ISIS a fanatical force — with a weakness

Charles Lister writes: ISIS has substantial roots in Mosul, where it managed to remain a potent force during and after the U.S. troop “surge.” The group has recently been raising $1 million-$2 million per month in Mosul through an intricate extortion network. This reality, plus Mosul’s proximity to ISIS positions in eastern Syria, made the city a natural launching ground for this shock offensive in Iraq, which is ultimately aimed at Baghdad.

But this is not all about ISIS. Many other armed Sunni actors are involved in what has become, in effect, a Sunni uprising — groups such as the Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia, Jaish al-Mujahideen, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, Al-Jaish al-Islami fil Iraq and various tribal military councils.

ISIS may be the largest force involved (with about 8,000 fighters in Iraq), but it is far from sufficient to take and hold multiple urban centers. It is still totally reliant on an interdependent relationship with what remains a tacitly sympathetic and facilitating Sunni population. But this “relationship” is by no means stable and should not be taken for granted. The militant group has consistently failed to retain popular support, or at minimum, acceptance.

Mosul residents might be praising the current stability and ISIS-subsidized bread and fuel prices, but once the public flogging, amputations and crucifixions begin, this may well change. In fact, it is not surprising that tribal elements are already preparing to force ISIS from captured areas.

The militants’ prospects are also dependent on the government and its supporters continuing to advance sectarianism — something that encourages Sunni actors to accept ISIS. Unfortunately, this apparent sectarianism has been consolidated in recent days with al-Maliki’s call for a “volunteer army” encouraging the further reconstitution of the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Jaish al-Mahdi and the Badr Brigades (three Shiite militias active during the U.S. occupation of Iraq, which appear to be receiving a new boost in recruitment).

Further calls by Muqtada al-Sadr to form “Peace Battalions” and by the Shiite community in Diyala to form “Peace Committees” — as well as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s call for Iraqis to take up arms against ISIS — have increased the perception of sectarianism inside and outside Iraq. [Continue reading…]

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