The sectarian and factional chaos unleashed in Iraq by the ISIS invasion has neighboring tribes literally at each other’s throats, according to a report by the Associated Press. Some Sunni tribes initially welcomed the Sunni extremists of ISIS when they rolled across the border, thinking they might help change the balance of power in Shiite-dominated Baghdad.
After watching ISIS turn northern Iraq into a torture chamber, some members of the al-Lehib tribe changed their minds and ended up fighting alongside Iraqi military forces and the Kurds.
“We thought they were going to Baghdad to establish a government,” tribal leader Nazhan Sakhar explained. “But then they started killing our own people. It turned out they were the same as al-Qaida.”
This surely qualifies as one of the rudest awakenings in history. As the AP goes on to remind us, Sunni tribes were profoundly disenchanted with Baghdad’s Shiite-dominated government; it was not difficult for ISIS emissaries to harvest their discontent. That discontent has not completely evaporated in the face of the Islamic State’s horrors. Baghdad is obliged to seek the aid of tribes it did not have much respect for until the ISIS invasion, and it is not hard to understand why the tribesmen would be cynical about the status quo returning after ISIS is ejected.
Good news: Baghdad is finally paying the tribesmen for military service against the Islamic State invaders. Bad news: the Iraqi government’s notoriously tight grip on its weapons has not loosened, so the tribes have to buy guns and ammo with their own money. They have also gotten some equipment from the Kurds, who themselves complain that Baghdad is not sending enough munitions their way.
Arms are in such short supply that Sakhar says he is only fielding a third of the fighters he could potentially rally. The others are not eager to pick a fight they are not equipped to win, against savages renowned for slaughtering defeated enemies and their families. Some Iraqi tribesmen are also reluctant to join a battle where other members of their tribe are fighting on the opposite side. “I am sad for this situation, but they chose the wrong path,” Sakhar said of tribesmen fighting for ISIS.