March 4, 2015 | Quote

Militants Stubbornly Resist Tikrit Offensive

Recent Jihadi abductions of Iraqi Christians have prompted disgust among some of their Baathist allies, adding to internal frictions within the alliance, say analysts and Kurdish military officials. They fear the offensive to reclaim Tikrit — the hometown of former Iraqi strongman Hussein, who was toppled by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion — will drive the Baathists and militants closer together.

“The assault will instead reduce tensions by giving IS and the ex-Baathists a common cause while the assault is occurring. This is especially true because of the presence of Shia militias in the assault, who regularly commit atrocities against Sunnis,” predicted Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, an American counter-terrorism analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington, D.C.-based group.

Analyst Gartenstein-Ross does see it as a problem — despite the assurances given to Tikrit Sunnis by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has promised amnesty for tribal fighters who break with the extremists, saying it is their “last chance” to ally with the government. He said the involvement of the Shia militias will act as a unifying principle for the Sunni alliance.

He identified “paranoia” as Islamic State's biggest short-term weakness, noting that in recent weeks there have been multiple purges within the group.

“One of the most promising vulnerabilities to exploit in ISIL is its tendency to eat its own. That should be accentuated and drawn out wherever possible,” said Gartenstein-Ross. The Tikrit assault diverges from the strategy.

He argued that an underlining strategy of the coalition against the militants should involve a psychological warfare campaign crafted to accentuate schisms.

“Including the use of disinformation, publicizing ISIL defectors, as well as arguments within the ranks,” said Gartenstein-Ross. “Coalition military operations should avoid striking ex-Baathist targets, thus sending a signal to both ISIL and the ex-Baathists at once.”

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