The media often reason that if Washington's plan to attack Iran fails to meet support in the United States and Europe, it will try to win approval in the Muslim world, primarily, from Iran's rivals in the region. Many Muslim political scientists are convinced that the U.S. will do all it can to escalate the Shiite-Sunni conflict.
Shiites are usually estimated at 180 million, or about 15% of the Muslim population. For the most part, they live in South-West and South Asia (according to 1998 census): Iran (49 million or 87%), Pakistan (32 million or 26%; some estimates are much lower); Iraq (11 million or 59%); India (10 million or 1%); Turkey (8.9 million or 16%); Yemen (4.8 million or 38%); Azerbaijan (4 million or 56%); Afghanistan (3.5 million or 21%); Saudi Arabia (2 million or 14%); Syria (1.9 million or 15%); Lebanon (1.2 million or 40%); Kuwait (429,000 or 20%); Bahrain (330,000 or 64%); United Arab Emirates (318,000 or 17%), Oman (103,000 or seven percent); and Qatar (49,000 or 11%).
After the downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, the United States actually gave power in the country to the Shiites, and the Sunni minority was left with nothing to do. Now Iraq is practically in a state of civil war, and religious strife kills dozens of people every day. The situation in Iraq is reflected mirror-like in the rest of the Muslim world.
There was a whole series of bloody assaults on Shiite mosques in Pakistan in late 2006- early 2007. The continuous Sunni-Shiite political confrontation is fraught with the threat of a new civil war in Lebanon.
The situation in the other countries has not yet developed into bloodshed but is quite tense. In December 2006, the Sudanese authorities shut down the Iranian display at the Khartoum book fair after the Sunni activists accused Iran of conducting Shiite propaganda. Algerian newspapers reported that Shiite missionaries were trying to convert Sunni children.
Indicatively, during demonstrations the advocates of the Palestinian secular movement FATAH called the Sunni movement HAMAS "Shiite" for its links with Iran. In Jordan, people in several villages tried to stop the pilgrims bound for a local Shiite shrine.
Major Arab media have recently carried anti-Iranian publications. For instance, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram accused Iran of undermining chances for peace in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon in order to weaken the Sunni Arab countries.
The Saudi media has been conducting the same campaign. Its publications range from appeals to protect Iraq against the crusade of the Safavids (an Iranian dynasty that made Shiite Islam Persia's state religion in the 16th century) to balanced analytical articles about Iran's unreasonable nuclear gambling.
It is beyond doubt that the Saudis do not like Tehran's higher prestige in the Muslim world and they are trying to limit its ambitions by offering all kinds of plans for putting an end to strife in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. But despite the rivalry with Tehran, Riyadh has made it clear that a U.S. military operation in Iran will do political damage to the United States and have a negative effect on Saudi Arabia and the rest of the region.
This is why many Muslim leaders are trying to put an end to the Shiite-Sunni confrontation and prevent outside forces from exploiting it in their interests.
In October 2006, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) gathered Shiite and Sunni representatives in Mecca. In January 2007, Qatar invited 400 major Sunni and Shiite religious leaders for dialogue, which turned out to be quite difficult. Iranian chief negotiator Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Tashiri had to listen to heavy criticism of Iran for its reluctance to stop the ethnic cleansing of the Baghdad Sunnis. Tehran was also accused of harassing its own Sunni minority. Emotions ran very high.
In this context, a message by a major Lebanese religious leader, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlalla, had a sobering effect on all those present. He wrote: "If Sunnis and Shiites do not stop mutual strife, Muslims will join the secularists to find a way out of the problem."
It is still too difficult to judge the results of these reconciliatory efforts, but it is obvious that the Islamic world will not support an American military operation against Iran that will only exacerbate its problems.
The author is the Director of the Center for Partnership of Civilizations, Moscow State Institute of International Relations at the Russian Foreign Ministry.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.