Abstract: The severe weakening between 2008 and 2011 of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the name al-Qa`ida in Iraq (AQI) had given itself in 2006, provides lessons for the current campaign against its successor, the Islamic State. The key to the earlier success was the United States’ ability to win the support of Sunni Arab tribes. This dynamic has proven more difficult to achieve today for a variety of reasons, including a lack of U.S. troops on the ground to temper discord and distrust between Shi`a-dominated Baghdad and the Sunnis as well as the decision not to confront Assad militarily in Syria. In addition, the Islamic State has been much more successful in monopolizing power in its core area than AQI/ISI ever was. Nevertheless, the most important reason for the eventual Sunni backlash against ISI—its brutal attempt to dominate Sunnis—is a dynamic still present in areas under Islamic State control today, providing an opportunity for the coalition to shrink the Sunni support base on which the group depends. But the radicalization of a generation by war and Islamic State brainwashing means that unless the underlying root causes of Sunni disenfranchisement are addressed and even if the Islamic State is defeated militarily in the coming months and years, the group could reemerge in new forms.

The dramatic rise of the Islamic State since 2013 has led to an intense debate over how to defeat the group. In this dialogue, however, it is not always understood that the organization has a long history and one of its earlier incarnations came close to defeat. Following its establishment in 2004, al-Qa`ida in Iraq (AQI) rapidly increased its size and influence, especially in the Sunni-dominated Anbar Province. In August 2006, two months before AQI announced the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq (Dawlat al-Iraq al-Islamiyya), U.S. intelligence sources reported that it “was the dominant organization of influence in Anbar.”[1] Two years later, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) had lost its foothold in Anbar and experienced a dramatic reduction in its strength and activity, as documented in ISI’s own statistics.[a] Upbeat assessments concluded that the group had been defeated, but as the rise of the Islamic State has demonstrated, it was too optimistic to think the group had been defeated for good.[2] Still, the dramatic comeback of the Islamic State does not diminish the fact that the organization was weakened between 2008 and 2011 and was not able to control any territory.[b] The comeback of the Islamic State does, however, raise the specter that even if the current campaign succeeds and the organization is yet again diminished, it might reappear in one form or another in a few years. This article examines the reasons for the fall of ISI and examines what lessons exist for the current offensive against the Islamic State.[3]

The Importance of Sunni Arab Allies
The 2007 U.S. surge during the Iraq War, when an additional 20,000 troops were deployed to the theater, has been cited as one of the most important reasons for ISI’s fall.[4] As such, the argument for increased boots on the ground has also been put forward in the discussion on how to defeat the Islamic State.[5] Although the surge was important for the reduction of violence in Iraq, it should not be forgotten that AQI/ISI was established and became one of the most active and successful regional al-Qa`ida affiliates in the history of that organization despite the presence of over 100,000 U.S. troops, which had as one of their stated missions to fight and defeat al-Qa`ida in Iraq.[c]

What the early U.S. effort lacked was not additional boots on the ground but good intelligence and local allies that could help distinguish between the civilian population and the insurgents.[6] Instead, the United States’ initial blanket approach toward the Sunni Arabs only increased their unwillingness to cooperate and drove some of them into the hands of AQI, who made repeated attempts to mobilize the Sunni Arabs, to include via vows that they would avenge what they alleged were atrocities committed by U.S. troops.[7]

The key to the defeat of ISI, particularly in Anbar, was an increased willingness and ability by the United States to give protection to those local Sunni Arab tribal and insurgent leaders who rebelled against ISI because of the group’s brutal coercion of the local population.[8] The combination of the local knowledge of the tribes who turned against ISI and the additional U.S. troops proved devastating for the terrorist group. By protecting and fighting side-by-side with the Sunni Arabs, U.S. forces demonstrated a commitment that helped them gain the trust of the Sunni Arabs, at least temporarily. Additionally, by offering or promising increased Sunni Arab participation in Iraq’s Security Forces, the United States also addressed one of the root causes for the conflict in Iraq. The presence of U.S. troops also dampened discord between Sunni and Shi`a factions, which exploded into view in a wave of Sunni protests and government crackdowns after their withdrawal.[9]

