While waging an uncompromising campaign against ISIS in their own territory, the
The upshot of all these arguments is that the war on
The claims regarding the centrality of the sectarian factor are not without basis. They are supported by reports that ISIS's extensive territorial gains in June 2014 were achieved thanks to its alliances with Sunni forces that cooperated with it against Nouri Al-Maliki's regime, as well as reports that Sunni tribes refused to join campaign against ISIS, led by the Iraqi government, until they were given assurances regarding the day after ISIS's defeat, for instance that ISIS would not be superseded by a non-Sunni force, and the numerous reports regarding the Shi'ite militias' actions against Sunnis.
However, some reports in the Gulf media paint a more complicated picture, namely that the Sunni camp is not homogenous and includes Sunni forces that want to join the Iraqi and Syrian regimes, and even Iran and the Shi'ite militias, in fighting ISIS.
This report reviews the reservations expressed by writers in the Gulf press regarding the handling of the war on ISIS in
It Is The Oppression Of Sunnis That Gave Birth To ISIS, And The
Alongside criticism of Sunni societies and calls to conduct a cultural and ideological self-examination to identify and eliminate the roots of ISIS ideology, many writers in the Gulf press blamed the emergence of this organization on U.S. foreign policy beginning in the era of George W. Bush. They claimed that problem began with the toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime, followed by the dismantling of the Iraqi army which led to chaos in the country. However, most of the criticism was leveled at U.S. President Barack Obama for withdrawing the
Iran, U.S., play the music box of bloodshed in Iraq (Al-Arab, London, August 4, 2016)
In a June 23, 2016 article in the London-based Qatari daily Al-Quds Al-'Arabi, Iraqi journalist Yahya Al-Qubaisi wrote that "the ISIS phenomenon is a direct result of the flaws in the political system that emerged in
War On Terror Focuses Solely On Sunni Terrorism, Ignores Shi'ite Terrorism
Writers in the Gulf press were enraged at the global war on terror's sole focus on Sunni terrorism and at the fact that it is ignoring the Shi'ite terrorism that
While ISIS are the targets, it is "Sunnis" who are being killed (Al-Arab,
On December 22, 2015, Muhammad Aal Al-Sheikh, a columnist for the official Saudi daily Al-Jazirah, attacked UN Security Council Resolution 2254 that outlines a roadmap for a solution in Syria and focuses on the need to combat ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra (now called Jabhat Fath Al-Sham) but at the same time ignores the Iran-backed militias that are operating in Syria alongside the Assad regime and carrying out devastating terrorist attacks on Sunnis. He wrote: "Many Sunnis see this as pro-Iran bias... proving that those being particularly targeted are Sunni Muslims, meaning close to 80% of the global Muslim population." Rashid Saleh Al-Arimi, a Saudi columnist for the London-based daily Al-Hayat, wrote on June 6, against the backdrop of the operation to liberate Al-Fallujah from ISIS, that Iran is depicting the struggle against ISIS as a Sunni-Shi'ite war, and that this is the message that IRGC Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani conveys by his presence on the battlefield: "Iran is working to make Iraqi Sunnis synonymous with ISIS and to place them in the spotlight of accusations of extremism and terrorism."
In an August 4, 2016 article in the Bahraini daily Akhbar Al-Khaleej, Bahraini author Fawzia Rashid accused that the Shi'ite militias operating in Iraq targeted the Sunni population in the battle to liberate Al-Fallujah and uprooted hundreds of thousands of residents. This, she warned, could happen again, only worse, if these forces participate in the liberation of Mosul – an operation ostensibly aimed at destroying ISIS. She added that the battle in Mosul will mean forced "emigration of more than one million Iraqis, after their homes are surely destroyed, their mosques demolished, and their symbols, leaders, and clerics eliminated, just as happened in Al-Fallujah. And all this clear sectarian hostility is in the name of [the war] to eliminate ISIS, and so that Iran can fully occupy Iraq... The international community and the superpowers remain completely silent in light of [these] sights, and their media outlets treat this as a war on ISIS rather than a war against Iraq's Sunnis, who are being killed and expelled..."
