At the following map you can see the Sunni Arab (pink), the Shia Arab (green) and the Sunni Kurd (brown) parts of Iraq. Shia (Shiite) Arabs constitute the majority of Iraq. The red circle on the map is the only point of Iraq that reaches the Persian Gulf, as you can see at the following maps.
Map 1 Demographics of Iraq
The following Wikipedia map is a more accurate map, because it also shows the Iraqi deserts. With intense gray you can see the Arab Shiite part (South Iraq), with somon you can see the Arab Sunni part (Western Iraq), with purple the Kurdish part, and with light gray the Iraqi deserts. The largest parts of the countries of North Africa and the Middle East are deserts and they are under populated.
The following map shows Mesopotamia, the fertile region between the Tiger and Euphrates rivers. This region was the metropolis for the civilization of the Middle East, and actually more than that, and this happened due to these rivers and the connection with the Persian Gulf. Babylon was located near what today is Baghdad.
Mesopotamia (Tiger and Euphrates Rivers), together with Egypt (Nile River), were the important regions when people were killing each other for water instead for oil, even though people are still killing each other for water. Turkey, Syria and Iraq had many disputes for the waters of Tiger and Euphrates even before the Arab Spring, because Turkey wants to use these waters for hydroelectric production. See for example “Ataturk Dam: Political Controversy”.
Map 5 Egypt and Mesopotamia (Nile, Tiger and Euphrates)
The following Wikipedia map shows the Sunni part of Syria (somon), the Alawite part of Syria (light green), the Kurdish part with pink, and the Syrian Desert with white.
The following map is an approximation about how an Alawite (dark brown) a Sunni (light brown), a Shia (orange) and a Kurdish (beige) state could look like if at some point the war in Syria and Iraq ends, taking into account the demographics of Syria and Iraq. Of course this is only an approximation but reality should not look very different.
Map 6 Potential Alawite, Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish States in Syria and Iraq
When we talk about ISIS we mainly talk about the Sunni Islamists of Syria and Iraq, which are basically the parts of Syria and Iraq appearing with light brown on the above map. That’s why ISIS is so different from the terrorist organizations we knew until now. ISIS in Syria and Iraq looks like a regular army that has specific territorial claims, and it does not look like traditional terrorist organizations that worked for various socialist or Islamic governments.
That makes ISIS different from traditional terrorist organizations, but also different from some of ISIS subsidiaries in other countries, where local ISIS departments do not have territorial but only economic claims, and they have a traditional hit and run approach, rather than a regular army approach, which is the case for ISIS in Syria and Iraq. ISIS in Syria and Iraq even owns oilfields, and that makes ISIS the richest terrorist organization in history. Therefore we should not see ISIS as one thing, but more of an Islamic alliance or let’s say an Islamic NATO. In the same way that NATO members can cooperate when they have common interests, various ISIS branches can cooperate when they have common interests.
I must also say that in Syria and Iraq there are also Sunni socialists who prefer a socialist than an Islamic state, but the main power today in the Sunni parts of Syria and Iraq are the Sunni Islamists. See also “The So-Called Wars of Religion”.
I always say that even though we always talk about Turkey’s support to ISIS, we should not be misled to see Turkey and ISIS as the same thing, because they are very different things. Not even ISIS is one thing as I said. The Turkish Islamists, the Syrian Islamists and the Iraqi Islamists, are three different things. They just happen to have some common interests, and that’s why the Turks are supporting the Sunni Islamists of Syria and Iraq. But that does not make them one thing. They do not even have exactly the same interests. They just have some common interests, at least for now.
On map 6 you can see why ISIS of Syria and Iraq i.e. the Sunni Islamists of Syria and Iraq, prefer to work with Turkey rather than with Saudi Arabia. ISIS has oil, and it might have more oil in the future. Where can ISIS export this oil from? I guess it has to be Turkey. ISIS faces the Shiite Iraqis at the south, who are also oil exporters, and who are fighting the Sunni Iraqis i.e. the ex-people of Saddam Hussein. See “Saddam Hussein: The Father of ISIS in Iraq”.
Saudi Arabia is for ISIS another barrier. Saudi Arabia is also an oil exporter, and the Saudis had very bad relations with Saddam Hussein and his people, even though they were helping them against the common foe i.e. Iran. Remember that ISIS openly asked for the overturn of the Saudi King. See International Business Times “ISIS Vows War Against Saudi Arabia: Islamic State Group Threatens Arab Monarchy After Announcement Of Anti-Terror Coalition”, December 2015
In Syria ISIS faces the Russians and the Iranians behind the Assad regime, and ISIS knows that the Russians will not be willing to leave Syria, unless of course Assad asks them to. But if Assad asks them to go he would fall because the Iranians would not be able to save him from the Turks and the Arabs of the Gulf. Unless of course the American-Iranian relations improve so much, that the Americans replace the Russian protection to Assad. The following Foreign Policy article accuses Obama for betraying the Syrian rebels in order to help Assad, and the following Financial Times article says that Putin asked Assad to consider stepping down.
“Obama’s Disastrous Betrayal of the Syrian Rebels”, February 2016
“Vladimir Putin asked Bashar al-Assad to step down”, January 2016
But it is not so easy to make the Russians leave Syria, and even if they were replaced by the Iranians things would become worse for ISIS, because ISIS would face the Iranians, which is actually ISIS number one enemy together with the Shiites of Iraq. Even if Turkey was to control the Syrian coast lines she would not be pleased to see ISIS of Syria and Iraq exporting oil from Syria, which is very close to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, a major oil exporting point for Turkey. Therefore it seems that ISIS needs to export oil through Turkey, and that’s why you hear Putin and the Israeli Defense Minister accusing Turkey of financing ISIS by buying its oil. You never hear anyone accusing Saudi Arabia of buying ISIS oil. What would Saudi Arabia do with ISIS oil? Saudi Arabia is extremely rich in oil.
Also note that Turkey is much stronger in military terms than Saudi Arabia, and that is also very useful for the Syrian and Iraqi Sunni Islamists.