The Future of ISIS and the Sectarian Response: ISIS has Picked a Fight it Cannot Win

The Future of ISIS in Iraq and the Sectarian Response – by Joshua Landis


ISIS Mass killing Iraq

ISIS purportedly conducting a mass execution of captured Shiite Iraqi army soldiers

ISIS mass killing Shiites in Iraq

A Washington policy analyst asked me what chances I gave to the possibility that Prime Minister Maliki will try to divide Sunnis and isolate ISIS by teaming up with moderate Sunnis. He raised the possibility of Maliki creating a government of national unity with greater power sharing.

My answer:

1. I doubt ISIS will get a foothold in Baghdad. Already, Shiite mobilization in the face of the ISIS advances are fierce and panicky.  I think Shiite religious mobilization now taking place in Iraq will mean very bad things for Sunnis in general. ISIS has picked a fight it can’t win and unleashed the inner Shi’a in their adversary. And it’s not as though Maliki, like Assad, lacks powerful friends with a serious stake in the outcome of the battle.

Rather than Maliki teaming up with “moderate” Sunnis, such as the US did in arming the tribes and cultivating the Sahwa, Iraq’s Prime Minister is likely to respond by using religion as his prime mobilizer. Of course, he will not abandon “Iraq” or nationalism, just as Assad has not.  But just as Sistani has used the sanctity of Shiite shrines as his primary “national” motivator, Maliki is likely to follow suit. He will largely define the nation in sectarian terms. That is what ISIS has done, as well. Sunnis have scared the pants off of Shiites. The photos of mass shootings of Shiite young men dooms a non-sectarian response, I would imagine. What is more, the gathering storm of sectarian mobilization has already reached furious levels in the entire region. The demonization of Shiites as “rejectors” and “Majous” or pagans who are considered both non-Muslim and non-Arab, has spread to such an extent that it has taken on a life of its own. The counter demonization of Sunnis, within the Shiite world, as terrorists, takfiris, and Wahhabi inspired agents is well entrenched.

2. I would not be shocked to see significant ethnic cleansing of Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad should ISIS attack and give the Iraqi Army a run for its money. After all, the Iraqi army is large, has helicopters, sophisticated intelligence capabilities, tanks, artillery and all the rest. They were caught napping and without esprit de corps, much as the Syrian army was. But capable officers will emerge who will strip down the “power-sharing” fat that the US built and rebuild it based on loyalty to Maliki and Shiism, if most of that has not been done already. This is what happened in Syria, when we saw the Syrian Army unravel at the base during the first year of the Sunni uprising. The Syrian military was quickly rebuilt along sectarian and regional lines to make it much stronger and more loyal, with locally recruited Iranian style National Defense Forces modeled on the Islamic Guard. If Sunnis choose to form such local militias and ally with the Shiite regime, so much the better. If they do not and choose to lay low until they figure out whether ISIS can win in their regions, the Shiites will go it alone and assume all Sunnis are a fifth column. That is how the Turks dealt with the Christians during WWI and the war with the Greeks. The 20% Christians in Anatolia of 1914 were cleansed. Jews in Palestine dealt with Muslims in a manner not altogether dissimilar. It didn’t turn out well for Christians in Anatolia or Muslims in Palestine.

3. We are not witnessing power-sharing or the emergence of a particularly destructive brand of religious nationalism in the region. We are witnessing the breakdown of the territorial nationalism that was implied by the borders drawn by Europeans at the end of WWI. The new nationalism, largely defined by religious affiliation, is apparent in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. Palestine is a bit of an exception with the new coalition government, but not much of one.

My advice to Obama would be to lay low. This sectarian-nationalist process has been boiling up for a more than a century. It should be seen as part of the breakdown of the Ottoman order and emergence of nationalism. I compare what is going on in the Levant today to Central Europe during WWII. In Central Europe, the great powers drew national borders after WWI, carving up the lands of the defeated empires without rearranging the peoples to fit them. Thus Poland was only 64% Polish before WWII. Czechoslovakia was made up of close to 25% minorities. WWII was the “great sorting out.” (Read: ) Over the war years, the peoples of central Europe were rearranged according to the WWI borders. By the end of WWII, Poland and Czechoslovakia had been reduced to their core Polish and Czechoslovak peoples. They got rid of their unwanted (Jews) or guilty (think the 12 million Germans of central Europe) minorities, along with many others. It was a nasty and brutal nation-building process.

Of course, in the Middle East, the emergence of national identities is bedeviled by competing religious identities, which seem to be stronger than both “Arabism” or “Iraqism.”

I doubt we will see high degrees of Shiite-Sunni cooperation in the coming months. If the U.S. sticks its long oar into this mess, the U.S. will end up with a broken oar. It seems possible that within the next two years, ISIS will largely be destroyed by the concerted action of both Iraqi and Syrian forces with help from Iran and possibly the U.S.  Sunni Arabs will not be pacified so long as they receive scant justice and minimal political representation in both Syria and Iraq, but ISIS cannot represent their needs. It is an expression of sectarianism run amok.