Given the nature of the current conflict and offensive, it might be impossible to repeat the success of the Anbar Sahwa (Awakening) because the counterinsurgency landscape is markedly different now. Sectarian tensions have grown, and the United States has no regular combat presence there. But as several analysts have argued, the ongoing offensive could have done more to get the Sunni Arabs onboard.[10] Sunnis have been angered by allegations of atrocities committed by Shi`a militias, and there has been lackluster progress in integrating Sunnis into Iraqi military structures.[11][d] Furthermore, it will continue to be difficult to motivate Syrian Sunni Arab rebels to fight against the Islamic State as long as the current coalition does not commit to fight against their primary enemy, the regime of Bashar al-Assad.[12] Moreover, both Syrian and Iraqi Sunni Arabs who have been fighting against the Islamic State have repeatedly complained that they have not been given proper protection by the coalition from revenge attacks by the Islamic State or from Syrian, Iraqi, and Russian bombardments.[13] Poor coordination and lack of assistance to the Syrian rebels trained by U.S. forces have also been cited as important reasons for the failure of this effort.[14]

Achilles’ Heel 
Although the landscape may be different now, the Islamic State and its predecessor organizations, AQI and ISI, have sought both to dominate Sunni populations in areas under their control and  to eradicate competing actors. There is broad consensus this was one of the most important reasons that tribal and insurgent leaders rebelled initially against AQI, and it could yet lead Sunnis in Iraq and Syria to rise up against the Islamic State.[15] Some have argued that this behavior is part of the “ideological DNA” of groups like AQI, ISI, and the Islamic State, and therefore they are more or less doomed to failure.[16] Although ideology is not the only factor[e] explaining this dynamic, it is possible to identify a kind of pattern in the history and life cycle of AQI/ISI/Islamic State indicating that periods of decline are, to some extent, embedded in the aggression that was key to their previous success.[17]

There are several examples in their history when the groups’ presence was initially tolerated and even welcomed by other Sunni Arab actors so long as they did not seek to become the dominant actor and they contributed to the fight against a common enemy, be it U.S. forces in Fallujah in April 2004, the Maliki-regime in 2014, or to some extent initially the Syrian regime in 2013. These alliances between local Sunni actors and the jihadis of AQI, ISI, and the Islamic State were held together more by the actions of their enemies than by any ideological affinity.[18]

The same dynamics have also been partially present in the current offensive against the Islamic State, as from a Sunni Arab perspective there is some sense of déjà vu. An international coalition, allied with Shiite and Kurdish militias, are again pitted against a brutal and tyrannical Sunni Arab actor, recalling the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that initially gave rise to AQI. Despite the fact that most Sunni Arabs do not have any affection for the Islamic State, they do fear negative consequences of the offensive itself and who will fill the vacuum following the eventual departure of the Islamic State. Reports that the Kurdish and Shiite militias have displaced, abused, and executed Sunni Arabs have made some Sunnis believe that the Islamic State might be the best alternative for the time being.[19]

As long as no credible Sunni Arab alternative exists that can promise the population some sort of safety, there will be at least a degree of passive support for the Islamic State. During the Iraq War, for example, populations living in cities recently liberated of ISI’s presence were reluctant to cooperate with U.S. forces because they could not guarantee that ISI would not return and brutally retaliate against those they would accuse of cooperating with the enemy.[20]

Time and time again, when their common enemy withdrew, ISI and the Islamic State turned against their erstwhile allies and systematically attempted to establish a monopoly of violence by targeting competing actors and those who did not submit to the group’s authority. The establishment of the first Islamic State of Iraq in 2006, the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in 2013, and the declaration of the caliphate in 2014 are all illustrations of how the organization has tried to translate military victories into political victories while insisting on a dominant and authoritarian position.

Islamic State attempts to become the dominant actor have also generated Sunni Arab resistance and spurred them to turn against the group, as when Sunni Arab rebels successfully fought against the Islamic State in western Syria in January 2014. Similarly, one of the main reasons why Sunni Arab insurgents turned against AQI in 2006 was the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq, as they claimed the group attacked insurgents and other Sunni Arabs who did not acknowledge the authority of that state.[21] As Sunni Arabs began to turn against ISI, the organization tried to force the Sunni community to support its efforts, which only increased the Sunni Arabs’ willingness to cooperate with U.S. forces. This drew ISI into a spiral of violence against the Sunni community that turned into such a vortex that in September 2007, ISI announced they would prioritize attacking Sunnis who had turned against them.[22][f]

The notion that groups like AQI, ISI, and the Islamic State are doomed to failure if only left to their own devices is the basic assumption behind a containment strategy. The logic is that their internal failings are more likely to defeat the group than external military forces.[23] While the history of AQI, ISI, and the Islamic State suggests the group may sow the seeds of its own collapse, a containment strategy can only be effective and sustained if there is a political alternative to the Islamic State that meets the aspirations and security needs of Sunni Arabs.[24]

