Earlier this month, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) launched a two-week offensive against Sunni Muslims in Iraq. ISIS is targeting Sunni tribes and residents that have refused to swear allegiance to ISIS.
ISIS’ campaign started on August 28. They issued a notice for the arrest of up to 30 Sunni leaders across Iraq. ISIS unleashed a pre-emptive campaign to get rid of Sunni leaders before they organised their fighters against ISIS. This has claimed over 100 Sunni lives.
The campaign claimed its first victims on September 4 when 40 Sunnis were abducted in Hawija, Kirkuk, a Sunni town in northern Iraq.
Four days later it launched an offensive to capture the Sunni city of Dulu’iyah, 90km north of Baghdad. ISIS penetrated the defences of the town, detonated a number of car bombs, launched mortar rockets and started to attack the defences of the local tribes.
As we go to print, Ra’d Jobouri, the Sunni Governor of Salahi Deen, asked the US to support his defence against ISIS in Dulu’iyah. (Link).
On September 11 ISIS kidnapped over 20 Sunni men, including tribal leaders, like prominent tribal leader Mahmoud Nadin al-Kaka, in Riyad district, near a Sunni town near Kirkuk. The following day ISIS killed three of the captured tribal leaders, with the fate of the rest still unknown.
September 12 saw ISIS kidnapping a further 50 Sunni Muslims in the Rashad district, neighbouring Riyad.
On September 13, intense fighting was reported in the town of Hawija, 60km west of Kirkuk, with 44 Sunnis reported dead.
In Miqdaddiyah, a Sunni city near Baghdad, ISIS kidnapped six Sunnis, including leading tribal figures.
Sheikh Alwan Timimi, a leading Sunni tribal figure, is leading a 500 man militia from the various local tribes against ISIS in Miqdaddiyah. (Link).
In Haditha, Anbar province, on the same day, Sunni tribes, with the support of air strikes from US and Iraqi fighter jets, led an offensive against ISIS. They were successful in capturing Barawanah. ISIS is seeking to capture the town so it could open a new logistics route from Syria to Baghdad.
Ahmed Dulaimi, the Sunni Governor of Anbar, western Iraq, was injured while leading the battle against ISIS in Barawanah. (Link).
On September 14 in al-Zab, northern Iraq, 60km south of Mosul and 200km north of Kirkuk, ISIS abducted two tribal leaders (Sheikh Satam Hamd Sa’ad and Sheikh Mohammed Hasan Saleh) outside Omar al-Khattab mosque.
ISIS often claims that it has come to “protect Sunni Muslims”. It claims legitimacy and manages to recruit a large number of fighters through this cause. If a large number of Sunni tribes go against ISIS, its fighters, who joined to protect the Sunni, will feel demoralised and leave.
ISIS is learning from its failures in Syria. The infighting between rebels in June claimed 7,000 lives, resulting in many fighters leaving. If ISIS pre-emptively gains control of all the Sunni regions, this would avoid a large scale, Syria-like, intra-Sunni war.
This is what Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, called ISIS’ “tribes strategy”.
If ISIS is successful in controlling Sunni areas, it will become difficult for Sunnis to organise their forces.
Without Sunnis it will be impossible for Iraqi Government to defeat ISIS using just Shi’a Muslim militias and the Kurdish Peshmerga. In 2006-2008, the US was not able to defeat Abu Musab Zarqawi’s al-Qa’ida without the help from Sunni tribes.
Iraq’s Sunnis are suffering the most from ISIS’ presence in Iraq. Nearly all the fighting is taking place in Iraq’s Sunni regions. Sunnis have seen their houses and livelihood destroyed with at least one million Sunnis becoming refugees.
Iraq’s Sunnis have always resisted ISIS but their pleas for justice and support from Iraqi Government fell on deaf ears. Empowering them politically and militarily would rid Iraq of ISIS.