By Sal Bommarito
Sectarian issues are beginning to hamper efforts of the Iraqi government as it confronts ISIS, reports the New York Times.
Government forces have apparently taken Tikrit and Prime Minister Abadi is preparing to engage ISIS insurgents in Anbar Province, which is on the route to Mosul, the ISIS capital.
The next stage of the offensive now moves to Anbar, which is dominated by Sunnis. The Times article indicates that a government force consisting of mostly Shiites would not be a welcome sight to the local leaders and inhabitants.
The original plan was for Iraq, with U.S. support, to arm Sunni tribes so they could fight ISIS in their neighborhoods. Shiite leaders in the Iraq government are not convinced that Sunni tribesmen will ultimately be loyal to Iraq and won’t use weapons against the government when ISIS is defeated. The distribution of arms has been delayed.
Sectarian issues are beginning to crop up more often as government forces surge deeper into ISIS territory, much of which is Sunni. This could be a precursor to civil war post-ISIS.
The U.S. has been pleading with Iraq to be more inclusive with Sunnis and to avoid confrontations. Nevertheless, the oppression of Shiites by Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime weighs heavily on Shiites. Many in government and average Shiite citizens want to return the favor and marginalize Sunnis politically and economically.
The Tikrit/Anbar controversy is a microcosm of the larger mosaic of Iraqi politics. Even in war, with ISIS continuing to ravage the country, partisanship and religious bigotry continue to slow progress against a common enemy.
The U.S. indicated from the outset of the ISIS war that Iraqis must fight their own battles, at least on the ground. Shiites are still not accepting of Sunnis and visa versa. Also, Iran’s involvement as advisor and with troops is creating more concern among Iraqi Sunnis.