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ISIS Controls Northern Cities, But Local Forces Run Them


In cities now under the control of ISIS militants, Iraqi civilians are stuck in the middle of a violent confrontation between the government and insurgents. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad is Middle East correspondent for The Guardian. And he's been traveling north of Baghdad. He says even though ISIS has military control of Northern Iraqi cities, local Sunni groups are actually running day-to-day life there.

GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD: Once they take over a town, a village like, say, Mosul or Tikrit, other forces come to fill the gap - local tribesmen, other insurgents groups, Baathi army officers. At the moment, you see ISIS trying to take a backseat. They haven't yet imposed their extreme form of rule on a town.

RATH: So - so then who is - who is providing services - is administrating these towns once they're taken over then?

ABDUL-AHAD: The local forces are filling the gap. There isn't much local services - probably some doctors - the hospitals are open, local, you know, trash collection. At the moment, it's the local population that's kind of running their cities.

RATH: You spent some time in the Sunni community north of Baghdad. Among - among them, or among other Sunnis, how much strength and support is there for ISIS, as opposed to being dissatisfied with Maliki?

ABDUL-AHAD: For many of the Sunnis that I talked to, they think of this as a Sunni liberation, as a Sunni uprising. They are really frustrated with Maliki. They point to so many grievances and many of them are actually and real. They point out the sectarian police units, corrupt army. They've been treated really like second-class citizens for the past few years.

So for them, they see this Sunni uprising as the Sunni liberation. But many of the Sunni commanders, many of the Sunni political leaders, the people who have vision of the city, they will point and say this is a Sunni tragedy. This is a mistake on the Sunnis because the Sunnis will pay the highest price for this. Eventually, it's the Sunni who will have to deal with the wrath of ISIS, and the next civil war - after this initial fighting - it will be a Sunni-Sunni war.

RATH: Ghaith, you're - you're an Iraqi yourself, and you've done a lot of reporting among Shiites, among Sunnis. Do you see that there could be a political solution?

ABDUL-AHAD: I think now it's too late for a political solution. The whole talk about forming a new government, a more inclusive government - probably this would have worked a year ago, you know, almost 18 months ago. At the moment, this is too late.

I spent my day traveling from East to West Baghdad. And I took, in the same day, two Shiite militia commanders and Sunnis and both seem to be gearing for the coming war. People are talking in terms of ethnic cleansing. People are talking about emptying neighborhoods, talking in terms of this - big strategies on the paper of removing the Sunnis from this area or moving the Shiites from this area.

The best - what we can hope for is the fighting will still - will stop north of Baghdad. But I don't think there's a political solution. It's too late for a political solution. As a result of the ISIS attack and the insurgency uprising, no Sunni politician has any credibility left in the street. No Sunni can stand and say I represent Mosul.

So the whole Sunni political elite has been removed from the scene. So who will be able to conduct the peace with Maliki for any Shiite power? So I think now is the time of war. Politics is too late.

RATH: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad is a Middle East correspondent for The Guardian. Ghaith, thank you very much.

ABDUL-AHAD: Thank you.

RATH: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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