A New Sunni Awakening in Mosul and Raqqa?
A crucial difference between AQI/ISI and the Islamic State that makes it more challenging to convince the Sunni Arabs to break with the Islamic State, is that the latter has been able to eradicate competing actors and establish a monopoly of violence to a much greater extent. Although AQI/ISI was one of the most influential groups within the larger Sunni Arab insurgency, it had to coexist and compete with several other Sunni Arab insurgent groups. In contrast, although the Islamic State initially coexisted with other insurgent organizations, the group has been able to establish itself over time as the principal authority over much of the Sunni Arab-dominated areas of Iraq and Syria.[25]

This dominance by the Islamic State and the lack of a vastly superior enemy (a large U.S. ground force, for example) means the Islamic State could afford to establish some degree of partnership with the local population without worrying about informants compromising their operations. Although the Islamic State, like AQI and ISI, has behaved in a highly brutal manner and ruled by force, it has also offered the local population more positive incentives than AQI/ISI ever did, and it has succeeded in establishing a more permanent presence and infrastructure as it was not confronted by a superior military force driving them to relocate constantly.[26]

This, in combination with the fact that the Islamic State was seen as a temporarily useful ally against a common enemy, helps explain why the Islamic State was at least initially welcomed and has had more popular support than AQI/ISI.[27] The Islamic State’s brutality against those who dare challenge its authority, and the dearth of forces that can protect those who do, makes it more difficult to replicate the success against ISI. But as with ISI, local populations’ resistance against the group increased after it had consolidated control, imposed its draconian laws, and executed the disobedient.[28] And as the military offensive against the Islamic State has hurt it both economically and territorially, the group has had to rely more and more on force against the local population, thus increasing opposition.[29]

The military pressure against the Islamic State and its loss of territorial control might also propel many of its supporters to turn against the group if they are convinced that the Islamic State is going to be the losing party. This was one of the reasons that ISI lost its foothold so rapidly.[30] It created a snowball effect, as explained in a journal entry by a local ISI commander in Diyala in which he described how his group of about 600 men had been reduced to less than 20 due to defection to the Sahwa or desertion.[31] This development was strengthened by a tribal reconciliation process where former Iraqi AQI/ISI members were reintegrated into their tribes.[32] Likewise, as the Islamic State has been pushed back and hurt economically, there have been growing reports of both foreign and local fighters who have defected or want to defect from the Islamic State.[33] The Islamic State is also not as cohesive and unified an organization as it portrays itself in its propaganda, and there have been increasing reports of tensions between different constituencies within the group.[34]

All this indicates that there now exists an opportunity to convince Sunni Arabs supporting or living under the rule of the Islamic State to turn against it, so long as military measures are combined with political efforts to integrate Sunnis. Most surveys of Sunni Arab support for AQI/ISI/the Islamic State have found that they support the group due to insecurity, fear, and long-standing grievances.[35] The Islamic State could be undermined by providing the less ideologically motivated rank-and-file members and supporters with some sort of exit strategy.[36] One reason the Sahwa phenomenon was successful is that it provided the insurgents with an ‘honorable’ exit strategy, helping them participate in a political process that had previously been denied to them.

In places such as Raqqa and Mosul, one source of Sunni recalcitrance in breaking with the Islamic State is fear and loathing of Shi`a and Kurdish forces, fueled by allegations that these actors are attempting to redraw territorial boundaries and lay waste to Sunni areas under the pretext of fighting the Islamic State.[37] These fears have only been compounded by the Islamic State’s relentless propaganda drive to demonize its enemies in the areas under its control.

As this analysis has made clear, in order to win hearts and minds, it will be important to increase the protection of Sunni Arab civilians in territories that recently have been liberated from the Islamic State. Many inhabitants of areas controlled by the Islamic State do not believe the coalition will provide them with protection from their liberators, be they Kurdish or Shiite militants, or Iraqi or Syrian governmental forces, whom they believe will punish anyone thought to have cooperated with the Islamic State.[38] Much greater integration of Sunnis into the Iraqi military and more involvement of Sunni tribal fighters in clear-and-hold operations would make a big difference.[g] An increase in reconstruction funds for the liberated towns in ruins would also help win Sunni hearts and minds.[39] There are indications that the rebuilding process has been far too slow and that the focus on the military campaign comes at the expense of planning for the political and stabilization phase.[40] One concrete measure that would help improve the situation for the local population and help restore some order and normalcy would be to assist Iraq in clearing its large number of landmines.[41]

