Sunni insurgents who are making their way across Iraq in a drive towards the nation's capital clashed with their Baathist allies this week, Iraq security officials said Saturday.
Citing unnamed Iraqi security officials, the New York Times reports that the Sunni forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and their Baathist allies fought one another in western Kirkuk late this week. An unnamed witness said the two factions fought over gas and oil trucks.
An Iraqi security official told the Times that ISIS tried to disarm the Baathists before eight Baathists and nine ISIS militants were killed in subsequent fighting.
ISIS has formed an unlikely alliance with the Baathists, the party of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The Baathists' cooperation has helped the insurgents take over wide swaths of the country, but the two groups are ideologically opposed: the Sunni extremists are deeply religious and want to impose strict Islamic law across the region, while the Baathists are more secular. Their apparently fragile alliance is rooted in a mutual distrust of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-dominated government.
This week's fighting could be taken as a sign that alliance is cracking. However, the Iraqi government has reason to make claims of in-fighting among the groups: such news could destabilize the partnership, giving Maliki's forces an edge as ISIS and its allies continue marching towards Baghdad.
“We will not let them take any foot of our earth,” Iraq's head military spokesperson, Gen. Qassim Atta said in a briefing while discussing the fate of an oil refinery captured for a time by insurgents this week. “We are the ones who are making the attacks.”