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The Brewing Rebellion in Iraq: Persecution of Sunnis by Baghdad

Iraq appears to be on the brink of another rebellion within the country, as it’s Shiite-dominated government has initiated a crackdown on its Sunni minority by branding them as ISIS collaborators. Iraqi Shias consider their Sunni counterparts as second-class citizens while the latter consider politicians in Baghdad as corrupt and ineffectual. ISIS through its image of being pious and harbinger of religious freedom for Iraqi Sunnis enabled the jihadist group to conquer wide swathes of territory around the Euphrates and Tigris basins.

In regions that were once ruled by ISIS, Iraq’s Shiite-dominated security apparatus, has been widely accused of systematic human rights violations against Sunnis and is seen as playing into radical Islamist propaganda. This has created conditions that could potentially spark off a rebellion within the country. According to a report by Ben Taub, staff writer for Washington-based Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the Iraqi government’s lack of effective strategy on how to reach out to Iraq’s disaffected Sunni Arabs could prove to be disastrous. Moreover, as quoted by Taub: “a state-sanctioned campaign of revenge and intimidation is taking place throughout western Iraq, in which hundreds of thousands of civilians are suffering at the hands of their liberators.”

The gravity of the situation is expressed by the fact that people living in erstwhile ISIS territories are widely perceived as “terrorists”. Suspected ISIS sympathizers are either out rightly killed or sent to concentration camps with appalling living conditions.

Ben Taub further argues: “Bearded men are often viewed as displaying evidence of ISIS support, even though the militant group had a policy of punishing any man who did not grow a beard in accordance with Quranic directives. Most of these people are either fired from their jobs, sent to prison, or worse are executed by the dozens and even hundreds. A handful are tried in a court of law each month, but these are usually show trials with a conviction rate of 98 percent. Family members of the accused rarely show up in court, fearing immediate arrest and imprisonment, which appears to be a regular occurrence. It is not uncommon for relatives [of accused ISIS supporters] to be rounded up by the security forces and sent to remote desert camps, where they are denied food, medical services, and access to documents.”

Battlefield executions and arbitrary arrests, along with killings of detainees are often captured on camera by jubilant Shiite militia. Ben Taub quotes an anonymous senior official in the Iraqi intelligence agency who believes that the ongoing operation of systematic human rights violations on Sunnis “is not just revenge on ISIS, but revenge on Sunnis in general.”

The probability of a humanitarian and political crisis erupting in Iraq is extremely high. The extent to which a peace process succeeds in the Levant is largely dependent on Baghdad’s capacity to win over the confidence of Sunni minorities that were earlier perceived as being sympathetic to ISIS.

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