Obama needs Iraq’s Sunnis against ISIS. And it appears to be a no-go. Here State Department whistle blower Peter Van Buren explains what’s going on and why.
When ISIS first took control of Sunni areas in western Iraq, anger towards the Shia government in Baghdad caused many to see them as liberators. The Iraqi army, along with paramilitary police from the Interior Ministry, had engaged in a multi-year campaign of beating, imprisoning, and arresting Sunnis, to the point where many felt that Baghdad was occupying, not governing. For the Sunnis and ISIS, the Baghdad government was a common enemy, and a marriage of necessity formed.
Events in Baghdad do little to assuage Sunni fears. A recent report suggests the new Iraqi Prime Minister, almost certainly against America’s wishes, will nominate a Shia Badr Militia leader as Interior Minister. Since the Shias took control of Iraq following the American invasion of 2003, the Interior Ministry, which controls the police and the prisons, has been a prime tool of repression and punishment.
Still, cracks in the ISIS-Sunni relationship have started to form. Many of the Sunni groups, especially those led by former Baathists, are largely secular in nature, seeing their Sunni ties as broadly cultural rather than strictly religious. ISIS’s requests to pledge allegiance to its cause, coupled with demands to implement Sharia law, have created friction. Some internecine fighting has taken place. The U.S. has sought to exploit these issues to break the indigenous Sunnis away from ISIS, and ultimately to turn the Sunnis into American proxy boots on the ground, as was done with the Kurds.
Obama’s problem is that most Sunnis are fearful about cooperating via America with the Shia government in Baghdad. They believe history will repeat itself and the Americans and the Shia government will betray them, exactly as they betrayed them only a few years ago when the Awakening movement collapsed.
Sorry Mr. President
The Sunnis seem to be choosing a middle ground, one which does not serve Obama’s interests.
According to a 1920s Revolution Brigade Sunni leader, various militias came to the decision “not to support the international coalition against ISIS.” They also decided not to cooperate with ISIS, saying “If the Iraqi army or the Shia militias attack Sunni areas we control, we will fight both groups.”
“We are against the acts of the hard-line Islamic State. And we are also against bombed cars exploding randomly in Baghdad,” Abu Samir al-Jumaili, one of the Sunni Mujahideen Army’s leaders in Anbar province, told NIQASH. “However we are also opposed to the government’s sectarian policies against Sunnis… In 2006 we cooperated to expel al-Qaeda from Sunni cities but the government did not keep its end of the bargain. They chased our leaders and arrested us … The ISIS group are terrorists but so are the Shia militias.”