Addressing Root Causes 
Despite the fact that both AQI/ISI and the Islamic State have skillfully and ruthlessly exploited conflicts, it is important to note that they are primarily a consequence and not a cause of these conflicts. This also means that they are, to some extent, dependent on the existence of conflict in order to thrive. This is illustrated by the rise and fall of AQI/ISI. The group flourished when the security situation deteriorated, aided in part by their own campaign of suicide attacks, and conversely when the Sunni Arabs’ feeling of security improved, AQI/ISI found it much more difficult to thrive.[h] It is no coincidence that the organization was at its weakest during the relative optimism in Iraq between 2008 and 2010. Likewise, the primary reason for the dramatic rise of the Islamic State is the Syrian civil war and also Iraq’s escalating political conflict following the withdrawal of U.S. forces in December 2011. These events have resulted in the fragmentation of authority in the contiguous Sunni Arab-dominated areas of Iraq and Syria, the traditional core areas of the Islamic State and AQI/ISI.[42]

But the rise of the Islamic State is also a product of the long-term, devastating impact of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq on civilians. A 2008 report found that as many as 47 percent of the households in Anbar Province had experienced a member killed between 2006 and 2008 and that a large share of children in the province grew up without their fathers.[43] Iraq has also been ranked one of the most corrupt countries in the world for several consecutive years, and there has been a long-standing, cross-sectarian distrust of the Iraqi government.[44] Twenty percent of the population in Iraq is between 15 and 24 years and thus were between two and 11 years old at the time of the 2003 invasion. This generation has been formed by the harrowing experience of growing up during a violent and sectarian conflict, where fear, insecurity, and mutual sectarian distrust was  prevalent.[45] Especially for Sunni Arab youth, the future looks bleak with dim prospects for a career or political influence and a deeply ingrained distrust of the Shi`a-dominated central government that brutally cracked down on Sunni Arabs who protested against the government.[46] The Islamic State has recruited effectively among this disempowered generation and especially among the growing prison population.[47] In addition, in strongholds like Raqqa and Mosul, the Islamic State has sought to impose a new socio-political order that has been particularly observable in its attempt to train the younger generation to be ideal citizens of a utopian state.[48]

If these deep currents that have propelled AQI, ISI, and the Islamic State are not properly addressed, the group might reappear in a different incarnation even if it is defeated. It might be unrealistic to expect the coalition to fix all of the root causes.[49] But for humanitarian reasons and the prevention of an Islamic State comeback, significant attention should be paid to the effects that the ongoing conflicts have had on the local populace.[i]

The Future Threat 
The Islamic State has demonstrated its ability to regenerate and change shape. A consistent feature of AQI/ISI and the Islamic State is their switching between being a terrorist group without territorial control and an insurgent group with territorial control. When the organization has been weak or weakened, it has moved underground and resorted to its signature terrorist and suicide attacks, but as its strength (and hubris) has increased, it has operated out in the open and even engaged in conventional warfare, defending its territorial claims.

It has been rightly pointed out that territorial control is perhaps the most important source of legitimacy for the Islamic State, particularly for its claims of statehood.[50] However, one of the main strengths of its predecessor, AQI/ISI, which made it such a formidable foe, was its mobility. The U.S. fight against AQI/ISI was therefore sometimes likened to a game of whack-a-mole or the squeezing of a balloon, where military pressure against AQI/ISI in one area only pushed it into another.[51] One of the primary strengths of the Islamic State is its ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and there are already indications it is compensating for its loss of territorial control with an increased campaign of terrorism, both locally and internationally.[52] If the Islamic State loses control of urban centers like Raqqa and Mosul, it will likely hide in the deserts or go underground among the urban population and plan a terror campaign that could well lead to yet another comeback. This makes it imperative to establish a good relationship with the Sunni Arabs in order to improve intelligence on the whereabouts of the remnants of the group.[53]

One thing seems inevitable regardless of the degree of political reconciliation that materializes in Syria and Iraq. Just as the fall of the Taliban sanctuary in Afghanistan led to the establishment of new affiliates of al-Qa`ida, the fall of ISI led several of its foreign fighters to relocate and join or establish other jihadist groups in the Middle East.[j] Given the unprecedentedly high number of foreign fighters in the ranks of the Islamic State and the geographical spread of the group throughout the region, the odds that some of these foreign fighters will relocate and engage in international terrorism or join jihadist groups outside of Iraq and Syria are fairly high.

