As battle lines shift in Iraq, Sunnis who welcomed ISIS fear retribution

The Washington Post reports: A day after breaking through a siege by Islamic State militants on the Shiite town of Amerli, Iraqi forces and pro-government militias on Monday pushed their way into nearby villages they accuse of helping to enforce the months-long blockade.

The arrival of the Shiite-dominated armed groups in neighboring Sunni towns raised fears that Sunnis could be targeted in revenge killings.

Sectarian bloodshed has been on the rise since Islamic State militants rampaged across northern Iraq in June, targeting Shiites and minority groups and reinvigorating the country’s violent Shiite militias.

The Sunni jihadist group had surrounded Amerli, a poor Shiite farming hamlet, and had cut off access to food, water, and electricity for two months.

The breakthrough on Sunday came as fighters from Iraq’s various military and paramilitary forces fought their way into the town, with the help of U.S. airstrikes on Islamic State targets in the area.

On Monday, the fighting continued as Iraqi, Shiite and Kurdish Pesh Merga forces swept into the nearby Sunni town of Suleiman Beg and other Sunni villages.

“Suleiman Beg and other villages around Amerli have been fully liberated,” said Na’im al-Aboudi, the spokesman for Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq , an Iranian-trained Shiite militia that once fought U.S. forces and played an active role in some of Iraq’s worst sectarian bloodshed.

By Monday evening, the militia, along with Iraqi troops, were in control of the town and a strategic road linking it to Amerli, Aboudi said.

Much of Suleiman Beg’s population had fled by the time Iraqi forces arrived, area residents and militia fighters said.

Those who remained were pleased to be rid of the Islamic State and its “tactics,” said Shalal Abdul, a Sunni and the head of the local council in the nearby town of Tuz Khurmatu.

But tensions also ran high as area Sunnis who had initially welcomed Islamic State’s presence because of its opposition to Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government, worried that they would now be accused of collaborating with the militants, Abdul said. [Continue reading…]

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