Comments (71)

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51. Akbar Palace said:


If you were smart like Alan, you would hang out at Veterans Today and learn how the joos control everyone including islamo-jihadists. We have some sort of mind control machine that works in the terahertz range and can’t be detected.

I don’t think anyone can break up the oil cartels, but I think the time is ripe to be one energy independent. Pipeline Mr. Obama!

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June 17th, 2014, 6:06 pm



1. Taliban was recognized by several “islamic” countries and did have diplomatic missions in these countries.

2. Taliban, ISIS and their types don’t need to be loved by the locals. Remember, they are “terrorists” and their first victims are the locals not those thousands of miles away.

Finally, you can’t compare Hamas to any other entity, not because they are better, but because the price for not being more pragmatic is too heavy both for them and for their base of power. Same thing for nus-lira gangs (but only with respect to Israel). This is why since 2006, ooops, sorry, i meant the divine victory of nu-lira over Israel, Israel had enjoyed a relative peace of mind from its northern border. Was it you who once described them as cowards or was it Akbar? It doesn’t matter with whom I agree on this description.

By the way, today, Iraq’s wings of Da’esh (داعش) slaughtered 49 fighters including an important Emir of the mellowed!!!! Syrian wing of Da’esh.

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June 17th, 2014, 6:41 pm


53. ALAN said:

“To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

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June 18th, 2014, 12:52 am


54. Passerby said:

Now the White House is leaking to the media, wholesale, that airstrikes are off the table, for now. Such as…

Seems Maliki is driving a hard deal on the sectarian thing, is my guess.

History says we can’t underestimate the incompetence of both in this game of chicken.


They can’t take Baghdad? Get ready for the lights and water to shut off for the 6,000,000 Shiite residents of Baghdad. How hard is that? Suicide bombers, artillery, whatever. Ponder the ramifications of that, and other things normal civilized people don’t do in wars lately to kill and terrorize civilian populations.

They don’t need to take and “hold” it for now, just make it a severe liability for their enemy, not an asset.

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June 18th, 2014, 1:24 am


55. Matthew Barber said:


Alan, you do realize that in Syria that would refer to Bashar al-Assad, right?

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June 18th, 2014, 3:11 am


56. ALAN said:

Measure to yourself! to your own regime! engage in self-criticism! leave our regime for us! mind your own regime! It seems that your regime is seeking to Armageddon

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June 18th, 2014, 5:37 am


58. Passerby said:

Hi Alan,

I can’t see where that link addresses my question,

“The United States of America could break the back of the International Oil Cartel, that funds Israel’s enemies, in an afternoon with the stroke of a pen.

So, if the Jews run America, how come we stuff all that money down the throats of Israel’s worst enemies?”

Can you summarize how it refutes that? General claims about some grand conspiracy on some link aren’t convincing.

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June 18th, 2014, 11:52 am


59. Passerby said:

Yeah, that’s what’s going on, a game of chicken. No help unless Maliki is replaced. Pretending he will be nice to the Sunnis just won’t cut it.

U.S. Signals Iraq’s Maliki Should Go

…A growing number of U.S. lawmakers and Arab allies, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are pressing the White House to pull its support for Mr. Maliki. Some of them are pushing for change in exchange for providing their help in stabilizing Iraq, say U.S. and Arab diplomats.

The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) told a congressional hearing Wednesday: “The Maliki government, candidly, has got to go if you want any reconciliation.”

Senior administration officials have become increasingly critical of Mr. Maliki in their public statements and question whether he is committed to mending ties with Sunnis…

We’re headed to the edge of the cliff, and don’t underestimate their capacity for even greater incompetence. Look at their history.

Well, may be the best thing, Maliki is a guaranteed loser, but ISIS is the big winner with stalling, and this idea that they have reached their limit or whatever is delusional.

It’s the Saddam Regime running ISIS like a headless zombie after they killed off their leadership. It explains everything, the in cahoots with Assad, the predatory strange behavior towards other radical groups with the same beliefs, the surprising sophistication, the importance of Baghdad, the Hannibal Lector insane cruelty without even Al-Qaeda’s peculiar morality, etc. And Saddam did the human shields, he lit oil wells on fire, he emptied oil in the Gulf, on and on, and ISIS will do the same thing. They don’t have to take Baghdad or the Shiite areas, they just have to make them a liability, not an asset for their enemies. Man, there are a host of ways to do that, much easier to destroy than create, entropy.

There may be less time than the fools think, particularly since Samarra is about surrounded and the cities on the last road have all been attacked. About all they control north of Baghdad now. We know what happened last time.

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June 19th, 2014, 12:24 am


60. Matthew Barber said:


Actually Alan, I can criticize my government/president/leaders—even insult them, in fact, or print ridicule of them in public media, all without worrying that secret police will come and arrest me, destroy my business, torture me, harm the people I love, etc.

In Syria, on the other hand, every citizen and foreign guest alike quickly learns to continually look over their shoulder out of fear of who might be listening.

In Syria, we all know who we can’t criticize.

