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The Islamic State Are Bit Players In An Iraqi Sunni Rebellion

August 9, 2014

Having seized control of the strategic Mosul dam, the nascent Islamic State (IS) are approaching Erbil, the de facto Kurdish capital.

But the heavy fighting in small towns along the periphery of Mosul and Erbil are inconclusive. The “caliphate” IS established at the end of June is a vulnerable one. The most recent battles on Friday, August 8, ended with carrier-launched US Navy F/A-18’s targeting IS vehicles.

The US is the fifth country to intervene against IS. Weeks earlier, combat aircraft, pilots, and technicians from Russia and Iran arrived to boost the Iraqi air force while Turkey and Saudi Arabia are securing their borders.

IS’ actions in Iraq are happening amid the backdrop of an organized Sunni rebellion involving former insurgent groups aiming to overthrow Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

This is why the IS’ are making spectacular gains. Since Mosul, their victories were guaranteed by shadowy entities like the Naqshbandi Army, a Baathist militia led by Saddam Hussein’s surviving henchman Izzat Al Duri.

According to Joel Wing, an American history teacher who maintains the blog Musings on Iraq, the main allies  fighting with ISIS are the Naqshbandi’s and lesser-known groups like the Mujahideen Army and the Iraqi Islamic Army.

Still another militia mentioned by Wing, Ansar Al Suna, are reportedly at odds with IS. This isn’t surprising because there are also Sunni tribes allied with the government.

The single common denominator among these groups is the presence of former officers of the Saddam-era military, i.e. Baathists. But now the loose, even tenuous, relations between these militias are falling apart, with many pledging to fight the IS jihadis.

Via Hussein Malla. Sheikh Ali Hatem al-Suleiman

Via Hussein Malla. Sheikh Ali Hatem al-Suleiman

The Road to Baghdad

Sheikh Ali Hatem al-Suleiman, the leader of the powerful Dulaim tribe who control Anbar province, has emerged as a key opposition figure who speaks on behalf of the Baathists, tribal revolutionaries, and jihadis openly conspiring to force Maliki from office.

Regarding the jihadis, as quoted by Reuters, Sheikh Suleiman’s assessment of the IS contrasts the group’s often over-the-top pronouncements:

“If any place is open, ISIL will take it over,” he said. “ISIL isn’t strong compared to the tribes, but they are strategic. They have military equipment and they use it against the (tribal) revolutionaries.”

Since the fall of Mosul in June to rebel forces, there have been attempts to organize the movement. During a meeting in Erbil in early July Sheikh Suleiman revealed the temporary marriage of convenience between the IS and its new partners:

…tribal forces will not fight against IS as long as they have the same key goal of liberating Baghdad, and only then can differences be resolved.

The irony is the rebellion is led by the former US-backed Awakening Councils–insurgent militias paid off with American dollars to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq from 2007-2008.

As Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul Ahad described, Iraq’s civil war is between restive Sunnis and the Shia-dominated government. This is Prime Minister Maliki’s fault. His persecution and dismissal of political rivals after the US withdrawal in 2011 destroyed a fragile peace.

By 2012 the Arab Spring belatedly caught up with Baghdad and was characteristically met with a harsh response from Prime Minister Maliki’s US-trained and equipped security forces.

The following year the IS began an indiscriminate terror campaign amid a cycle of brutal fighting in Sunni provinces. The IS is now exploiting the situation fully to break Iraq apart.

No convenient outcome for Iraq can be determined yet. What is certain is the country is in for a long war

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