MESOP : THE LONG WAR JOURNAL / Prospect of sectarian slaughter challenges new Iraqi government

24 Aug 2014 10:13 AM PDTTwo days ago, more than 70 Sunnis were slaughtered at a mosque 160 kilomenters north of Baghdad. The attack at the Musab bin Omair Mosque in the village of Imam Wais in Diyala province has been blamed by some on Shia militiamen exacting revenge for a roadside bombing and combat losses, while other sources attribute the massacre to the Sunni Islamic State, noting that the attack began with a suicide bombing, a tactic typically employed by Sunni extremists in Iraq:

It was not immediately clear if the attack was carried out by Shiite militiamen or the Islamic State extremist group — also known as ISIS — which has been advancing into the ethnically and communally mixed Diyala province and has been known to kill fellow Sunni Muslims who refuse to submit to its leadership.

An army officer and a police officer said the attack on the Musab bin Omair Mosque in Imam Wais village, some 120 kilometres northeast of Baghdad, began with a suicide bombing near the entrance, after which gunmen poured in and opened fire on the worshippers.

The Islamic State is also known to massacre Sunnis who defy it, and the group is currently in conflict with two local tribes.

In protest against the attack, two major Sunni legislative blocs have halted talks on forming a new inclusive national government:

Sunni lawmakers quickly blamed the carnage on powerful Shiite militias out to avenge an earlier bombing, and two major Sunni parliamentary blocs pulled out of talks on forming a new Cabinet. The move creates a major hurdle for prime minister-designate Haider al-Abadi as he struggles to reach out to disaffected Sunnis to form a government that can confront the Islamic State extremists.

It remains to be seen how the impasse will be resolved, but the Islamic State’s strategy of fomenting sectarian war, first articulated and executed by Abu Musab al Zarqawi at the head of al Qaeda in Iraq in September 2005, remains in effect amid the high-profile clashes at Sinjar, Tikrit, and Mosul Dam. Bombings in Baghdad and Kirkuk killed 42 people yesterday. And Shia militias have reestablished their prominence in Baghdad and southern Iraq:

Since the initial collapse of the Iraqi military in the north, the government has relied on Shia militias in its war effort. Empowering these groups may have been the only way to hold back the ISIS advance but it has blurred the lines between state and sectarian power, defense and revenge.