Battle of the Sects or Tribal Interests
The conflict in Iraq is often described as a battle of the sects, with the vast majority of the Sunni Arab tribes being conflated with the militant Islamic State (ISIS) movement. This is understandable as there have been revolutionary, anti-Maliki government protests and increased tribal coordinated efforts within Iraq since the summer of 2013. However, while the Arab tribal revolutionaries are religiously Sunni and care about Sunni causes, they have separate goals and interests than that of the Islamic State.
One movement created to represent these interests is the General Military Council for Iraqi Revolutionaries (GMCIR). They are staunchly against the spread of Iranian power in all forms, especially, but not limited to former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government and the Shi’a militias’ presence in the Iraqi Security forces (ISF). Participation within the GMCIR became more popular after a member of parliament (MP) from the Sunni Arab bloc, Iraqiyya, was arrested and the ISF’s brutal assault on Sunni protestors in December of 2013.
The brutality of the Shi’a militias, the perception (and probable reality) of Maliki’s bias, and the constitutionally mandated discrimination against the Sunni Arabs – by virtue of the de-Ba’athification process – are strong incentives for the Sunni Arabs to desire the overthrow of the Iraqi government. This is not to say that a Sunni Arab revolution is any less a self-interested organization than the Maliki government was; the desire for political strength being a paramount motivator.
Since Maliki’s reluctant resignation in late 2014, there has been some Sunni Arab tribal participation with the Shi’a in the ISF against ISIS. This has been most notable in Tikrit and Duluiyah, where the al-Jubouri tribe assisted the ISF in defeating ISIS. There are, however, division among and within the tribes. The Dulaim tribal confederation (qabilah) from the al-Anbar province has tribal members that fought with ISIS, some have defected. There are also Dulaimi that tacitly provide cover for ISIS in Ramadi. Most notably, however, there is a constant thread that the goals of those revolutionaries have not shifted, even if their alliances have.
While Maliki is not prime minister anymore, Iran still has powerful partners in the Iraqi government, there is still a lack of trust for the Iraqi government among the tribes, and Sunnis still hold the minority of power. These are factors which lead Sunni Arabs to contest the Iraqi government, with or without ISIS. Thus, ultimately, while there is a sectarian element to politics within Iraq, it is not easily divided into the neat little categories outsiders like to paint.