BAGHDAD - When ISIS fighters tried to storm the Tigris River town of Dhuluiya north of Baghdad this week, they were repelled by a rare coalition of Sunni tribal fighters inside the town and Shiites in its sister city Balad on the opposite bank. The assault, which began late on Tuesday ran into Thursday, was one of several major battles in recent days in which Sunni tribes joined pro-government forces against the militants, in what Baghdad and Washington hope is a sign of increasing cooperation across sectarian lines to save the country.
Such local alliances are still rare: in most Sunni areas of Iraq, tribes have shown little sign of turning against militants as they did when they were recruited by U.S. troops in 2006-07. Sectarian and ethnic animosity runs deep after a decade of civil war that has touched nearly every family, making it difficult for Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds to trust each other. But nearly two months into a U.S.-led bombing campaign, this week's battles have provided the strongest early signs yet of what Washington and Baghdad hope could be a revival of the alliance with tribes to counter ISIS. The Dhuluiya municipality chief, Turki Khalaf Turki, said the cooperation could be a model for the country: "The starting point of unity in Iraq will be Dhuluiya, which wanted unity."