I am not sure that isis is al Qaeda.
al Qaeda in Iraq was the proper title. That matched their own nomenclature in Arabic, plus Pentagon usage. Our General Ordierno went public in 2010 with a big haul of AQI men. He said "we've either picked up or killed 34 out of the top 42 al Qaeda in Iraq leaders," implying that AQI was in deep trouble. But subsequently 8 major prison breaks freed the most of AQI personnel and AQI morphed to ISIS/ISIL with its main operation up in central Syria. Between MENA Sunni contributions, oil money and its extortion/kidnapping operations there's no way ISIS/ISIL was going away.
They are not the only outfit taking sides with Sunnis against the Shi'ia government. Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia (JRTN) is the Ba'ath Party relabelled. JRTN are Sunni nationalists, formerly loyal to Saddam Hussein. Their public leader is Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri -- together with Sunni tribal leaders. Earlier claims that AQI had taken over Ramadi and Fallujah may have mistaken AQI for JRTN. JRTN still has the bulk of the hundreds of tons weapons they removed from Saddam's armories. That's small arms, mortars, howitzers and the like with plenty of ammunition. JRTN has experienced leadership, going back all the way to the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.
Meanwhile the NeoCons and their employees continue to embarrass themselves: Reihan Salam offers that:
"A military presence [in Iraq] gives the U.S. leverage to shape political outcomes. The fundamental question is whether even a small contingent of U.S. troops might have reassured members of Iraq's minority communities by shielding them from the worst excesses of a Shia-dominated government, thus undermining those calling for its violent overthrow"
"This desire to escape subjugation has been the central driver of the various Sunni insurgencies that have rocked Iraq for more than a decade. Some Sunni militants seek not just to avoid oppression and brutality at the hands of Shias but to reassert their dominance, often on the grounds that Shias are deviants or apostates. These are the true bitter-enders, for whom no compromise is possible. Most of Iraq’s Sunnis, however, see themselves as essentially defensive in orientation, and willing to lay down their arms if they are promised the right to live in peace. It is only when U.S. officials came to understand the crisis in Iraq as a communal civil war that they knew what they had to do to contain it: reassure the Sunnis that the Shias would do them no harm, if only because U.S. forces would keep Shia sectarianism in check."
This guy Salam doesn't think we know how to read a map. He wants sell the NeoCon-Likud propaganda bull that President Obama could have defused AQI/ISIS/ISIL by "negotiating" with the Iran-connected al-Maliki government to keep 10,000 American troops in Iraq after 2012. Near Baghdad, at that.
The big red splotch on the second map above speaks for itself: This Salam presentation of the NeoCon-Likud position, as quoted, is fundamentally militarily nuts. al-Maliki works for Iran, not America. nothing involving American troops is going to change that. And not even 1,000,000 American troops in Baghdad would have kept AQI/ISIS/ISIL from taking over central and eastern Syria.
In contrast, it took less than half the 2,000 in-country Iranian troops (with urban warfare training) to ramrod Iraqi army units to retake Tikrit from ISIS. This force moved directly to set up perimeter defense and overwatch positions. They are career professionals like the Americans, but the big difference generally is that they speak Arabic and understand the subtleties of Iraqi dialects for interaction and interrogation. General Suleimani has done one helluva job over the last 25 years.
And Tikrit is Sunni.