...and why I want to kick Rudy Giuliani and others in the bahlz every time they try to boil down the Iraq war into a simple, convenient, easy to swallow, us-vs-them campaigning sound bite.
Shiites: Muslims who follow the bloodline of descent from Muhammad's daughter Fatima Zahra and his cousin Ali. Form the large majority of Iraq's population. Look to Iran for spiritual guidance.
Sunnis: Muslims who follow the line of descent from the Caliph Abu Bakr, chosen by council to rule after Muhammad's death. Minority group in Iraq which was in power under Saddam Hussein. Aligned theologically with Saudi Arabia.
Kurds: Officially Muslim, but not ideologically so. Primary faith is Yazidism. Have established, essentially, a de facto Kurdish state in the northern part of Iraq. Angling to establish a free Kurdistan which would eventually include portions of Turkey.
Iran: Shiite state, close ties with Iraqi Shiite leader Ayatollah al Sistani. Prior to the invasion, critics of the war argued that taking down Saddam Hussein would radicalize Iran further and eventually result in a large part of Iraq becoming a theocratic autocracy as a satellite of Iran. That prediction seems to be coming true.
Saudi Arabia: Sunni Arab state. Source of Osama bin Laden, most of the 9/11 assassins, most of the current Sunni suicide bombers operating in Iraq and most of the al Qaeda operatives working in Iraq against the US.
Turkey: has a large Kurdish population inside the country on the eastern border, opposed to free Kurdish state in Iraq as it will increase Kurdish nationalism and separatism movements in Turkey.
Al Qaeda: militant radicals loyal to Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants. Primarily interested in fighting against the West but also seek to destabilize secular Arab governments in favor of Sharia law. While they were not active in Iraq, and actively opposed by Saddam Hussein, they have responded to US invasion of Iraq to develop a base of operations there. Most of them are coming from Saudi Arabia. Still account for a small percentage of the insurgents in Iraq.
Sunni insurgents: The majority are militant, former Baathists under Saddam Hussein seeking to regain power in the new government. A smaller number are Iraqi nationalists who want the occupying Western forces off of their soil. A very small percentage are al Qaeda operatives, most of whom are, again, from Saudi Arabia. Leading death squads and attacks against Shiites and US forces.
Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council: The largest political party of Shia Muslims. The Badr Organization is their military wing which fights against the Mahdi Army in an internecine struggle for preeminence among the Shiite dominated new government. The Badr also leads death squads against Sunnis in an ongoing civil war.
Madhi Army: militant radicals loyal to Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr who fight against the Badr Organization in an internecine struggle for preeminence among the Shiite dominated new government. The Mahdi also leads death squads against Sunnis in an ongoing civil war.
Iraqi nationalists: Iraqis who have become enraged at US occupation (Abu Ghraib, bombing neighborhoods, shooting cars, etc.) and have taken up arms to help expel the occupiers.
Chaldeans: A smaller (several undred thousand), ethnically Assyrian community in Iraq, predominately Christian, which had freedom to worship without being molested under Saddam Hussein's rule. Tarik Aziz, a Chaldean Catholic, was Saddam's Foreign Minister and then Deputy Prime Minister before the invasion. Chaldeans have been targeted
following the invasion by death squads and many have been killed or forced from their homes, some relocating in neighboring countries.