ABSTRACT

It is a complex matter to pinpoint the elements forging collective identities. It is, however, clear that, as in the case of the Kurds and the Shi‘is, Islam is a definite component of the Arab Sunni collective identity in Iraq. Sunni Islam is the religious cultural ground upon which a whole social and cultural structure was moulded. In Ottoman times, Sunni Islam also defined the essence of links between the Sunni elites in the Arab provinces and the institutions of the Empire. These links encompassing the idea of Umma Islamiyya (the all-embracing Islamic community) were basically anational. Nationalism did not become a widespread idea in the Middle East until after the First World War, nor was it a movement with a real political impact until then. Although the first signs of cultural consciousness had developed in the Arab provinces of the Empire at the end of the nineteenth century,1 it is highly debatable whether these first demonstrations of cultural distinctiveness had already become a current trend.