The conclusion Brian Fishman made about ISI back in 2011 will most likely hold true for several years to come, even if the Islamic State loses most or all of its territory: “Viewed as an insurgent organization, the ISI has been defeated. Viewed as a transnational terrorist group, it is vibrant.”[54]

Truls Hallberg Tønnessen, Ph.D., is a research fellow at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) and currently a visiting scholar at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University. Follow @trulstonnessen

The author wishes to thank Paul Cruickshank and Brynjar Lia for their considerable editorial input on early drafts of this article.

Substantive Notes
[a] From August 1-15, 2007, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) recorded 65 attacks in Anbar, while this declined to 16 attacks during the next two weeks. ISI claimed responsibility for just one attack in Anbar during September, and the trend toward a negligible number of attacks in the province continued in 2007 and 2008. At the same time, the statistics from ISI reported a marked increase in activity in Baghdad and Diyala. “The Bimonthly Results – Report No. 33,” Islamic State of Iraq, posted on Shabakat Ikhlas, and accessed November 12, 2007; “The Bimonthly Results – Report No. 44,” Islamic State of Iraq, posted on Muntadayat Shabakat al-Hisbah and accessed April 16, 2008. See also Nibras Kazimi, “Fascinating: The Jihadists Admit Defeat in Iraq,” Talisman Gate, May 15, 2008.

[b] According to an intelligence estimate, ISI had lost 95 percent of its strength when the last of U.S. forces left Iraq in 2011. Bryan Price, Dan Milton, Muhammad al-`Ubaydi, and Nelly Lahoud, The Group That Calls Itself a State: Understanding the Evolution and Challenges of the Islamic State (West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center, 2014), p. 79.

[c] Between April 2003 and February 2010 the number of U.S. troops was constantly over 100,000. In February 2010 it was reduced to 96,000. See the overview of the number of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq in Michael E. O’Hanlon and Ian Livingston, “Iraq Index- Tracking Variables of Reconstruction & Security in Post-Saddam Iraq,” Brookings Institution, January 31, 2011, p. 13. See also Alan McLean and Archie Tse, “American Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq,” New York Times, June 22, 2011.

[d] According to a Zogby poll released last November, only five percent of the Sunni Arabs in Iraq have confidence in the leadership of the central government in Baghdad. “Middle East 2015 – Current and Future Challenges,” Zogby Research Services, November 2015.

[e] There are other factors that have set up AQI/ISI/Islamic State for failure. The more they grow, for example, the more difficult it is to operate clandestinely and securely, as evidenced by the recent retrieval of a large number of Islamic State foreign fighter registration forms.

[f] In its statements, the group generally placed more emphasis on legitimizing attacks against Sunni Arabs during this period than in earlier years, when the focus had been more on attacking the Shi`a, U.S. forces, and other alleged collaborators with the occupation.

[g] It should be noted that there are at least some positive indications of increased participation of Sunni Arabs in the offensive against the Islamic State. Mark Perry, “Get Ready for Obama’s ‘October Surprise’ in Iraq,” Politico, August 1, 2016.

[h] This is illustrated by the “Where Things Stand” (WTS) series, consisting of six polls conducted in Iraq from 2004 to 2009. For more on this series, see “Afghanistan and Iraq Polls: Where Things Stand,” ABC News, January 11, 2010.

[i] The importance of addressing these root causes in order to avoid a new incarnation of the Islamic State is illustrated in a recent study of why young Syrians join extremist group, which cited lack of economic opportunity, experiences of violence and trauma, and degradation of education infrastructure as the primary drivers. “Why young Syrians choose to fight – Vulnerability and Resilience to Recruitment by Violent Extremist Groups in Syria,” International Alert, 2016.

[j] Studies of the Lebanese Fatah al-Islam have, for instance, found that former AQI members and other veterans who had left Iraq in disappointment were central in establishing the group. See Tine Gade, Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon: Between Global and Local Jihad (Kjeller: Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, 2007) and Nir Rosen, “Al-Qaeda in Lebanon,” Boston Review, January-February 2008.

[1] “State of the Insurgency in al-Anbar,” I MEF G-2, Secret//Rel MCFI//20310816, via Washington Post, August 17, 2006.

[2] “Al-Qaeda Near Defeat in Iraq, on Defensive Globally: CIA Chief,” Agence France-Presse, May 30, 2008; Thomas E. Ricks and Karen DeYoung, “Al-Qaeda In Iraq Reported Crippled,” Washington Post, October 15, 2007; “U.S. Defence Chief Sees al Qaeda ‘Last Gasp’ in Iraq,” Reuters, April 7, 2009.

