Common Ground Between Iraq's Rebels May Be Crumbling : Parallels The radical Islamic State and former associates of Saddam Hussein have fought together against Iraq's government. But the fault lines between the unlikely partners are beginning to show.
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Common Ground Between Iraq's Rebels May Be Crumbling

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Common Ground Between Iraq's Rebels May Be Crumbling

Common Ground Between Iraq's Rebels May Be Crumbling

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The group that took over the Iraqi city of Mosul last month which calls itself the Islamic State had some help. The Sunni radicals were supported by remnants of Saddam Hussein's old Baathist Party regime and the former military. The groups were united by their hatred of the Shiite dominated Iraqi government, but the alliance is fragile. NPR's Leila Fadel reports that some of the Baathists have gone missing.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: We reach Abu Wissam by phone in the city of Mosul - the apparent command center of the Islamic State here in Iraq. He asks us to use his nickname to protect himself before he recounts his father's kidnapping this month, the month of Ramadan when Muslims fast from sunup to sundown.

ABU WISSAM: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: He says, they came on July 3, just as we were about to break our fast. There were seven of them, and before I knew it, they were in our kitchen. Where's your father, they asked me. He's here, Abu Wissam responded. Who are you? Why are you carrying guns inside our home? They responded, we are the Islamic State.

WISSAM: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: Abu Wissam's father, an elderly man and a former general in Saddam's army, went with the men. We just have a few questions, they said, don't worry. But Abu Wissam hasn't heard from his father since. He thinks they are trying to neutralize influential former officers before the men become a threat to the so-called Islamic State. Baathist and the Islamic State are using each other, analyst say, for one goal - to take Baghdad and oust the Shia-led government from power. But their ideologies are polar opposite. Baathists are nationalists who believe in a strong man state. They were marginalized following the U.S.-led invasion and formed the original insurgency in Iraq to fight the occupation. But the Islamic State is trying to redraw the Middle East and enforce their brutal interpretation of Islamic law. Abu Wissam is not the only one that's worried.

ABU AHMED: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: Abu Ahmed meets us in the Kurdish city of Erbil. He fled Mosul last week and his relatives also taken by the Islamic State. He talks about the situation in Mosul.

AHMED: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: He says, the Islamic State is in complete control. Last week, a new police force appeared in the streets, driving the Ford vehicles once used by the Iraqi police. But the white cars are rebranded with two red stripes and a circular black emblem with white letters declaring Islamic State, Islamic police. The men were black long shirts over baggy pants in the style of South Asia. They break writer pipes that people once enjoyed at cafes. They send women home who they deemed are dressed inappropriately. They whip men who break their fast in the street during daylight. And an Islamic court has been formed as well. Meanwhile, there are little to no services. He leans over and asks for a cigarette from my colleague and jokes I can't smoking in Mosul anymore. It's against the law. His relative was also a general in Saddam's army. He says he was taken in the same way and on the same day as

Abu Wissam's father.

AHMED: (Foreign language spoken.

FADEL: These generals are symbols in Mosul, he says. They can make this city rise, and they can prepare a comprehensive army in a month. When they took my relative, they said it was for consultations, but in reality, he is a threat to them.

AHMED: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: Abu Ahmed says his relative is still alive - not like hundreds of others who've been killed. Shiite Iraqis are automatically slain, and journalists have been killed, too. I ask why this city doesn't arise up against the fighters.

AHMED: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: Because, he says, they have a more important goal. If they divide and fight each other, the Iraqi army will come with a vengeance to kill indiscriminately. So the people of Mosul back the Islamic State despite all the drawbacks because they have a higher target, the government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the entire political process.

AHMED: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: He says the world needs to stop supporting Maliki and then back the Baathists against the much more brutal Islamic State. It's a choice the world might not like but, there's an old Arabic proverb - if you face death or a fever, you're smart to choose the fever. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Erbil.

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