The Iraqi Sunnis who live under ISIS control may be preparing for a second “Sunni Awakening” after ISIS destroyed a treasured site of Mosul’s religious heritage.
ISIS concluded a recent campaign of destruction by bombing a shrine at the tomb of the prophet Jonah. Jonah was revered by Christians, Shias, and Sunnis alike, and the tomb’s public bombing has triggered a resistance campaign among Sunnis, according to the AFP. A group of students, businessmen, and young professionals have been joining Kataeb al-Mosul, the Mosul Brigades, to fight against ISIS. The group received both a new spirit and a new name with the bombing of the ancient tomb—the Nabi Yunus Army, after the prophet Jonah.
American officials have said before that ISIS relies on de facto support from Sunnis who do not like Maliki, meaning their sudden change of heart could be a turning point for Iraq. Likewise, officials have said that lingering anti-American sentiment from 2008 has become, on the streets of Iraq, a much warmer feeling altogether. Could this be another “Sunni Awakening,” as when, as in 2007, Iraqi Sunnis rise up on behalf of their own cause and against terrorism? It hearkens back to the first Iraq war, as Sunnis who had not previously supported American troops finally became so angry with al Qaeda groups that they turned on them. If history repeats itself, then for the first time this summer, the prospects for Iraq might look perhaps not brighter, but at least slightly less gloomy than before.
After all, Iraqi Sunnis had said all along that their alliance with ISIS was temporary. Most do not actually believe in the extremists’ twisted ideology or want to be ruled by it, but they viewed ISIS in an “any change is good” light because they were so frustrated with Maliki’s anti-Sunni policies. They were just letting ISIS do their dirty work, they claimed, while they waited for the “opportune moment.”
It appears that with the destruction of their cultural heritage, the opportune moment came sooner than expected. An officer told the AFP that snipers have begun picking off ISIS guards in Mosul. They have already killed four, perhaps five, guards, and told residents to stop cooperating with ISIS. Even among local jihad groups, the initial enthusiasm has turned to horror, as Iraqis have realized that ISIS is not a religious extremist group: it is a pack of destructive barbarians seeking power.
Even the Iraq Architects Society has commenced operations in Mosul with some success, according to the AFP:
When IS militants announced that the “hunchback” (Hadba), a 12th century minaret that leans like the Tower of Pisa, was next some residents formed a human chain to protect it, witnesses said.
“That might just be what turns it around,” said Patrick Skinner, an analyst with the US-based intelligence consultancy Soufan Group. “IS militants don’t have numbers on their side if enough people say enough,” he said. “There would be bloodshed, but they could kick IS out in hours.”
Maybe we’re just starved for good news from Iraq, but Jonah, whose astonishing emergence from the belly of a fish foretold Christ’s resurrection, would be a fitting symbol for an Iraqi awakening.