This post originally appeared in The Daily Beast. For the full story, click here.
The Islamic State is no longer a juggernaut, it’s a motley alliance of factions just waiting to betray each other.
BAGHDAD, Iraq — At the mention of Caliph Ibrahim, leader of the self-declared Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Abu Mustafa points at his chest and nods. “Ibrahim my friend,” he says.
Abu Mustafa says proudly that Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, has been peaceful since its conquest by the fighters of what used to be known as ISIS. He tells me his own ties to them go back to the days after the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003, when he fought against the Americans alongside ISIS’s progenitor, Al Qaeda in Iraq. He says the Americans arrested him eight times; an Internet search of his real name turns up one prison record.
“Life in Mosul is very normal,” says Abu Mustafa. Christians there are treated well, prices are low and people are safe and happy, he says, a description completely at odds with news reports and firsthand accounts describing a reign of terror against anyone in the city who hasn’t sworn loyalty to the caliph.
He seems to believe what he’s saying and performs the group’s public relations not just to blow smoke into the journalist’s eyes, but because he honestly hopes to see the caliph succeed in conquering Baghdad. And then, after the victory, he expects to see the caliphate destroyed.
“All we are doing now is just a liberation,” Abu Mustafa says. “After the liberation of Baghdad the Islamic state will be finished. The Sunni rebels are only using them against the corruption of the government.”
This is a view more common than one might expect among the Sunni Iraqis who have taken up arms against the government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, although it rarely is voiced so brazenly from inside the capital. They look at ISIS not as a religious prophecy come true or an end unto itself but as a weapon that will be used up after it is has done their work.
“They stay together only to fight the enemy,” and that is Maliki, says Najim al Kasab, an Iraqi political analyst with contacts among the Sunni insurgent groups. “The main force keeping them together is Maliki himself. If Maliki is replaced, the Sunni armed groups will turn on ISIS,” Kasab says.