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Iraqi pollster: ISIS benefits from Sunni dissatisfaction

By Alix Hines, Medill News Service
Munqith al-Dagher (Alix Hines/MNS)
Munqith al-Dagher (Alix Hines/MNS)

WASHINGTON, June 27 (UPI) -- Sunni dissatisfaction with the Iraqi government and fears of more civil war are much greater than among the rest of the Iraqi population, showing the Malaki administration has more challenges than just the conflict with the terrorist group known as ISIS, one of Iraq's veteran pollsters said Thursday.

The Iraqi government is facing a general uprising of Sunni tribes, who experts say are fed up with government leadership that they see as depriving them of their rights and aligning too much with Iran, a Shia-led state.

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Munqith al-Dagher, an experienced Iraq pollster, suggested that, based on his research, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria -- ISIS, is only controlling 10-20 percent of Iraq. He said ISIS is in fact benefitting from Sunni dissatisfaction with Iraq's central government in Baghdad.

"Since 2011 when al-Qaida threat has been defeated between the cooperation of the Sunnis and the U.S. army -- since that time things became worse," Dagher said in a briefing at Freedom House.

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In his 2014 nationwide survey in Iraq, Dagher found that 65 percent of Iraqis are worried about the potential of a civil war and 90 percent of Sunnis surveyed expressed concern over a civil war.

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Charles Dunne, the director of Middle East and North Africa programs at the Freedom House, said the chaos in Syria, which created an ungoverned state, provided ISIS with a breeding ground for raising followers.

"I think the crux of the problem that we are witnessing right now in Iraq is the explosion of Sunni dissatisfaction with the Maliki government and in particular its security forces which are seen as oppressive occupiers in many places in the country, especially the Anbar province," Dunne said.

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A 2011 Pew Research survey of religious identity in Iraq found 42 percent of Iraqis identified as Sunni, 51 percent identified as Shia, 5 percent identified as just Muslim and 1 percent refused comment.

David Mack, a Middle East Institute Scholar and former deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, said the history of religious leadership in Iraq points to why this tension exists despite the new democratic system.

"The Sunnis are trying to recover from the fact that the Sunni-Arabs had a dominant role in Iraqi politics for a couple of centuries," Mack said.

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Sunni regimes controlled the Iraqi government, including the Ba'ath Party, on and off until Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003. Instead of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's one-man-band governing style, Mack said, the Iraqi central government needs to provide meaningful roles for minorities like Sunni-Arabs and Kurdish political leaders. "Minority populations do need to have their rights respected," Mack said.

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Neither ISIS nor armed groups can maintain stability in Sunni areas, Dagher said.

"The way (the government) has been used now, as an excuse to marginalize people or to prevent them from exercising their rights, this is not the right democracy," he said.

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