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If you look at the ethnic conflicts and street demonstrations during Iraq's modern history, it is remarkable how few have involved Shi'ites fighting Sunnis. During the colonial era, Iraqis were united by their opposition to the British occupation. Sunni and Shi'ite tribes cooperated in rebelling against British rule, and were only put down with a bombing campaign in 1920 that killed 9,000. In 1941 mobs targeted Iraq's small Jewish population; Jews had been a valued part of the Iraqi national fabric but were accused, unfairly, of being pro-colonial. After World War II, much of the violence in Iraq was fueled by issues of class. In 1948 slum dwellers and railway and oil workers revolted against a government treaty with Britain. In 1959, Arab nationalists assassinated Communist Party members, while mobs in Mosul and Kirkuk attacked and killed rich businessmen and landowners.
Iraqi Muslims have not all along been severely divided by religious sect. There have been many instances of strong cooperation between Sunnis and Shi'ites. Other social divides have led to mob violence in the past, but Iraqis have overcome them to re-establish national unity. It remains to be seen whether they can accomplish this feat again.