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June 19th, 2014, 2:57 am


62. Reality Check said:

Some years back the Mukhtar of Majdal Shams in the Golan hosted a Western Ambassador. As they were talking the subject moved to the subject of your comments and the Mukhtar turned to his guest and said “I will explain to you the difference between a dictatorship and a democracy. We have here a deep valley that separates the Israeli side of the Golan from the Syrian side and the border separates families. Once a week the families come to the valley and call out to each other but to do so they have to shout out loud. On the Syrian side each family member is accompanied by a member of the Muhabarat (Secret Service) who writes down every word uttered or shouted to them. On this side nobody else is there, no one is interested in what is shouted. In a dictatorship every word you say is noted and analysed. In a democracy you can scream your head off and nobody will be bothered with what you have to say”.

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June 19th, 2014, 4:44 pm


63. Passerby said:

The funny part is the morons saying it can’t be “used safely”. Entertain the idea that ISIS doesn’t care about safety.

The irony, the WMD that are supposed to never exist seized by the Al-Qaeda in Iraq that was supposed to never exist.

Well, that should empty out Baghdad.

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June 19th, 2014, 8:39 pm


64. Passerby said:

It’s Saddam’s primary WMD production facility. Mustard Gas, Sarin, VX and Bioweapons.

Seems there are several huge bunkers with damaged munitions, leaking storage barrels, etc. A nasty witches brew that’s so lethal, they just left it there and locked the door.

In addition to all the chemicals, it also has the actual bombs in various stages of completion.

Can the Saddam Regime/ISIS make use of it with their thousands of scientists, including probably the people originally in charge of it and the people that made it? Of course, but then, when on it’s feet, the Saddam Regime can make industrial quantities in weeks to months any time it feels like it.

But seems if you have the guys that made it and ran the site and hordes of ISIS zombies willing to commit suicide, you could dominate the battlefield. Talk about the Iraqi army running away.

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June 19th, 2014, 9:09 pm


65. ALAN said:

From Iraq to Syria: How to transport men and weapons without really trying
The much touted fall of Mosul and the alleged capture of US military equipment have been in the making for a long time. It is therefore important to have some institutional knowledge of where these events began, and how a ragtag corporal in the Georgian army, sick and disillusioned, has suddenly become the poster boy for America’s war on terrorism in Iraq.

The corporal concerned is al-Shishani, AKA, Umar Gorgashvili, whose birth name is TARKHAN BATIRASHVILI. He is leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) insurgents who have been seen, very conveniently, transporting US-supplied Humvees across the border into war-torn Syria after the capture of Mosul.

Often reported as killed, al-Shishani nevertheless always turns up at the right time and right place for a photo opportunity, all part of the subterfuge. Umar Gorgashvili goes by many different names, but most of these are known only to those that have trained and have worked with him. There are (actually were, some of them have been murdered) four chechens operating in the region, thus named “al shishani”: Omar al-Shishani, Saifullah al-Shishani, Amir Muslim and Salahudeen al-Shishani……

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June 20th, 2014, 5:18 am


66. ALAN said:

thanks for the story of a magical surreal terms of Mossad! be able to defend a thesis on dreams!

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June 20th, 2014, 5:30 am


67. SANDRO LOEWE said:

By controlling all main terrorists webs in the Middle East and by creating with Iran and Russia the ISIL Milicia, in an excellent cover up operation, the dictator Assad and Russia hace proven to be the masters of the Middle East.

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June 20th, 2014, 6:02 am


69. JITENDRA ( INDIA ) said:

Americans are idiots. Always failed everywhere. winning war doesn’t mean winning people. Americans failed to understand true nature of middle east islam. Better if they find out other reliable sources of oil and take off interest in this region. Fratricide is islamic quality. Leave everything to the mercy of their own, these middle east arabs will kill each other & will be finished, No need to intervene.

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June 21st, 2014, 10:50 am


70. David said:

To all you naive politically correct politicians, news outlets and Liberals. ISIS is coming to a town near you … to enrich you with their culture!
You’d better “Convert or …” they’ll be offended!

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August 17th, 2014, 4:05 pm


71. whitewolf60 said:

Let’s see…

U.S. interference in Afghanistan gave rise to al-Qaeda (not to mention our direct funding and cooperation in opium trafficking), and now our interference in Iraq and Syria give rise to ISIS.

Sounds like a plan…

We executed Saddam (at a cost of how many trillions?) for “killing his own people”, now we’re killing those very same people. ISIS would not be operating in Iraq if we had just stayed home.

If our interference in Afghanistan was to “roll back” communism, why does McCain hob-nob with the Vietnamese and Chinese communists now? Besides trying to get one of his wife’s beer factories constructed? Why didn’t we just build the beer factories back in the 60s?

Why? Because war is very expensive for Americans who mind their own business and work for a living, but obscenely profitable for the Internationalist Scum who have bought out the whores in Washington D.C.

I’m just not sure if McCain is an Internationalist Scum, a whore, or both.

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August 26th, 2014, 11:28 am


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