Between 1920 and 1924 the Shi’is of Iraq spilled a lot of blood in fighting the British. Their leading clerics under the leadership of Grand Ayat Allah Shirazi called for jihad and even after the collapse of the armed revolt in October 1920 they continued to object ferociously to any cooperation with the Brits. They were eventually exiled to India as a result. In June 1921 the Brits brought the Sunni Emir Faisal from the Hejaz and in August they anointed him as King of Iraq. They made up their minds: they turned to the Sunni community for cooperation. The latter, albeit with some exceptions, were pragmatic enough to accept the balance of power and act accordingly.
Iraq became Sunni dominated all the way to 2003. One of the ironies of history is that in the 1930s the Shi’i religious leadership turned a number of times to the Brits to protect them against the discrimination and oppression of the Sunni-led state. In the mid-1930s they even asked the Brits to abolish the formal independent status of Iraq and re-impose a fully-fledged British Mandate. But of no avail.
At least one Shi’i leader today is warning his community that the same scenario may be repeated if the Shi’i community does not know how to work with the US. But both the Shi’i leadership and grassroots are adamant on keeping the Sunnis out in the cold. At long last the US commanders found a common language with many Sunni tribal shaykhs and warlords and support them. It is quite possible to my mind that if the Shi’i leaders, between Maliki and Sistani, don’t show more flexibility and civil courage and if Muqtada does not cease his marauding mischief the Shi’is will lose Iraq again. It may not become a Sunni-led centralized state as it was before 2003, but it will descend into chaos and the Shi’i parts (and maybe Baghdad
too) will come under Iranian hegemony. This is something most Shi’i Arabs are far from enthusiastic about.