Iraqi tribesmen fight their own after breaking with ISIS

The Associated Press reports: When Islamic State militants swept across northern Iraq last summer, the Sunni al-Lehib tribe welcomed them as revolutionaries fighting the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. But less than a year later, the tribe is bitterly split between those who joined the extremist group and those resisting its brutal rule.

The tribe hails from a village just south of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which was captured by the IS last year. Like many Sunnis in northern Iraq, they initially welcomed the Islamic State group as liberators.

“We were happy when Daesh came,” tribal leader Nazhan Sakhar said, using an acronym for the extremist group. “We thought they were going to Baghdad to establish a government. But then they started killing our own people. It turned out they were the same as al-Qaida.”

Now he leads a group of around 300 fighters who have reluctantly allied with Iraqi troops and Kurdish forces to fight the IS group — and fellow tribesmen who still support the extremists.

Iraq’s Sunnis have complained of discrimination and abuse since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led dictatorship and replaced it with an elected government dominated by the country’s Shiite majority. That discontent fueled the rise of the Sunni IS group and paved the way for its takeover of much of northern and western Iraq last year.

The government is now trying to rally Sunni support, which will be key to defeating the IS group. But for many Sunnis that poses a dilemma, forcing them to choose between extremists who reserve their worst brutality for suspected traitors, and what many see as a sectarian government with a history of broken promises. [Continue reading…]

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