ISIS 'trying to win the trust of the people' in Mosul

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An ISIS fighter standing guard in Mosul. Photo: Reuters

ISIS fighters in Mosul have appealed to utility workers - especially those working in electricity, water, to return to their jobs. The Islamist fighters have also made it clear they will pay them their salary.

They have also appealed for the "old" Saddam army to return, "to protect the people".

The people I spoke to who had just arrived from Mosul said ISIS is not behaving the way the group does in Syria, and that they are "trying to win the trust of the people".

Lots of people, including the Governor of Mosul, have been scathing in their criticism of Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki

Watch: Exclusive video shows life inside ISIS-controlled Mosul

The picture emerging appears to be almost exactly the same conditions at the start of the "Sunni Insurgency" in 2004 around Fallujah and Baqoub: A disenfranchised, marginalised Sunni provincial heartland in fear of what was then Shia death squads, but are now the Shia dominated army and militia of the al- Maliki government, and many feel that it is far safer to seek the protection of the Sunni fighters/ISIS.

ISIS has also clearly learnt from al-Qaeda's tactics back in 2004 when their foreign inspired and led reign of terror made the fatal mistake of alienating and undermining the Sunni tribes.

ISIS soldiers in Jalawla, Iraq.
ISIS soldiers in Jalawla, Iraq. Credit: Reuters

Iraqi society, especially in the Sunni provincial heartland, is an overwhelmingly tribal society. It is almost impossible for any political force to govern without their acquiescence. US Commander General Petraeus understood this and so in what came to be known as the "Awakening Councils", he wooed the Sunni tribes, armed them and financed them to fight and drive out al-Qaeda.

Read: Saddam Hussein's daughter 'happy with Iraq victories'

Prime Minister al-Maliki has been perceived by some as a sectarian politician - even when he was in opposition to Saddam, and this has alienated Sunnis.

Unlike the foreign-dominated and Jihadist ideologues of ISIS in Syria, many of the ISIS fighters here in Iraq are local, or at the very least are very mindful and aware of local tribal and Sunni opinion, as well as political currents. At the moment they do not seem to be engaging in the nihilistic violence through which al-Qaeda tried to operate and dominate Sunnis.

This is the "perfect political storm" which explains ISIS's lightening fast progress - and al-Maliki's ruinous position.

The image of ISIS as some kind of all-conquering supermen is false - they are pushing at an open door of a deeply aggrieved Sunni heartland who'll go along with anyone who is willing to fight the hated Shia-dominated policies of al-Maliki.

Volunteers flocked to sign up for the Iraqi army and head towards Baghdad.
Volunteers flocked to sign up for the Iraqi army in Baghdad. Credit: Reuters.

What makes this situation so much more dangerous than in 2004 however is that back then there was the mighty force of the US army standing between Sunnis and Shia.

The US had a huge carrot of millions of dollars and weapons with which to persuade the Sunnis of Mosul, Ramadi, Tikrit and other cities like them to ditch their alliance with al-Qaeda, and a huge stick in the form of 400,000 troops if they didn't.

The problem for al-Maliki is that he has neither of these: The narrowly sectarian house of cards he's built around himself is falling, and landing in ISIS's lap.