ISIS -otherwise known as Daesh- was able to seize huge swaths of Iraqi territory with the aid of local Sunni recruits and a lack of resistance from local Sunni militias after years of neglect and sometimes violence from the Shia controlled government. Now, with Shia militias reportedly executing Sunnis in mass, the sectarian violence that has already torn Iraq a part will only worsen.
And the big benefactor of this ever increasing sectarian violence will be ISIS itself. By perpetuating violence against the Sunni, the Shia militias are only driving Sunnis into the ever welcoming arms of ISIS, who will offer them both protection and a chance for revenge. Every attack the Shia perpetuate against the Sunni will only increase the strength of Daesh.
ISIS: Breakup of Iraq Due To Ethnic Makeup
Saddam Hussein did manage to do one thing, and that was keep the country together. He ruled as a hard lined Sunni leader, and greatly favored Sunni over Shia. He also committed acts of genocide against Iraq’s minorities, and especially the Kurds in Northern Iraq. These acts led to a build up of resentment, especially by Shia and Kurds against the Sunni population.
(Kurds are generally Sunni Muslims, but tend to be more secular in their view of religion and identify more with their Kurdish heritage rather than their Sunni religion.)
When Saddam Hussein was thrown from power, the U.S. administration led by Paul Bremer quickly moved to disenfranchise the Baathist Party and its supporters. Problem is, numerous moderate Sunni Muslims who may not have actually supported Saddam Hussein were part of the Baathist party, which was often a requirement for obtaining employment.
Bremer also disbanded the Sunni controlled military, sending tens of thousands of trained fighting age men onto the streets with few importunities and few skills outside of their combat training. Unsurprisingly, these former soldiers were among the first to launch attacks against the Iraqi government, and rumor has it that former Saddam Officers are now ISIS leaders.
With many influential Sunni leaders all but expelled from the government, and the Sunni population making up only a minority of Iraq’s population, the group has largely been disenfranchised within Iraq. Former Prime Minister Al Maliki was especially infamous for persecuting Sunnis.
Tensions Will Benefit ISIS
The already mentioned social tensions had Iraq veering down the road towards failed statehood even before Daesh invaded the country. And if Iraq does fail, the country will split along ethnic lines. Most Sunni Iraqis live in the Northwest region of the country, while the Kurds control the North east, and the Shia control the South East portions.
When Daesh invaded, they focused their initial efforts on Sunni controlled regions of the country. Initially, Sunni tribes all but welcomed the militants and certainly offered little in the way of resistance. Meanwhile, the Shia controlled military saw no reason to defend the Sunni controlled area and fled in the face of the onslaught.
Now that Iraq has essentially collapsed, the Shia are launching reprisal attacks on Sunni Muslims in Baghdad. Numerous Shia militias have been armed by the Iraqi government in an effort to make Baghdad more difficult to seize. These groups essentially operate with impunity, however, and many are mounting “revenge” attacks against Sunni communities.
Amnesty International and other groups are reporting that bodies of Sunni males are being found in the street, many of them still handcuffed and shot execution style in the head. With attacks against the Sunni on the rise, ISIS should be able to heavily recruit Sunnis looking for protection, and in some cases revenge.
Unless the Iraqi central government is able to bring all three major groups within Iraq back together in some form of peace, Iraq will likely collapse in on itself. And without Sunni or Kurdish help, the Shia controlled government will stand little chance of defeating Daesh.