[3] These insights and lessons are based on the author’s doctoral thesis, “Al-Qaida in Iraq: The Rise, the Fall and the Comeback,” University of Oslo, 2014.

[4] See discussion in Stephen Biddle, Jeffrey A. Friedman, and Jacob N. Shapiro, “Testing the Surge – Why Did Violence Decline in Iraq in 2007?” International Security 37:1 (2012): pp. 7-40 and “Correspondence: Assessing the Synergy Thesis in Iraq,” International Security 38:4 (2013): pp. 181-184.

[5] Kori Schake, “The Inherent Fallacy of Believing We Can Beat the Islamic State Without U.S. Ground Troops,” Foreign Policy, April 20, 2016; James Jeffrey, “How to Defeat ISIS: The Case for U.S. Ground Forces,” Foreign Affairs, January 4, 2016.

[6] Colonel Sean MacFarland cited in William Doyle, A Soldier’s Dream: Captain Travis Patriquin and the Awakening of Iraq, (New York: New American Library, 2012), p. 155.

[7] “Statement from Tanzim al-Qa`ida Denounces Raids of Muslim Houses in Abu Ghraib and Promises Retaliation,” signed by Abu Maysarah al-Iraqi, May 23, 2005, posted on Muntadayat al-Hikmah and accessed May 23, 2005; Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, “Statement to Umma,” May 11, 2004, printed in “The Electronic Book of al-Jama`at al-Tawhid wa’l-Jihad,” Global Islamic Media Front, October 2004, via Shabakat al-Akhbar al-’Alamiyya and accessed August 29, 2005. For more on the role of humiliation, see Victoria Fontan, “Polarization between Occupier and Occupied in Post-Saddam Iraq: Colonial Humiliation and the Formation of Political Violence,” Terrorism and Political Violence 18:2 (2006): pp. 217-238.

[8] Brian Fishman, “Dysfunction and Decline: Lessons Learned from Inside al-Qa’ida in Iraq,” (West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center, 2009), pp. 1-2; Mohammed M. Hafez, “Al-Qa’ida Losing Ground in Iraq,” CTC Sentinel 1:1 (2007): p. 7; Andrew Phillips, “How al Qaeda Lost Iraq,” Australian Journal of International Affairs 63:1 (2009).

[9] Make or Break: Iraq’s Sunnis and the State, International Crisis Group, 2013; Stephen Wicken, Iraq’s Sunnis in Crisis, Institute for the Study of War, 2013; Kirk H. Sowell, “Iraq’s Second Sunni Insurgency,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology 17 (2014).

[10] Ilan Goldenberg, Paul Scharre, and Nicholas Heras, Defeating the Islamic State: A Bottom-Up Approach, Center for New American Security, 2016.

[11] “HRW: Iraq’s Pro-govt Militias Abusing Sunnis, Civilians,” Al Arabiya, February 16, 2015.

[12] Linda Robinson, “Assessment of the Politico-Military Campaign to Counter ISIL and Options for Adaptation,” RAND Corporation, 2016; Julian Pecquet, “Fundamental fallacy’ in Obama’s plan to arm Syrian rebels?” Al-Monitor, September 16, 2014.

[13] Abdallah al-Othman, “Fighting for Aleppo, Abandoned by the World,” Foreign Policy, February 17, 2016; Liz Sly, “Syria Tribal Revolt against Islamic State Ignored, Fueling Resentment,” Washington Post, October 20, 2014.

[14] Robinson; Holly Williams, “Syrian Rebel Commander on Why U.S. Training Program Failed,” CBS News, September 29, 2015.

[15] Phillips, p. 73; Najim Abdel al-Jabouri and Sterling Jensen, “The Iraqi and AQI Roles in The Sunni Awakening,” PRISM 2:1 (2010): pp. 5-6; Hafez, p. 6.

[16] Peter Bergen, “After the War in Iraq: What Will the Foreign Fighters Do?” in Brian Fishman ed., Bombers, Bank Accounts, & Bleedout: Al-Qa’ida’s Road in and out of Iraq (West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center, 2008), p. 114; Hafez, p. 8; Phillips, p. 78.

[17] Jacob Shapiro, “Bureaucratic Terrorists: Al-Qa’ida in Iraq’s Management and Finances,” in Brian Fishman ed., Bombers, Bank Accounts, & Bleedout: al-Qa’ida’s Road in and out of Iraq (West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center, 2008), pp. 66-80; Brian Fishman, Dysfunction and Decline: Lessons Learned from Inside al-Qaʿida in Iraq (West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center, 2009), pp. 10-16; Austin Long, “The Anbar Awakening,” Survival 50:2 (2008), pp. 77-78.

