Locals fight back in areas under IS control

Newly emerging ideological and social conflicts between the Islamic State and locals threaten what has been, until recently, safe harbors for the extremist group.

al-monitor A view of damaged shops in Deir ez-Zor, eastern Syria, April 3, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed al-Khalif.

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tribes, syria, islamic state, extremists

Aug 3, 2014

The recent developments in the regions controlled by the Islamic State (IS) raised questions concerning possible changes in the incubating environment of which this extremist group recently took advantage.

The course of events in these regions controlled by IS, from eastern Syria to the city of Mosul in Iraq, reached a crossroad represented by intriguing signs of a coup, aimed at weakening the already complex relationships between the group and elements of the local societies.

The tribe of Shiitat, from the countryside of Deir ez-Zor, started a local “rebellion” against IS. Violent clashes took place between the members of the tribe and militants of the extremist group. These clashes might reach the neighboring city of Sheheil that was, until recently, a Jabhat al-Nusra stronghold.

According to news from Deir ez-Zor, the veteran IS leader, Abu Omar al-Shishani, is heading a military campaign to suppress this rebellion. This indicates the seriousness of the situation for IS.

IS fears that the fact that its militants were busy fighting on the Hasakah front for the past couple of weeks might have pushed certain people, who were negatively affected by IS’ control over Deir ez-Zor, to seize the opportunity and rebel against it, especially in light of signs of these people forming armed groups.

There seems to be a link between the events in Deir ez-Zor and the clashes on the Hasakah front. It is even likely that there is certain coordination between the tribes in both cities, which are based on the same principle: eliminate IS and prevent its spreading.

In Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, a security source told As-Safir that during the past couple of days, eight IS members were killed under mysterious circumstances. Yet, the group is still secretive concerning these events.

A field commander, who introduced himself as Abu Muhammad, told As-Safir that locally formed armed groups, which include former soldiers and police officers, have assassinated several IS members.

He summarized the nature of the complex relationship between IS and the local social and political elements, saying, “At first, IS members gained the trust of the citizens and tried to assure them that they came to help relieve them, which appealed to the people. However, what actually happened was the complete opposite. It showed that the people who had entered Mosul were a group of murderers and thieves, far from being helpers.”

It is noteworthy that IS focused on finding an incubating environment in both Syria and Iraq, using different methods.

In Iraq, to gain the cover it needs to expand its control, the group took advantage of the ongoing clashes between the armed groups there, with their different affiliations (Baathist, Naqshbandi-affiliated and tribal) and the government. From the start, it was clear that there were serious conflicts on both ideological and social levels between IS and these elements, which prompted many to say that there is no escape from a clash between these “temporary allies.”

It has now become clear that the acts perpetrated by IS fighters in the Iraqi cities they control are violent, including the campaign to destroy the prophets’ shrines, displace Christians and attack cadres of the dissolved Baath Party and the Naqshbandi group. All these factors are pushing toward a social and political uprising that has started in the past few days.

In Syria, IS tried to gain the loyalty of the local tribes in eastern Syria by providing necessary guarantees after the citizens were abused and deprived of their land. The group went further in its mission and granted these tribes a share of the revenues from the oil fields it controls. However, it seems that this extremist group has, after its latest expansion, changed its plans, in addition to building borders and implementing Sharia, based on its unorthodox understanding of Islam. This has brought the conflicts between the group and the social elements in the region to the surface.

It is yet to be determined whether or not the recent developments between Deir ez-Zor and Mosul will lead to the weakening of IS’ incubating environment. We now wait to see the turn these course of events will take in this troubled region.

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