ISIS, the slow insurgency

Dr Victoria Fontan is Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Duhok University in the Kurdish region of Iraq and is currently working on her second PhD at Kings College, London. She has been in Iraq for over a decade and now writes:

So, this week, al-Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (ISIS) took over Mosul by storm and is on its way to Baghdad. We are told that the group is the next generation of al-Qaeda, a new and improved version of it, and that it will not be taking any prisoners, beheading its way into Iraq’s capital throughout a Mother of All Battles that will make the sacking of Rome look like a picnic. Thank you British Daily Mail for taking the fear mongering to a new extreme. I will remember that next time I meet ISIS over tea and biscuits, just like I did in the summer of 2013. True, they are tough, they were joking then that I would not make it one day in one of their desert hideouts, but is their story that simplistic?

Most media outlets and pundits are missing the most important story behind the recent take-over of Mosul, which is connection between the social movements that had been present in Sunni parts of Iraq, and the popular support that ISIS is presently benefiting from. Should ISIS not benefit from conscious popular support; there is no way that they would have captured so much territory in so little time. More importantly, most experts would rather not incriminate the international community, nor its enabler the United Nations, for their standing idly by as sectarianism crept into Iraqi life since the botched democratization process that was initiated by the 2005 electoral cycle. No one cares to remember for instance that despite being invited repeatedly to visit the Occupy Fallujah demonstration site since December 2012, UN chief in Iraq Nikolai Mladenov preferred to echo Maliki’s terrorism hate narrative against Iraqi Sunnis instead of doing his job and not siding with one party to the detriment of the other. Even as Maliki initiated his disastrous Anbar campaign to curb Occupy Fallujah’s political demands in late December 2013, Mladenov kept using the word “terrorism” when referring to the Fallujah leadership. He now keeps issuing statements of concern for local displaced populations, too little too late.

Once again, it all started in Fallujah, in December 2012. After the arbitrary arrest of several Sunni politicians and prominent figures on terrorism charges, within a context of relative deprivation and perceived government harassment, Occupy Fallujah was born with three simple political demands: an end of all talks of federalism, an enforcement of equal opportunities for Sunnis and Shi’ias, and a resignation of Prime Minister Maliki. In any healthy political system, those demands would have been labeled as political, but in Fallujah, they were called terrorism. As a response, Maliki sent troops to try and take Fallujah, and after many unsuccessful attempts; he sent barrel bombs instead, just like his neighbor Bashar al Assad on Aleppo, clearly committing crimes against humanity in the process. All throughout the process, the Fallujah tribes and military council made a deal with ISIS, upon realization that they needed help to keep the government at bay. Scores of ISIS militants came to the area and kept weakening the resolve and potency of the Iraqi army, whose special forces and regular troops lost a heavy amount of men while trying to enter Fallujah. Amongst desertions en masse came the decoy attack on Samarra last week, paving the way for an overtaking of Mosul. [Continue reading…]

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