The Economist: The key to defeating the Islamic State (IS) could lie in the armed Sunni groups who already oppose it or who might turn against it if the political conditions were right after the formation of a new government in Baghdad. There are a wide variety of such groups, ranging from tribal militias and neo-Baathist remnants of the former regime to Salafi jihadi groups that have a similar ideology to IS but differ with it on tactics or leadership. At the moment IS has the upper hand, and, barring a few recent clashes, the other groups appear to have been largely co‑operating with it since it captured Mosul, in Nineveh province, in June.
Following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, a plethora of jihadi militias emerged, of which al‑Qaida in Iraq, IS’s precursor, was the most prominent. However, despite sharing a similar religious ideology and an opposition to the US occupation and Shia rule, there were frequent disagreements and even clashes between the various jihadi groups, including squabbles over leadership, money and tactics. At the moment, relations with IS are complex and fluid, with some of the militias co‑operating with it in certain areas and clashing with it elsewhere.
Although other jihadi groups see themselves as fighting to establish an Islamic state, IS claims to be that entity, particularly since its declaration of a caliphate on June 29th and its demand that other groups pledge allegiance to its leader, Abu Bakr al‑Baghdadi. This is the issue on which it broke from al‑Qaida central, led by Ayman al‑Zawahiri in Pakistan/Afghanistan. Its relations with other militant groups in Syria is illustrative. Although it has co‑operated with them at times, it has also clashed with them, particularly in the eastern regions where it is strongest and has been consolidating control. It has clashed not only with secular and non‑Salafi militias, such as the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front, but also with fellow Salafi groups. It has even fought with its closest relation, Jabhat al‑Nusra (JN), a group that was formed in 2012 by Syrians who had been fighting in Iraq with IS but who rejected Mr Baghdadi’s demand in April 2013 that all other groups pledge allegiance to IS. One key difference is that JN seems to have a vision of an Islamic government within the Syrian nation state, whereas IS’s vision is transnational. [Continue reading…]