Hassan Hassan writes: The story of the ongoing events in Iraq is one of lost opportunities. By December 2013, many Sunni leaders had become tired of the jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) actions, in their areas and on the other side of the border in Syria, and publicly supported the federal government’s military campaign against the group’s bases. At that time, the momentum against ISIS offered a renewed opportunity for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to work with these Sunni tribal and religious leaders to combat terrorism.
But instead, Maliki gave a speech in which he portrayed his planned military campaign in Anbar as an ancient war between “the followers of Hussein and the followers of Yazid”, a reference to a 7th century defining Shiite battle. The campaign in Anbar has been a disaster, and that failure is directly relevant to today’s crisis. The Iraqi forces failed to dislodge the jihadists and, even worse, Maliki took several steps that played into the hands of extremists. He foolishly shut down a popular protest camp in which thousands of Sunni Iraqis rallied for peaceful change for months, arrested powerful Sunni Member of Parliament Ahmed al-Alwani and killed his brother. Baghdad did not only miss a unique opportunity to move beyond the sectarian divide but made the situation in Sunni areas more favorable for jihadists.
Today, the simplistic portrayal by media and world politicians of the rebellion in Iraq risks making a similar mistake. Headlines as well as political statements focused on ISIS as the only force behind the takeover of several Sunni cities north of Baghdad. And although more recent coverage started to acknowledge the presence of other forces, the dynamics in Sunni areas are still far more complex. But regardless of the extent of its role, ISIS is only one faction in the insurgency. There are at least half a dozen groupings that took part in the offensive. [Continue reading…]