Sunnis, Between A Rock And A Hard Place, Prefer ISIS To The Shi'ite Militias
According to Gulf columnists, since ISIS terrorism stems from the systematic oppression of Sunnis by the regimes in Iraq and Syria, which is disregarded by the U.S., and since the war on terror ignores Shi'ite terrorism and focuses solely on Sunni terrorism, the Sunnis lack incentive to fight ISIS, because in doing so they would be serving the regimes that revoke their rights. The columnists claim further that the war against ISIS involves Shi'ite militias supported by Iran, which view all Sunnis as legitimate targets for attacks and vengeance. Thus, the Sunni population is between a rock and a hard place.
Many reports on the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria mention the human rights violations against the local Sunni populations, the harm being done to displaced people, and the starvation, mosque burnings, looting, and expulsion of families from which these populations are suffering. Other reports stated that in violation of agreements with the local population, under which the Shi'ite militias would not participate in liberating Al-Fallujah from ISIS, members of these militias had nonetheless donned uniforms of the Iraqi army and continued to fight.
Saudi academic 'Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Tuwaijri wrote, in Al-Hayat on October 24, 2016, that the true purpose of the fighting in Mosul was not to vanquish ISIS but rather to implement Iran's plan to change Iraq's demographics: "Is this really a war to liberate Mosul, or is it a vigorous struggle to bring the Sunni-majority city under the control of the sectarian Iranian plan, as was done in the past with other cities and regions liberated from ISIS? Is Mosul doomed to be like Aleppo – a destroyed Sunni Arab city?... Several elements are fighting each other for sole control of Mosul. One is the Shi'ite-majority Iraqi army, and the other is Al-Hashd Al-Sha'bi, which takes orders from Iran and serves its interests, just like Hizbullah in Lebanon. It has already been proven that when Al-Hashd Al-Sha'bi enters a city or village that ISIS has taken, it sows there destruction, ruin, and death. It has [also] committed crimes against humanity, targeting Sunni Iraqi civilians in 'vengeance for the blood of Al-Hussein,' as its [members] have reiterated hysterically. This happened in Fallujah, Tikrit, Ramadi, and elsewhere; it will surely happen in Mosul and throughout [Nineveh] Province [as well,] if ISIS delivers these into [Al-Hashd Al-Sha'bi's] hands..."
Other writers noted that in this situation, Sunnis will not fight ISIS. Huda Al-Husseini noted in her article, already mentioned, that "some Sunnis preferred to die at the hands of ISIS in Al-Fallujah than to give Shi'ite militias the pleasure of taking vengeance on them."
The world is fooled by the "Shi'ite militias" in an "Iraqi Army" mask (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, June 26, 2016)
Bahraini author and journalist Sawsan Al-Sha'er argued, in two articles in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, that the presence of Shi'ite Iranian militias in Syria will prevent Sunni forces, whether local or Saudi, from fighting ISIS. In her first piece, dated November 22, 2015, she wrote: "Any territory that ISIS leaves will be filled by six Iranian brigades deployed in Syria... comprising [members of] IRGC, the [Iranian] army, the Iranian Qods Force, and the Basij forces, as well as Shi'ite mercenaries from Afghanistan and Pakistan. All these are willing and able to pounce on territory abandoned by ISIS." She concluded that Sunnis had no reason to fight ISIS. Two weeks later, she wrote: "[Sunni] Syrian ground forces will never fight ISIS so long as Assad and Iranian forces do not leave Syria."
On May 29, 2016, during the battles to liberate Al-Fallujah, Muwaffaq Al-Khatib, a columnist for the Bahraini daily Al-Watan, addressed the Shi'ite militiamen, writing: "What did you think, you murderers – that when [Mosul] residents see your terrorism [in Fallujah], they will cooperate with you to liberate their city? Or that after they see your crimes, they will [actually] become even tougher, and will better recognize your hostility and sectarianism? You have already proven yourselves a thousand times more accursed than ISIS and all the armed groups and militias on earth [put together]... [Mosul residents] will only rally around ISIS more [eagerly] after seeing the horrid sights [of your actions]. They may see ISIS as far more merciful than you..."
