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Iraq's Sunni Reawakening

How to Defeat ISIS and Save the Country

A Shia fighter gestures in front of a billboard on a street in the town of al-Alam, March 9, 2015. Thaier al-Sudani / Courtesy Reuters

In early March, Baghdad started a push to retake the historic city of Tikrit, located in the center of the so-called Sunni triangle, from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). This is a critical first offensive in what will be a larger campaign to wrest territorial control of the Sunni heartland—the Anbar and nearby Nineveh provinces—from ISIS. Some Americans must be feeling a sense of déjà vu; the U.S. military tried something similar as part of the 2006­–07 Arab Sunni Awakening. Then, as now, counterterrorism operations combined with efforts to win Sunni hearts and minds required the tough, tedious work of offering the right guarantees and incentives to “flip” key leaders of the Iraqi Sunni tribal region away from the terrorists in their midst.

Still, it would be foolish to assume that Iraqi’s Sunni tribal terrain has remained unchanged since the United States helped

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