While Iraqi Sunni tribes were crucial in defeating al-Qaeda in 2005, they have not shown the same determination in battling the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) despite reports of them fighting the militant group.
Political observers say this is due to the disfranchisement of the Sunni population by outgoing Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
“Malki’s government and its Iranian allies suppressed the Iraqi Sunnis so much that ISIS was able to sweep through Sunni areas without much resistance at first because of resentment toward the premier,” Walid Phares, an advisor to the U.S. Congress on the Middle East, told Al Arabiya News.
“ISIS is taking advantage and seizing more land, power, and eliminating Arab Sunni moderates in Iraq,” Phares said.
Michael Pregent, an adjunct lecturer at the National Defense University in Washington, said the central government broke its promise to integrate 90,000 Sunnis who fought al-Qaeda into the security apparatus, and provide them with jobs.
“They helped get rid of al-Qaeda, but the government fired all of them and put a lot of their leaders in jail,” Pregent, a former U.S. Army officer who was embedded with Iraqi Kurdish forces, told Al Arabiya News.
“The problem is that the government viewed them as a threat” because of the number of Sunni fighters, he added.
Phares said: “ISIS knows that the only possible threat against them, short of an all-out international ground campaign, is an uprising by [Sunni] tribes.”
Sheikh Ali al-Hatem, head of the Dulaim tribe, on Saturday urged Sunni leaders to withdraw from talks to form a new government, despite designated Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi being considered more moderate than Maliki.
Hatem also called on Sunni authorities to fight Shiite militias.
Similarly, on Aug. 17 the Revolutionary Tribal Council called for the formation of regional guards to protect Anbar province.
It called on the international community to label “crimes by Shiite militias as terrorism,” and to “confront” them “the same way they are confronting ISIS in Kurdistan and Mosul.”
However, Sunni leader Ahmed Abu Risha has vowed to take revenge on ISIS for killing his nephew Mohammed Khamis.
Abu Risha said fighting ISIS was a “duty,” taking a similar stance to that of the central government in Baghdad.
Abu Risha met with the head of the Shiite National Iraqi Alliance, Ibrahim al-Jafaari, on Thursday, and both confirmed the importance of forming a government.
Analysts predict that Sunnis will turn on ISIS.
“Soon, ISIS will start oppressing [Sunnis] as well,” Phares said. “Sunni moderates will rise, but chances are that ISIS will meet them with extreme violence.”
The unlikely alliance between ISIS and remnants of late President Saddam Hussein’s regime seems to be unravelling.
On July 14, Reuters reported clashes between ISIS and the Naqshbandi Army, led by Saddam loyalists, which killed at least 12.
“ISIS is now targeting the Naqashbandis, and is trying to disarm them. ISIS is acting strategically. They’re pre-empting,” said Phares.
Pregent said ISIS “relies on intimidation, fear, services, rewards and punishments, and tacit support from the disenfranchised Sunni population to thrive. I believe ISIS sheds as many supporters as it gains when it moves into new areas.”
Phares said: “Despite its power, ISIS is still small in size compared to the large mass of Arab Sunni tribes.
“What is needed at this point is for a Sunni area to be liberated from ISIS but not taken by Baghdad’s forces. This could become the basis of a possible liberation later.”
The militant group is already showing some “cracks,” said Pregent.
“ISIS is no longer travelling from town to town with their convoys. They’re losing their propaganda war... there is no footage since the start of U.S. airstrikes of ISIS rolling into Sunni towns in victory parades - those days are gone.”SHOW MORE