Monday, June 27, 2016

Divided Loyalties and Ultimate Consequences in Iraq

"The Islamic State, meanwhile, has inserted itself into tribal life, recruiting members to its organization, committing atrocities, and causing pro– and anti–Islamic State splits within tribal ranks.
Similarly, since the Islamic State, also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh, has swept into power over large swaths of Iraq territory, a range of new actors is now purporting to be tribal leaders. The competing claims to legitimacy cause intratribal conflict over where the leadership of the various tribes rests. The Islamic State took advantage of the fact that Maliki’s government did not adequately compensate the tribes and thus did not maintain tribal distribution networks. As such, it was able to infiltrate tribes by providing members with money, land, and weapons. The tribal leaders were unable to keep command of their tribes, as the Islamic State attracted tribesmen with better compensation. As a tribal adviser in Ramadi lamented, Daesh 'presented better funding opportunities'."
"Today, there is not one tribe that does not have or has not had members affiliated with or supportive of the Islamic State. Many tribes have been split into pro- and anti-Daesh memberships. Tribes affiliated with the Islamic State have committed offenses against opposition tribes. For instance, after the Islamic State takeover of Ramadi, tribal forces executed Sheikh Majid Ali al-Suleiman and twelve of his relatives, including a two-year-old girl."
Renad Mansour, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

"I never would have imagined my simple, naive, quick-tempered brother would turn into a human monster."
"[Text message from his brother Hatim read] You chose the path of hell, and I chose the path of heaven."
Abu Anas, Diyala Province, Iraq
The Islamic State
"This is the last time we are going to go into Falluja. There is not going to be any appeasement. The Sunnis who liberate Falluja are going to govern Falluja."
"The tribal fighters don't even know how to pray. They like their booze and they enjoy life. They are motivated by two things: money and power."
Mouwafak al-Rubaie, Shiite politician, Iraq
When General Petraeus hit on the solution to the presence of al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2006 by persuading Sunni Iraqis tribesmen to strike back against the atrocities committed by al-Qaeda by agreeing to form Sunni militias trained and armed by the U.S., the Sunni Awakening was born which resulted in a rout of al-Qaeda from Iraq. With the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the handing over of the U.S.-supported Sunni militias to the Iraqi Shiite-led government, however, there was a refusal to incorporate the Sunni militias into the Iraqi military and a consequent belittling of the Sunnis.

Sunni Iraqis had more than ample reason to resent the majority Shiite Iraqis in the seat of power which had once been theirs under the Baathist government of Saddam Hussein. The American decision immediately post-invasion of Iraq to swiftly disband the Baathist-majority military led to aggravated resentment when former Sunni military elite found themselves unemployed. It was inevitable that in time they would be ready and eager to integrate themselves with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as senior commanders and advisers.

And although Sunni Iraqis suffered when Shiite militias freed towns and villages from the grip of Islamic State in the last year, unleashing a wave of raging violence by the Shiites against Sunni villagers, some were still persuaded to throw in their lot with Baghdad, while others remained in support of ISIL. This is how families were rent apart when brothers and cousins, uncles and parents cleaved to opposite ideologies; some going to fight with ISIL and others incorporating themselves into the Iraqi military.

The sectarian, ethnic fracture that is now reality in Iraq is not just between the majority Shiites, Sunni and Kurds, but between Sunnis as well, divided in their loyalties. Where once Sunnis were offered cash incentives by the Americans to fight alongside them to defeat al-Qaeda, Islamic State now offers financial compensation to Sunnis already aggrieved by their inferior status in a majority-led Shiite government, to join Islamic State.

Brigadier General Hadi Razaij is the leading Sunni police commander in the campaign to take Falujah by storm from Islamic State. He speaks of the resistance that the Iraqi forces met, resulting from the Islamists' opportunity to prepare themselves for months ahead of this major battlefield. But there is a local Sunni presence in the military, fighting for the liberation of their communities. And with that joining of Sunni forces to the Shiite forces, is a diminishing of the fears that a sectarian backlash would ensue.

On the other hand, it seems increasingly more likely that a intrasectarian backlash is in the offing. The governor-in-exile of Mosul, Nowfat Hammadi, is planning, alongside the U.S., for the city's liberation. As it happens, his brother appears in a video pledging allegiance to Islamic State as an Islamic State official, taking the opportunity to disown his brother. The alliance between Shiite and Sunni in the military appears to answer the question whether the two are capable of existing in a unified state.

Now the question becomes: might the country's divided Sunnis present an altogether different equation, unable to live in peace between themselves in reflection of a conflict where families are divided in their loyalties? Iraqi Sunnis fighting against the Islamic State do so in full knowledge that their sons and brothers, nephews and neighbours are fighting with Islamic State. "Today we don't necessarily need reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites. We need reconciliation among one sect", observed General Razaij.

"If I catch him during the battles, I will kill him with my own hands because he is a criminal", stated Salih Ibrahim Sharmoot, a policeman from Fallujah fighting at the southern edge of the city, speaking of his brother Muwafaq who joined ISIL in 2013. Millions of Sunnis were displaced when fighting between government forces and ISIL took place across the dominant Sunni geography of Iraq. When General Razaij was asked whether peaceful reconciliation was possible between Sunnis, he responded: "Never. For those who slaughtered Iraqis, it's a crime for them to live."

A pattern of radicalization took place following the 2003 invasion and the following Sunni insurgency. Studying the Koran and plotting jihad, Sunnis incarcerated in prisons in the country, operated by the United States, reflected the widespread protests of aggrieved and radicalized Sunnis. These were the future prospects for exploitation by the Islamic State, to form the bulk of their membership of dedicated fighters.

On the other hand, thousands of Sunni tribal fighters and local policemen motivated in part through revenge for the devastation brought by the Islamic State to their communities, saw fit to join government security forces and to make common cause with Shiite militias in the fight for Fallujah.
All of which led prominent Shiite politician Mouwafak al-Rubaie to predict a bloody intra-Sunni battle once the city of Fallujah is completely liberated and left in Sunni hands.

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