraq while there are clear evidences of Iraqi army backing these Shia militia. Sunnis have been looted, kicked out of their homes and yet there is no word by US on it (imagine ISIS doing the same)
  • There has been open hiring in Pakistan for Shia militias to go to Iraq or Syria. (Imagine the outcry had it been hiring for ISIS)

    (Please note that OP has been following the pages of Shia Communites to confirm there have been continuous hirings)

  • Iran and US proclaim to be enemies but no action by US on Irani thugs openly killing in Iraq and Syria. (Imagine Pakistani Sunnis doing it so openly and what will be US reaction to Islamabad)


So my question is that why there is so much open difference between America's attitude towards Shia and Sunni Militants (and the countries backing them)?


Link of Maliki involved in butchering of Sunnis Human Rights Watch

  • 3
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about motivations not politics. Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 18:43
  • 1
    The bottom line here is that Saddam Hussein was considered Sunni, So the US, because obviously if that side is bad their enemy must be good, decided to back the Shia. Mostly because we have not elected a president that and a decent military mind in 25 years... Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 14:32
  • America had no qualms in allying with Sunni extremists when they wanted to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Also, you are mentioning US military aid to Lebanese state but you forgot about US military aid to Pakistan which is only behind Israel and Egypt I believe. Shias happen to be a majority in Iraq.
    – NSNoob
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 9:09
  • As for Nuclear program, imagine if terrorists managed to attack with impunity throughout UK, hold lands in UK and come as close as few hundred KMs to London, do you believe US won't seek a contingency plan in event of possible, though however unlikely, event of nukes falling into extremists hands?
    – NSNoob
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 9:10
  • In any case, as User 1 answered, America has no permanent friends or enemies. Back in 80s it suited them to align with Sunni extremists to fight Soviets. Now it suits them to be lenient to powers fighting ISIS. Also remember, There are Sunni militias supported by US in Syria as well. Their current focus is set on ISIS.
    – NSNoob
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 9:11

2 Answers 2


There are many reasons to explain what you see. Some are more obvious, some are less; some are more high-level some less.

  • US isn't a single monolithic entity, no matter how tempting assuming that is for the sake of seeking simple answers.

    It's a country that is comprised of: 3 branches of government that don't always agree; 2 highly polarized political wings; multiple national security centers in executive branch all having their own viewpoints and goals and interests; and even more other points of power and influence with even more viewpoints and goals and interests.

    As such, if you observe Obama admin policy in 2015, it may very well differ from a Bush policy in 2005 from Clinton policy in 1999. Or hell, from Obama admin policy in 2009.

  • You have a fairly compelling but small set of facts. However, you should take care not to mistake individual facts for trends.

    US has in the past been hostile towards Shia (Lebanon '82 to pick a random example, or critical-of-Iran rhetoric from anyone who is on the right of political spectrum); and non-hostile against Sunnis (support for Taliban during Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; support for KSA in general).

  • You may be committing a logical fallacy of mixing causation and correllation.

    Just because US is currently interested in actions that seem antagonistic to Sunnis, does not automatically imply that it is caused by the targets being Sunni - it may very well be that they are independent (and both caused by a third variable); or that the Sunnis are causing antagonism - not by doing anything specific, but (see my next bullet) merely by being stronger than Shia.

  • To expand on the idea from the last point, Sunni militants are perceived to be far more of a threat to the US.

    • Hezbollah, or any other Iranian proxy, had enough foresight to never perpetrate a major terrorist attack on US soil.

      Sunni groups (AQ to ISIS) did, repeatedly.

    • Sunnis overall are more numerous and powerful, overall.

      Of the total Muslim population, 10-13% are Shia Muslims and 87-90% are Sunni Muslims. Most Shias (between 68% and 80%) live in just four countries: Iran, Pakistan, India and Iraq. (source). This is way too simplistic on one hand, but a useful proxy for approximation.

    • ISIS basically kicked the ever-living &^*t (actual technical military term) out of any Shia who opposed them, until US started attacking them.

    • Sunni states are (or at least seem to be) far more aggressive about exporting their militant brands of Islam, especially Wahhabi.

