After Islamic State, Are Sunni Forces on the Verge of Armed Conflict?

After Islamic State, Are Sunni Forces on the Verge of Armed Conflict?

In the aftermath of the defeat of Islamic State, Sunni-populated areas of Iraq appear poised for the eruption of new hostilities, amid political disputes between Sunni parties over the division of the cities there—and by extension the aid and grants that are likely to be sent for reconstruction.

The impact of the Islamic State (IS) occupation on the social peace in Sunni-populated areas is inescapable, as well as on the relations between locals—between the clans that associated with IS and pledged their allegiance to it, and those that refused to be part of it or submit to its influence. Of the latter, hundreds were killed, and thousands were displaced.

Islamic State Paved the Way for Chaos

During its occupation, IS made sure to publicize its meetings with the heads of clans in these areas in the media, with its media team intentionally focusing on their faces—perhaps as a preamble to the battles that would break out after their disappearance. Many documented these images and video clips to identify those who participated in meetings with the organization.

Further, early signs of struggle had emerged between the political forces in the areas, the seeds of which began with the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Sunni Endowments Diwan in the Anbar Province. Subsequently, many have aired fears that this struggle may be stoked into yet another armed conflict, once again affecting the stability in the region.

Indeed, the features of this conflict have arguably already begun to crystallize. Previously, Iraqi Minister of Defense Khaled al-Obaidi, who belongs to a Sunni bloc, accused Parliamentary Speaker Salim al-Jabouri of corruption. In response, al-Jabbouri accused al-Obaidi of being “a tool to execute a Sunni vs. Sunni dispute, particularly as Sunnis are now at their weakest after their cities and provinces were occupied by Islamic State, and millions of them were displaced.” He further claimed that al-Obaidi was no more than a tool in “this conflict which is being waged under the guise of Shiism this time around.”

However, al-Jabouri also said in a press interview that, before witnessing the events that unfolded within parliament and being accused, he “was not aware of the depth of the Sunni internal conflict.”

Politicians Struggle Over the Biggest Piece of the Pie

In order to benefit from the aid being sent to them, a group of Sunni politicians and religious figures have attempted to geographically divide Sunni cities among themselves.

“The dispute in the Anbar Province began over the governor post, as well as the post of the mayor of Fallujah, as the political combattants there are working on securing certain areas of influence,” Iraqi journalist Omar al-Shaher told Raseef22.

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Share TweetAfter the defeat of Islamic State in Sunni-populated areas, are political forces and tribes on the verge of entering another armed conflict?

“The struggle in Anbar currently revolves around three important centers: the districts of Ramadi, Haditha, and Fallujah. This struggle is turning into an armed conflict between the warring parties that have influence in Anbar,” he contended.

Further, media sources, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Raseef22 that “certain figures, such as the head of the Sunni Endowments Diwan Abul Latif al-Hameem and the governor of Anbar Suhaib al-Rawi, as well as religious and political figures and clansmen, have been taking steps in preparation for launching their companies in these areas.”

“The struggle began earlier, with the return of some of the formerly displaced residents of Ramadi in the Anbar Province, after the head of the Sunni Endowments Diwan hastily brought them back. Conversely, the governor of Anbar objected to this rapid return. However, at the end of the day, both parties worked to institute their companies, specialized in removing mines, in the area,” the sources added.

Vested Interests in Instability

Liqaa Wardi, an MP from Anbar, concurred with the fears over attempts to ignite strife in Sunni cities following their liberation from IS. “Certain political agendas—that I will not name—are working on maintaining the lack of security and instability in Sunni areas, because they have vested interests in this,” she told Raseef22.

“These Sunni areas are in need of social reconciliation programs to help rid of them of the baggage of the recent past, in order to begin establishing peace, after the years of detainments of locals and the infiltration of terrorism,” she added.

Moreover, the spokesperson of the clans’ council of elders in the Saladin Province, Marwan al-Jabbarah, told Raseef22: “Islamic State does not represent a specific clan; rather, what happened was that a number of small clans were represented in the terrorist organization, while the media in turn promoted the issue as a tribal conflict. However, in Saladin Province, we are working on overpowering tribal and political conflicts in legal terms.”

Meanwhile, the head of the human rights committee in the Iraqi parliament, Abdul Raheem al-Shamari, told Raseef22: “The political disputes in Anbar will result in perpetual conflict that may never end, and which will cause numerous major issues in the country.”

“Certain politicians in the city are trying to invest in the conflict to benefit from the destruction wreaked upon the city, hoping to introduce their companies into the area to land projects and contracts,” he added.

“The political dispute between certain parties and individuals in Anbar could induce the outbreak of another conflict in the province, in particular the disputes concerning economic issues, as numerous politicians want to secure the largest amount of projects and contracts in the city,” Wardi further noted.

“In the upcoming period, Anbar will be at the forefront of all international projects seeking to rebuild the area and provide grants to Iraq. This is what the politicians are awaiting, and what each of the fighting parties are struggling for, in order to secure the geographical locations in which they will then establish their projects,” she added.

In light of this, signs indicate that the atmosphere may be ripe for the eruption of new armed political and tribal conflicts in Sunni areas, particularly if the Iraqi government fails to contain the situation, and the security situation continues to be politicized. Should these issues fail to be resolved, the judiciary must step in and play a more proactive role in addressing the accusations and lawsuits levelled by citizens against each other.

Meanwhile, the availability of weapons in these areas—particularly in the former IS storages that are yet to be overtaken by Iraqi security forces, or those that were buried underground over two years ago by clans or security men who did not join the security forces—facilitate the way for combattants to work towards their goals.

Mostafa Saadoun is an Iraqi journalist focusing on human rights. He is the founder and director of the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights.

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