"Iraqi Sunnis" caught between the swords of "ISIS" and the "Al-Hashd Al-Sha'bi" Shi'ite militias (Makkah, Saudi Arabia, July 3, 2016)
There Is No Military Solution To Terrorism – ISIS Will Be Resurrected In An Even Crueler Model
Alongside claims that Sunni residents will not fight ISIS, another argument put forth by Gulf newspapers is that ISIS cannot be defeated purely militarily, especially not by non-Sunni elements such as Shi'ite militias, or by superpowers like Russia and the U.S. Military suppression of ISIS using airstrikes, artillery shelling, and use of militias only further oppresses the local Sunni population, which leads to increased anger and will result in the formation of a new ISIS that will receive the Sunni population's support. Many writers mentioned that Al-Qaeda suffered a fatal blow in Iraq in 2007, mainly due to the involvement of local Sunni fighters who received weapons and authority, but after the Nouri Al-Maliki government turned its back on them, ISIS rushed in to fill the vacuum left by Al-Qaeda.
On February 7, 2016, Al-Hayat former editor-in-chief Ghassan Charbel published an article following Saudi Arabia's intention to stage a ground invasion of Syria, in which he stressed that only a Sunni force could eliminate the phenomenon of ISIS. He warned: "The fact that the areas targeted [by airstrikes] are Sunni also indicates that the war has become a harsh punishment for these areas and their dominant component [i.e. Sunnis]. Turning the fight against ISIS into a disaster for Sunnis... enables ISIS to argue that it faces 'a Russian Crusader war' or 'a Shi'ite Persian war,' which lays the foundations for an even worse organization to be established later on." Another Al-Hayat columnist, Saudi intellectual Jamal Khashoggi, published an article on June 25, 2016, downplaying the achievements of the Iraqi army. According to him, the Iraqi forces can win in Al-Fallujah and even regain control of Mosul, "but this will absolutely not ensure that Iraq will return even to the stability that existed under Saddam Hussein... [ISIS] will be nothing but another page in the book of chaos. Another rebellion with a different name that isn't ISIS might be more elegant or uglier, but it will still be a rebellion that continues to eat away at the remains of Iraq."
Majed Muhammad Al-Ansari, a researcher at the University of Qatar and a columnist for the London-based Qatari daily Al-Arab, wrote on May 31, 2016, that "the Iranians and the Americans dream of wiping Al-Fallujah from the map" because they think the sight of dead bodies in the street will deter anyone trying to oppose their plan, but in effect, this violent oppression will only create "a new generation of terrorists." According to him, it is time to tell "the international community that it has managed to create new enemies for itself while still in their mothers' wombs."
'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, former editor of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and former director of Al-Arabiya TV, tied Mosul to Aleppo, arguing that in both cases, a war was being waged on the local Sunni population, and that in both cases the aggressor's victory would be short-lived and would not end the crisis: "Will the battles in Mosul and Aleppo end the Iraqi war against ISIS and the Syrian civil war? I do not believe so. The problem for the two countries lies in the nature of the Syrian regime and the actions of the Iraqi regime, and due to the marginalization and expulsion [of Sunnis]... Iraq's parliamentary regime is inclined towards sectarian rule, which, after the liberation of Mosul, will lead to the miniaturizing of Iraq and its transformation to a smaller and less stable country. As for Syria, after Aleppo is cleansed of most of its residents, not just the armed ones, the fighting will travel to another city and battles will continue, since there is no political solution. This is due to Iran's insistence to adhere to the man responsible for all this bloodshed [i.e. Bashar Al-Assad]... Let Iraqis and Syrians prepare to celebrate the 'liberation' of Mosul and Aleppo. We know these are temporary celebrations, after which the combats and alliances will return, as will the persecution of angry civilians. The global terrorists will continue to find ripe soil [for their actions], and thus tensions in the region will persist."
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While "Iraqi army" celebrates, "ISIS" prepares to strike again (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, July 7, 2016)
In Order To Eliminate ISIS, End The Political Marginalization Of Sunnis
The Gulf writers seem to have little faith in a military solution to the "ISIS problem." According to them, in order to eliminate ISIS, there is a need to first address the problems that led to its emergence – namely the oppression of Sunnis by pro-Iranian Shi'ite governments. Therefore, they call for the immediate withdrawal of all Iranian forces from Iraq and Syria and the disbanding of Shi'ite militias. However, they argue that the central effort should be correcting the injustice done to Sunnis in recent years after they were distanced from positions of power and political decision-making centers, and making them partners with authority to manage the regions where they are a clear majority, such as Al-Anbar Province in Iraq. As for Syria, the writers unequivocally demand the head of Bashar Al-Assad and his immediate unconditional removal from power.
