Iraqi Sunni opponents of ISIS unlikely to grow in strength

IHS Jane’s Terrorism & Insurgency Monitor: The security situation in Iraq rapidly deteriorated following the fall of Mosul in June 2014 during an insurgent offensive spearheaded by what was then the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but has since been renamed the Islamic State. Since then, much discussion has arisen on how the group can either be contained or ‘rolled back’ by reducing its territorial holdings on a substantial scale and thus significantly weakening its power base within the country. However, for such an objective, a fundamental prerequisite is a local Sunni Muslim force on the ground that can contest the Islamic State’s control of Sunni majority areas of Iraq, notably the provinces of Anbar, Ninawa, and Salaheddine, as well as parts of Babil, Diyala, and Kirkuk.

In assessing how realistic a prospect this is, both currently and in the short-to-medium term, it is necessary to examine the existing Sunni initiatives aimed at combating the Islamic State, as well as analysing the dynamics between the group and the other Sunni insurgent organisations in Iraq. Considering that such insurgent groups have their own local support bases within the Sunni population, it may be necessary to attempt to persuade such militants to form a wider, co-ordinated initiative against the Islamic State.

However, this task already faces significant obstacles, most notably because the main Sunni insurgent groups that might combat the Islamic State are generally committed to a path of ‘revolution’ in some form that cannot be reconciled to the present existing order in Iraq. So, rather than merely seeking reform within the system to strive for, for example, greater autonomy for majority Sunni provinces – possibly in the form of a federal system – or seek concessions in the form of reforms to legislation that has widely been perceived by Sunnis as discriminatory, there is a widespread belief among such groups of the need to overthrow the government in Baghdad.

What system should follow that overthrow is of course a defining difference between the different insurgent groups, in particular separating the Islamic State from other actors. However, a significant problem at this juncture – as opposed to the 2005-06 period when the Sunni Awakening Councils were formed – is that with the perceived failure of the political process for Sunnis following the rollback of an earlier manifestation of the Islamic State (the Islamic State in Iraq), from the end of 2006 onwards, Sunni insurgent actors may conclude that consistently rejectionist insurgent groups, particularly those of a Baathist orientation, were correct all along. As a result, they may refuse to countenance engagement with the political process. [Continue reading…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email