The Iraqi government may find it difficult to dissuade armed Sunni groups from fighting alongside the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) without seriously addressing Sunni concerns, including reforming the government and constitution.
The high-profile gains and statements by ISIS, the latest of which is the declaration of a caliphate, might suggest to outsiders that the organization is the only Sunni military force. Yet, many Sunni parties — be they political, tribal or religious — deny this. They assert that ISIS does not represent more than 10% to 20% of the armed forces on the ground, and that the biggest momentum of the military action belongs to the armed tribes and various other factions.
In fact, it’s hard to estimate the number of gunmen on the ground. Mezher al-Qaisi, a spokesman for the General Military Council for Iraqi Revolutionaries, confirmed there are no reliable figures regarding Iraq’s armed factions.
Ahmed al-Dabash, spokesman for the Islamic Army, an armed faction active in Iraq since 2005, said ISIS is not alone on the scene, and consists of only a few hundred fighters. He added that Sunni rebel gunmen and ISIS are fighting a common enemy — the Iraqi government.
During a phone interview with Al-Monitor, Maj. Gen. Moataz al-Hiti, who’s affiliated with the General Military Council for Iraqi Revolutionaries, explained why Sunni tribes that once fought al-Qaeda — many of whom now make up ISIS — are today fighting alongside it.
“What happened is a compulsory convergence between tribes and Sunni clerics who have faced al-Qaeda for years and fought wars with this group that presents itself today as ISIS. The reason behind this convergence is that the Baghdad government has failed for years to convince Sunnis in Iraq that it represents them and that it does not seek to humiliate and kill them,” he said.