      • The main factor here is of course KSA and Wahhabi; but we also have Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots; and various India-attacking groups in Pakistan.
    • Sunni power block has very very little to offer to entice the USA with at this point. Whereas, Iran had to offer "we will pretend to stop developing nuclear weapons", which is a big carrot to US in general and an irresistibly large carrot to Obama, who needed an international legacy achievement given all the things global that went south under his rule.

  • Relatedly, US public generally perceives groups affiliated with Sunni militancy as far worse than those with Shia militancy. Being a democracy (well, a representative Republic sliding into Oligarchy, if one needs be technical :), USA policies in part reflect that.

    • Most Americans heard of ISIS and Al Quaeda. Very few comparatively heard of Hezbollah.

    • ISIS deliberately cultivated an image designed to antagonize Western populace. Rapes, sexual slavery, genocide, "barbaric" executions, etc...

  • 3
    I enjoyed your answer. Though there have been some facts to contradict your couple of points. 1-) If Hezbolla isn't threat to US, nor are majority of Pakistani groups like JuD, LeJ, et al. 2-) Just 0.4 Mn Syrians 've been killed by Iran+Assad coalition since '11. Add the number of Iraqis been/being butchered and it gets freakish. AQ, ISIS (doesn't represent Sunnis truly) numbers are no way near that. And I am yet to add Houthis in Yemen... Commented Jun 25, 2016 at 22:25
  • Saying "us isn't a single country" may be true: but it's still the community that votes and is ultimately responsible. It's a single community! (That's part of their liberation speech, it implied that if people grow apart far enough they should split the country). I find this argument that "X is not a singular" ridiculous: if it isn't then you shouldn't act as one.
    – paul23
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 16:52

Henry Kissinger: America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.

There is no difference between shia and sunni; US national interest (or US politicians interest) plus US ability determines where they bomb and how.

  • About "Hezbollah": 1- "Lebanon's Military aid" dont go to "Hezbollah". 2- israel (Best friend of US) already has attacked Hezbollah. No need to say US always back israel in any conflict. 3- Sunni counterpart of Hezbollah is not Taliban or ISIS; it's Hamas (both fight inside of their countries for their countries against foreign military troops. They dont occupy other countries killing civilian).

  • About "Maliki": 1st link is in Arabic, which most of readers wouldn't know. How do you confirm it's done by Maliki? 2nd link is mostly untenable for your purpose. It has statements like "The government seems to..." and "witnesses said that... (without link or film or... . who are these witnesses?)" and so on.

  • Almost all sunni governments in middle east (even the most severe dictatorship, KSA) are US allies. But about Iran: US has had two behavior towards this shia country.
    1- When Shah (ex-dictator) ruled Iran, US had very good economic and military relationship with Iran. at that time Iran was Shia.
    2- Following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the United States imposed sanctions against Iran and expanded them till now. Over the years, sanctions have taken a serious toll on Iran's economy and people, See here. Since Revelution US has done anything it can against Iran (Even Iran Air Flight 655 which was a civilian jet airliner shot down by U.S. missiles on 3 July 1988). But today US can only have sanctions against Iran; US can not attack Iran, because Iran in return can attack US army bases in middle east and even attack israel (The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution touched on the Israeli threats of a military invasion against Iran and stressed: "If they make any such move, the Islamic Republic of Iran will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground.")
    Iran is still shia. So the problem is not related to being shia-sunni, it is related to the interests.

  • "hiring Shia militias to go to Iraq or Syria" is not to go to war with US, it is to go to war with ISIS.
  • If the interest Require, US would have good relation with sunni militants, even Al-Qaeda.
  • I can quote you billions of references (in English) showing his involvement. 2-) Just last week, video of Iraqi official army using the flags of Shia militia is going viral. You can easily look it up on twitter. I like your answer but your sceptics about Maliki involvement in genocide of Sunnis. Iraq has come on the verge of breaking in three parts. You will see it very soon. Commented Jun 25, 2016 at 22:38
  • Thank you for those parts you like and sorry for the other part. BTW i did not completely rejected that case, but i Doubt that links information. Best wishes!
    – user 1
    Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 10:32
  • 2
    @TalhaIrfan I seriously doubt you can quote anywhere near billions of references. Your biases are showing.
    – crush
    Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 16:19

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