This is what provocation looks like

ISIS only survives in the long-run (at least in Syria and Iraq) to the extent that it’s able to continue taking advantage of Sunni alienation and anger at the governments in Baghdad and Damascus. Their leadership is well aware of that, which is why on Monday they did this:

At least 32 people were killed and 58 injured in an attack on the al-Jawhara shopping centre in the capital, Baghdad, on Monday, according to police sources.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group claimed responsibility for the attack, as well as for a later attack in Diyala province.

Seven others were killed in a separate bombing in Baghdad, which has not been claimed by any group so far.

In the town of Muqdadiya in Diyala province, 80km northeast of Baghdad, a twin suicide bombing killed another 42 people at a cafe.

In order to cause this:

At least 10 people have been killed and Sunni mosques firebombed in suspected reprisal attacks following a series of ISIL attacks on Shias in Iraq left scores dead.

Attackers firebombed nine mosques in Diyala province on Tuesday in what a Sunni leader described as a “heinous criminal act”.

Witnesses told Al Jazeera that Shia militia members were responsible for the attacks in the town of Muqdadiya, 110km northeast of Baghdad.

The fighters sent out messages on loud speakers calling on Sunni civilians to leave the town within 24 hours or they would be killed.

It is pretty important that Iraqi authorities track down the militia fighters who carried out these attacks, though that’s easier said than done when Shiʿa militias have as much political and military power as the government.

There’s some qualified good news to share on the Sunni alienation front, in the form of a new report suggesting that Iraqi Sunnis started warming up to Baghdad once former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was shown the door in favor of current PM Haider al-Abadi in August 2014:

The most interesting part of the Mercy Corps’ report was how Sunni opinion changed about the insurgency before and after the Maliki government. The organization was conducting its third year of surveying in Iraq when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki lost office to Haidar Abadi. That allowed it to measure how the transition in leadership affected Sunni perceptions. Most striking was that support for armed groups amongst the community went from 49% in 2014 to 26% in 2015. Part of that drop might have been due to Anbar not being included in the second survey, but even then it was such a sizeable drop that the absence of that one province could not account for the entire change. More importantly, the only major difference between the two polls was the replacement of Maliki as premier.

Sunni opinions of the government overall improved after Abadi became prime minister as well. When asked about the police, the government, security, and job prospects opinions went up around 10% each from 2014 to 2015. Electricity saw the largest increase going from 59% to 72%. Again, the change in administration made Sunnis feel better about a range of issues from the security forces to services. There seemed to be hope that Abadi would be fairer than his predecessor, and thus people’s opinions improved.

Now, Abadi hasn’t done much to improve life for Iraqi Sunnis since he took office, so the honeymoon period is probably over. But this shows that many Sunnis wanted to be reconnected to the state, that they haven’t written Baghdad off and gone over to ISIS. Abadi could capitalize on that feeling, in part, by preventing, or at least responding harshly to, any Shiʿa “reprisal” attacks against Sunnis who aren’t in ISIS and have nothing to do with any ISIS attacks.

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Author: DWD

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