[18] Victoria Fontan, “Polarization between Occupier and Occupied in Post-Saddam Iraq: Colonial Humiliation and the Formation of Political Violence,” Terrorism and Political Violence 18:2 (2006): p. 235; Iraq: Falluja’s Faustian Bargain, International Crisis Group, 2014; Truls Hallberg Tønnessen, “The Islamic Emirate of Fallujah,” paper presented at ISA conference, Montreal, March 16-19, 2011. See also Ben Hubbard, “Iraq and U.S. Find Some Potential Sunni Allies Have Already Been Lost,” New York Times, November 15, 2014.

[19] “Iran-backed Militias did Horrific Things after Helping Drive ISIS from Saddam Hussein’s Hometown,” Reuters, April 3, 2015; Ben Wedeman, “ISIS or the Kurds? Some Arabs Wonder Which is Worse,” CNN, May 25, 2016; andBanished and Dispossessed: Forced Displacement and Deliberate Destruction in Northern Iraq,” Amnesty International, 2016.

[20] “Interview 15, Turning the Tide, Part 1 – Major General Walter E. Gaskin Sr. Commanding General II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) Multi National Force • West February 2007 to February 2008,” in Timothy S. McWilliams and Kurtis P. Wheeler eds., Al-Anbar Awakening Volume I: American Perspectives U.S. Marines and Counterinsurgency in Iraq, 2004-2009, (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps University, 2009), pp. 214-225; Carter Malkasian, “Did The United States Need More Forces in Iraq?” Defence Studies 8:1 (2008): pp. 78-104; Long, pp. 75, 79.

[21] Hafez, p. 6; Phillips, p. 65; Lydia Khalil, “Divisions within the Iraqi Insurgency,” Terrorism Monitor, 5:7 (2007); “Jihad and Change Front ‘Answers’ on Issues, ‘Constants’, Positions,” Jihadist Websites — OSC Summary, March 22, 2008.

[22] “Islamic State of Iraq Gives Priority to Targeting Sunnis Who Turned Against State,” Jihadist Websites — OSC Summary, September 6, 2007.

[23] Clint Watts, “Let Them Rot: The Challenges and Opportunities of Containing rather than Countering the Islamic State,” Perspectives on Terrorism 9:4 (2015).

[24] Ibid.

[25] Aymenn al-Tamimi, “Iraq Needs Unity, Not Partition,” Daily Beast, June 27, 2014; Abdallah Suleiman Ali, “ISIS Prefers Allegiance, not Allies, in Iraq,” Al-Monitor, June 17, 2014.

[26] For a description of governance of Islamic State, see Charles C. Caris & Samuel Reynolds, ISIS Governance in Syria, Institute for the Study of War, 2014 and Aaron Zelin, “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Has a Consumer Protection Office,” Atlantic, June 13, 2014.

[27] Khales Joumah, “Mosul Is ‘Safe, Clean’…and Run by ISIS,” Daily Beast, June 15, 2015.

[28] Scott Atran, “On the Front Line Against ISIS: Who Fights, Who Doesn’t, and Why,” Daily Beast, April 19, 2016.

[29] “M Is For Resistance: In Mosul, Locals Wage Psychological Warfare Against Extremists,” Niqash, August 4, 2016.

[30] Damien McElroy, “Iraq Insurgency: al-Qa’eda returns Home,” Telegraph, October 12, 2007; David Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerrilla – Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 164.

[31] “Statement by the Emir of al-Layin and al-Mashadhdah Sector,” released by the Combating Terrorism Center, West Point, NY.

[32] McElroy.

[33] Josie Ensor, “Growing Number of Western Isil Fighters Trying to Defect as Losses Mount in Syria and Iraq,” Telegraph, June 7, 2016; Dominic Tierney, “ISIS and the ‘Loser Effect,’” Atlantic, April 28, 2016.

[34] Liz Sly, “Islamic State Appears to be Fraying from Within,” Washington Post, March 8, 2015; Jami Dettmer, “ISIS Barbarians Face Their Own Internal Reign of Terror,” Daily Beast, June 2, 2015; “Islamic State Struggling with in-fighting among Foreign Jihadists,” Telegraph, February 20, 2015.