Faisal Al-Qassem, the Syrian host of "The Opposite Direction" on the Qatari Al-Jazeera TV, wrote in his June 18, 2016 column in Al-Quds Al-Arabi: "The problem in Iraq and Syria is neither ISIS nor terrorism, but rather a filthy sectarian regime," meaning that so long as the tyranny of sectarian regimes in those countries persists, the conditions for the existence of ISIS or the appearance of "new monsters" remain in place. Lebanese-American journalist Raghida Dergham wrote in her December 11, 2015, column in Al-Hayat that the U.S. is responsible for supporting Shi'ite terrorism and discrimination against Sunnis, arguing that "defeating ISIS and its ilk necessarily requires a mobilization of Arab Sunnis to fight it, but Arab leaderships will not do this so long as they see that the marginalization of Sunnis in their countries is supported by the U.S... The smartest thing Washington can do, if it truly wants to establish a serious front against the terrorism of ISIS and its ilk, is to stop encouraging Shi'ite terrorism against Sunni terrorism."
Tariq Al-Homayed, former editor-in-chief of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote on March 6, 2016 that Iraqi Sunnis demand to receive arms and to manage security in their own areas: "How can there be a solution [to ISIS in Iraq] so long as the Iraqi government does not practically decide to support and arm Sunni moderates, as it has done in the past with the Sahawat [Awakening] who expelled Al-Qaeda from Al-Anbar? How can there be a solution when the government in Baghdad is sectarian and shows no true signs of political change?" In another article on May 24, he wrote that "so long as the Assadist-Iranian killing machine is not truly halted in Syria, [and as long as] there is no fundamental political reform in Iraq, the bloodbath will unfortunately not stop, and cities will continue to fall even if they are liberated."
Jordanian researcher Muhammad Abu Rumman, who focuses on extremist Islamic organizations, also saw the inclusion of Sunnis as a way to eliminate ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Writing in the London-based Qatari daily Al-Arabi Al-Jadid on May 29, 2016, he stated that "the keyword in Iraq is Sunni inclusion through a balanced federal regime, and by providing them with an [autonomous] region that grants them their political rights in the clearest way and distances them a little from the hegemony of elements tied to Iran. Assad's departure from power... will provide relief for the Sunnis and the sense that their sacrifices were not in vain."
Iraq aims for "defeat of ISIS" but is chained by "sectarianism" (Alarabiya.net, July 10, 2016)
Sunni View Of ISIS: Supporters, Opponents, And Fence-Sitters
The millions of Sunnis that Gulf press writers purport to speak for, who are indeed the majority population in most territory occupied by ISIS in recent years in Syria and Iraq, are divided into dozens, if not hundreds, of tribes, with each one conducting itself as an independent political entity.
While the articles in the Gulf press paint a picture of a dichotomous struggle between Sunnis and Shi'ites, the actual situation is more complex. It is true that during ISIS's campaign of conquest in Iraq in June 2014 there were reports that Sunni groups had joined it. The title of the piece in Al-Quds Al-Arabi announcing the fall of Mosul read: "Mosul Falls: ISIS-led Sunni Rebellion." On July 6, 2015, the online Saudi daily Elaph cited one of the tribal sheikhs from Al-Ramadi, which was later liberated from ISIS control, who said: "We tell our brothers in Al-Anbar that our fate is the same, our position is the same, and our swords, together with our brothers, the soldiers of the Islamic State, are aimed at one enemy."
