In parts of Iraq recaptured from the militants where I’ve traveled, signs of any central authority are nonexistent. Instead, what has emerged from the conflict is a complex patchwork of ethnic, tribal and religious militias that claim fief over particular territories.Among the forces marshalling for the attack on Mosul, Mardini says, are
This was the case in liberated parts of Sinjar, where the massacre of Yazidis, a religious minority, perpetrated by the Islamic State with local Sunni collaborators compelled the United States to intervene militarily in 2014. Now the remaining Yazidi community is divided and militarized, with each militia backed by a different Kurdish faction, and each Kurdish faction in turn backed by a different regional power. . . . “ISIS changed everything,” one Yazidi man told me. “We can never trust Arabs again.”
Sunni Arab tribal militias looking to expand control over territory ahead of the next provincial elections; Shiite Turkmen militias aiming to cleanse Sunni Turkmens from the area; Shiite Arab militias seeking a bigger say in government; and Kurdish groups wishing to consolidate control over disputed territories. Behind all these is a prime minister who needs a victory to strengthen his weak hand in Baghdad. And behind him are Turkey and Iran, both maneuvering their armed proxies to extend their influence.It does seem like a real mess. But on the other hand I think the war is stoking these conflicts, and I don't see how they will ever settle down while the fighting against the Islamic State continues. Plus, reports coming out of Mosul suggest that as military tensions mount the Islamic State administration is becoming ever bloodier and more vicious, and it would be hard for anyone to decide to leave a million people in that situation indefinitely while the rest of Iraq sorts out its problems.