The Tragedy of Iraq's Sunnis Under ISIS

Sunni families in Iraq who are displaced because of the war with ISIS find it difficult to land in a safe place.

"Iraq is congested with armed men: Kurdish peshmerga in the north; forlorn Iraqi army troops strung across the country; ascendant Shia militia groups and volunteer Popular Mobilisation Forces in the centre; and, of course, fighters from so-called Islamic State in the west.

Civilians travelling through Iraq meet these disparate forms of authority at road checkpoints. They control who moves, who is allowed where. One group finds it harder than others to navigate this treacherous landscape and settle - Sunni Arabs

The slaughter and abuse of members of the far smaller Yazidi and Christian populations have drawn the world’s attention, but the majority of Iraq’s 3.2 million internally displaced people are Sunni Arabs who fled their homes when IS arrived

For them, sanctuary is elusive. Their heartlands are mostly on the frontline or in areas under IS control, while hostility from Shias, Kurds and others make it difficult for them to establish new lives elsewhere.

They are far from unified, but the vast majority do not support IS, even if, nominally at least, they belong to the same branch of Islam."


"Thousands of Sunni Arabs have no way of returning to their homes or nothing to return to. At the same time, the places they found to shelter in no longer want them.

Take Sa’ad. He pushes an ice-cream cart around Kirkuk city, one of more than 408,000 displaced people living in the governorate, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Like Hiam, Sa’ad is originally from Salah al-Din. After defeating IS, Shia militias took control of his area. Whilst credited with pushing back IS and protecting Baghdad, these fighters are feared by many Sunnis like Sa’ad, who worry they will be subjected to retribution. 

Agents of the Kurdish intelligence service, the Asayish, have told Sa’ad his family must leave Kirkuk by 1 September and confiscated his identification documents until they do so. 

Sa’ad’s house back in Salah al-Din was demolished. He doesn’t know whether to blame IS, Shia militias or the Iraqi army, but there is nowhere to take his family back to. “So I will just live in a tent,” he concluded, glumly. “But winter is coming. I am worried about my little son.”

Iraqi children, Sunnis, displaced because of the war with ISIS.

"In April 2015, Muntaher and her four-year-old son Saif finally came home to Husseini, in an area of northern Diyala now controlled by Kurdish peshmerga. The mixed Sunni-Shia village was occupied by IS for several months.

“Half my house was burned, the other half was exploded,” said Muntaher. Her parents’ house on the outskirts of the village had been used as a fortress by IS militants when Kurdish peshmerga attacked from the north.

Now their home is riddled with shrapnel and Saif plays in the blackened ruins of their kitchen. Chunks were knocked out of the perimeter wall. Stray dogs wander in.

At night, when peshmerga cars drive by, Saif asks, ‘Is it da’esh (the Arabic acronym for ISIL, a former name of IS)?’” said Muntaher.

Nonetheless, Muntaher is glad to be back. “I feel much more safe than when I was displaced,” she told IRIN. Muntaher had been forced out to Tuz Khurmatu, Salah al-Din. In January, two displaced Sunni Arab boys aged seven and nine were found shot dead near a riverside in Tuz: the town has become infamous for violence against Sunnis."


"For those displaced from towns like Jalula – where there is no option to return – the resentment of other Iraqis to their resettlement is infuriating. Sheikh Hadidi, leader of a Sunni Arab community in Kirkuk, told IRIN that the suspicion from others, while understandable, had led to excessive crackdowns.

Does he worry this will drive Sunnis towards radicalism, towards IS?

"Definitely… Some of them. They say that ‘if things  continue like they are and I have nothing to do here, I will try to find a channel to go back to join them. Returning to IS area. It’s much better than having no house, no money and no dignity here.’"

Read the complete story by Chloe Cornish at IRIN.

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The Tragedy of Iraq's Sunnis Under ISIS
The Tragedy of Iraq's Sunnis Under ISIS
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