However, there is evidence of a lack of Sunni tribal unity on ISIS. Muhammad Harat, spokesman for the Al-Anbar tribal council, told the Anadolu News Agency on July 10, 2016, that Al-Anbar tribes were divided into three groups: ISIS supporters, ISIS opponents, and those waiting to see who emerged victorious so they could join them. According to him, many tribes supported ISIS after it took over Al-Anbar's cities and coexisted with it until Iraqi forces liberated those cities. He said that as a senior Sunni leader, he was worried about these tribes collaborating with ISIS, as it could lead to the organization returning to liberated areas. Sheikh Rafi' Al-Fahdwai from the Al-Bu Fahd tribe told Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on July 11 that ISIS exploited the atmosphere of sectarian oppression in Iraq to garner support, and managed to receive it from certain groups within all Sunni tribes, albeit small groups. Al-Anbar MP Muhammad Al-Halbusi said that Sunni tribes should not face collective punishment because some of them support ISIS, and that generalizations are improper and unrealistic. Sheikh Salah Hassan Al-Nada from the Al-Bu Nasser tribe – the tribe of Saddam Hussein – told Elaph: "Had all Sunni tribes joined ISIS, the power balance in Iraq would have shifted [in its favor]."
Of the tribes that swore fealty to ISIS, some did it willingly and were motivated by self-interests, but others did so out of fear in light of previous massacres of tribes that did not accept ISIS's authority, such as the Syrian Al-Shaitat tribe, 700 of whom were slaughtered by ISIS in 2014 as a deterring message. The Syrian oppositionist site Orient News mentioned that ISIS uses a carrot and stick approach with the Sunni tribes in Syria and Iraq.
Some tribes not only oppose ISIS but have expressed willingness to cooperate with the same governments that supposedly oppress them in their war against ISIS. According to reports in Arab media, some Sunni tribes agreed to provide the Iraqi government with tens of thousands of fighters to combat ISIS. During the battles to liberate Al-Fallujah, Thamer Al-Tamimi, a head of one of the Sunni tribes in Al-Anbar, one of the leaders of a group of tribal fighters who agreed to fight ISIS alongside Iraqi government forces, told the Shi'ite Iraqi Buratha News Agency that Shi'ite militias had carried out no war crimes against Sunnis, and that they had created a safe passage for all displaced residents from Al-Fallujah. According to him, there is no hidden hand or premeditated plans by Shi'ite militias to harm Sunnis, and any news of this does them an injustice. Further evidence of ties between Sunni tribes and the Shi'ites appeared in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on June 17, 2016, when the daily reported that a delegation of tribes from Al-Anbar traveled to Iran to request Iranian logistical support in their fight against ISIS.
Sunni tribe swears fealty to ISIS in Deir Al-Zour, Syria (Orient-news.net, July 10, 2014)
*Y. Graff is a research fellow at MEMRI.
 Al-Jazirah (
 See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1261, "Following ISIS Attacks, Arab Journalists Call To Acknowledge Existence Of Muslim Extremism; Reexamine Religious Texts," July 25, 2016.
 A Washington-based organization whose goal is strengthening the political and economic ties between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. For more on it, see saprac.org.
 Makkah (
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (Lonfon), July 3, 2016.
 The Shi'ite militias in
 See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1214, UN Security Council Resolution 2254 On Syria: International Community Softens Its Position On Assad Regime, December 28, 2015.
 Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), December 22, 2015.
 Al-Hayat (London), June 6, 2016.
 Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), August 3, 2016.
 Alarabiya.net, June 2, 2016.
 The son of the Fourth Caliph 'Ali, who died in the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE.
 Al-Hayat (London), October 24, 2016.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 16, 2016.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 22, 2015.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 6, 2015.
 Al-Watan (Bahrain), May 29, 2016.
 Al-Hayat (London), February 7, 2016.
 Al-Hayat (London), June 25, 2016.
 Al-Arab (London), May 31, 2016.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 24, 2016.
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), June 18, 2016.
 Al-Hayat (London), December 11, 2015.
 Sunni Iraqi tribal forces that fought terrorist organizations, chiefly Al-Qaeda, together with American and Iraqi forces.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 6, 2016.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 24, 2016.
 Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), May 29, 2016.
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), June 12, 2014.
 Elaph.com, July 6, 2015.
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), July 10, 2016.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 11, 2016.
 Elaph.com, July 6, 2015.
 Orient-news.net, July 10, 2014. Two years after the massacre, fighters from the crippled Al-Shaitat tribes began organizing to fight back against ISIS. Al-Hayat (London), July 31, 2016.
 Burathanews.com, June 7, 2016.
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), June 17, 2016.