Can Iraq’s Sunni, Shia and Kurds unite to liberate Mosul?

Jesse Rosenfeld reports: In an inconspicuous flour mill near the front line of Makhmour, southeast of Mosul, a Kurdish commander is in charge of training 350 Sunni fighters from the area. Lining up in formation, the fighters wear balaclavas to hide their features out of fear that jihadists will take revenge on their families if their identity is found out.

Peshmerga Col. “Bab Argin,” who uses a nom-de-guerre because his visits to Baghdad to coordinate with the Iraqi army make him a target, concedes that only 800 Sunni Arab fighters in total are being trained currently for the Mosul fight.

“Daesh [the Arabic acronym for ISIS] is everyone’s enemy,” says Bab Argin, trying to explain the Sunnis’ interest in fighting alongside Shia-dominated government forces that oppressed them and Kurds who want to separate from Iraq.

Most of the Sunni volunteers are Iraqi army soldiers from the Mosul area who fled the ISIS takeover.

“The high ranking officers moved on and left us soldiers behind,” says “Abu Tariq,” a young recruit donning a balaclava. He says he comes from a village under ISIS control near Mosul. “We had no one to give us orders,” he adds.

Parroting the nationalist slogans of an era before the entrenched sectarian divisions that hardened under the American occupation, Abu Tariq contends that “we are fighting for an equal and united Iraq.”

The volunteers recount a rose-tinted version of recent history, contending that Iraqis and their army were united before ISIS split the country, and that the goal of this war is to rebuild that unity. They turn a blind eye to the reprisals against Sunni Arabs carried out by Iranian-backed Shia militias and actively ignore the American occupation’s legacy of a central government that turned majority rule into majority repression. [Continue reading…]

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