In some ways, the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq has masked the country's deep fragmentation. During their campaign against the jihadist group, Iraq's many ethnic and religious groups have often cooperated with one another. United by a desire to reclaim territory from the jihadist group, the Kurdish peshmerga, Shiite militias and Sunni tribal militias, along with the Iraqi government forces, have launched numerous joint operations. But competing goals among the groups, all of which desire more economic resources, territory and political influence, will bring them into conflict. Over the course of the operations themselves, long-standing tension between the factions has already manifested. The struggle for control among the groups will emerge even more as they overcome their common enemy.
Although Iraq's ethnic and religious communities exert their influence in the country in different ways, they share one important means in common: their militias. In Iraq, a claim to territory often translates into a claim to power. To a great extent, this is a symptom of the weakness of the Iraqi security forces. Numbering under 150,000 in front-line forces, Iraq's military suffers from poor leadership and logistics, dismal salaries and weak morale. As a result, militias in Iraq have risen to prominence, providing much-needed support to the Iraqi security forces. At the same time, the militias come with their own agendas. Once the Islamic State has been defeated and Iraq's many local and regional interests can turn their attentions to their underlying agendas, the real fight for Iraq will begin.