[35] The Military Campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant: Arab Public Opinion (Doha: Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, 2014); Munqith al-Dagher, “How Iraqi Sunnis Really Feel about the Islamic State,” Washington Post, March 24, 2015.

[36] For more, see Ben Jonsson and Andrew Hill, “Talking to the Islamic State: Co-opting Jihadists Into a Political Process,” War on the Rocks, May 3, 2016.

[37] “Banished and Dispossessed;” “After Liberation Came Destruction: Iraqi Militias and the Aftermath of Amerli,” Human Rights Watch, 2015.

[38] Mustafa Habib, “A New Awakening: Why Aren’t Anbar’s Locals Fighting Extremists?” Niqash, April 14, 2016; “Why Mosul’s Sunnis Find Islamic State Death Squads the Lesser of Two Evils,” The Age, January 21, 2016.

[39] Stephen Kalin, “Islamic State Battle Turns Iraq’s Ramadi into Ghost Town,” Reuters, January 18, 2016; “Beating ISIS in Battle Leaves Bigger Test for Iraq,” CBS News, April 5, 2016; “Does Iraq Have a Plan for After the Islamic State?” Council on Foreign Relations, July 12, 2016.

[40] See, for instance, the story of Saadiya in northern Iraq in Tommy Trenchard, “Either You Join ISIL or You Challenge them,” Al Jazeera, July 23, 2016. See also Robert S. Ford, “The Next Challenge: Governing Liberated Cities after ISIS,” Middle East Institute, June 28, 2016 and Hardin Lang, “We Need to Plan Now for the Day ISIS Is Defeated,” Newsweek, August 8, 2016.

[41] Mustafa Saadoun, “Landmines Hinder Return of Displaced to Iraq’s Ramadi,” Al-Monitor, April 29, 2016; Ibrahim Malazada, “Can Iraq Overcome its Land Mine Infestation?” Al-Monitor, July 29, 2016.

[42] Make or Break: Iraq’s Sunnis and the State, International Crisis Group, 2013; Wicken; and Kirk H. Sowell, “Iraq’s Second Sunni Insurgency,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology 17 (2014): pp. 39-69.

[43] Keith Crane et al., Living Conditions in Anbar Province in June 2008, RAND Corporation, 2009.

[44] “Corruption Perceptions Index 2015,” Transparency International, 2015.

[45] Fight or Flight: The Desperate Plight of Iraq’s “Generation 2000,” International Crisis Group, 2016.

[46] Fight or Flight; Marina Ottaway and Danial Ayas Kaysi, Iraq: Protest, Democracy and Autocracy, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 28, 2011; “Days of Rage – Protest and Repression in Iraq,” Amnesty International, 2011; Marissa Sullivan, Maliki’s Authoritarian Regime, Institute for the Study of War, 2013.

[47] Wassim Bassem, “Money, power draw young Iraqis to IS,” Al-Monitor, August 12, 2014; Myriam Benraad, “Prisons in Iraq: A New Generation of Jihadists?” CTC Sentinel 2:12 (2009): pp. 16-18.

[48] Benedetta Berti and Axel Bea Osete,Generation War”: Syria’s Children Caught between Internal Conflict and the Rise of the Islamic State,” Strategic Assessment 18:3 (2015): pp. 45-56; “The Children of Islamic State,” Quilliam Foundation, 2016.

[49] James Jeffrey, “Leave Root Causes Aside—Destroy the ISIS ‘State,’” Atlantic, April 29, 2016.

[50] Jessica D. Lewis, The Islamic State: A Counter-Strategy for a Counter-State, Institute for Study of War, 2014.

[51] William Safire, “Whack-A-Mole,” New York Times, October 29, 2006; “As U.S. Focuses on Baghdad, al-Qaeda Gains Strength in Sunni Heartland,” Associated Press, August 16, 2006.

[52] Andrew Watkins, “Losing Territory and Lashing Out: The Islamic State and International Terror,” CTC Sentinel 9:3 (2016).

[53] Kamal al-Ayas “Anbar’s Cities Are Free But Extremists Still Shelter – And Attack – In Surrounding Desert,” Niqash, June 30, 2016; Jessica Lewis, The ISIS Defense in Iraq and Syria: Countering an Adaptive Enemy, Institute for Study of War, 2015, pp. 12-17; Howard J. Shatz and Erin-Elizabeth Johnson, “The Islamic State We Knew Insights Before the Resurgence and Their Implications,” RAND Corporation, 2015. 

[54] Brian Fishman, “Redefining the Islamic State – The Fall and Rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq,” New America Foundation, August 2011.

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