As the Iraqi forces and allied paramilitary groups slowly inch their way inside the city of Tikrit in Iraq, one can catch a glimpse of the post-IS Middle Eastern landscape; one that is equally troubling as the present one. The battle for Tikrit is ongoing, it is also fierce, but if the Iraqi forces manage to retake the city, it would be a major victory for the force, which a few months ago was routed comprehensively, and had to be built up from scratch. IS still reigns supreme in places like Mosul and Aleppo, and will fight to the bitter end for them but the impending liberation of Tikrit, coupled with the gains made by the Peshmerga in Kurdistan perhaps hint at a tide that is turning. Much more so than IS’s brief occupation, the true damage has been caused by the fracturing of society along sectarian and ethnic fault lines under IS; one that will haunt Iraq for ages to come.

Baghdadi’s ultra Sunni leanings and his group’s barbarity have polarised much of Iraq, and now his opponents are responding in kind. The militias formed in the wake of the army’s collapse are a law unto their own, delivering justice as they see fit. Predominantly Shia militias such as the Hashd al-Shaabi, are making steady progress against IS, yet they are also dealing with the liberated Sunnis with a heavy hand. Groups such as the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report “numerous atrocities” and “repeated abuses” against Sunni civilians by pro-government militias – who are ransacking homes and even killing civilians. The government and the international community is too reliant on them to exercise any effective control, leading to an escalation of violence. If the situation is not handled correctly by the Iraqi authorities the liberation of Iraq would be meaningless. A highly charged sectarian environment with sophisticated weaponry on both sides and little governmental control is highly dangerous. Unless the militias are kept in check, the fight against IS could spill over into an all out sectarian conflict.