Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fight Against Islamic State Deepens Divides Within Iraq’s Sunnis

Sunni tribesmen take part in military training last month 
on the outskirts of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, as they 
prepare to fight against Islamic State. Reuters
Islamic State’s rise is dividing Iraq’s Sunni minority, pitting tribes loyal to the militant group against those who support the government and, in some cases, cleaving tribes apart from within.
Sheikh Dhaher Bedewi, a tribal leader in Anbar province, said that while in the mid-2000s his fighters handed captured Sunni insurgents over to U.S. forces, mercy is no longer an option.
Tribes led by Sheikh Jabbar Al Fahdawi (right) and Sheikh 
Dhaher Bedewi (left) say they plan to deal harshly with any 
Sunnis who collaborate with Islamic State, even if it means 
killing them and their families
“This is a tribal issue for us right now. There’s no way to let them live,” he said during a recent trip to the capital Baghdad. “I’m not going to leave any of them alive. It’s them, their family members and all their property. We’re going to destroy them all.”
This conflict within the conflict is drawing new battle lines that could leave permanent scars. Islamic State is more competent and better armed than its predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq, and it has demonstrated a greater readiness to carry out mass killings, a formula that has deepened the anger of its Sunni foes.
“It’s impossible now to unite the Sunni tribes,” said Sheikh Awad Saed, another tribal leader from Sunni-majority Anbar province. He threatened to deal harshly with turncoats within his own group suspected of helping Islamic State.
“Such things are impossible for the tribes to forgive and forget,” he said.
The strife within the Sunni community is stoking bloody tribal vendettas in Anbar—Iraq’s largest province—that threaten to leave it nearly ungovernable if and when the militant threat passes.
“Politics in Anbar could easily, for many years to come, be divided between who was on the side of the government and who was on the side of Islamic State,” said Nathaniel Rabkin, an expert on Sunni tribes and managing editor of Inside Iraqi Politics, a biweekly newsletter. “That will make it a hard place to do politics.”
Nearly a decade ago, Sunni tribal leaders fighting al Qaeda were restricted by American forces on the ground who insisted on respect for human rights—something Sheikh Bedewi views as naive. In fighting the new insurgency, Sunni tribal leaders aren’t held back by such demands.
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