February 20, 2015


Iraqis may fear Shi'ite militias more than Islamic State (Mohamad Bazzi February 19, 2015, Reuters)

Many of the Shi'ite militias depend on Iran for their weapons, funding and training. Since Islamic State swept through northern Iraq in June, Tehran has mobilized to protect the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government from the jihadist threat. General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Al-Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, traveled to Baghdad at the start of the crisis to coordinate the defense of the capital with Iraqi politicians and military officials. 

Soleimani also directed Iranian-trained Shi'ite militias -- including the Badr Brigade and the League of the Righteous, two notorious militias responsible for widespread atrocities against Sunnis -- in the fight against Islamic State. 

Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has also emerged as a significant force in the effort to rally Shi'ites against the jihadists. Sistani, who usually urges clerics to avoid direct political participation, has stepped into the political arena forcefully since the fall of Mosul in early June. Three days after Mosul fell, Sistani issued a call to arms that urged all able-bodied Iraqi men to join the security forces and stop Islamic State's advance.

The response was immediate. Tens of thousands of Shi'ite volunteers showed up at recruiting centers to sign up for the Iraq security forces, or the militias. Even though Sistani urged Iraqis to fight under the command of the central government, the Shi'ite militias quickly took center stage. In a sign of his alarm at transgressions by Shi'ite forces, Sistani issued a new statement on Feb. 12 that called on the security forces and militias not to commit atrocities against civilians.

The militias' growing strength threatens to undermine Abadi's authority and one of his most important goals: to assure Sunnis that the central government will protect their interests. Abadi can insist that the Iranian regime, which holds the most sway over the Shi'ite militias as their main source of arms and funding, pressure the militia leaders to fall under the command of the Iraqi security forces. Abadi can also follow through on his pledge to prosecute militia fighters and members of the security forces who have committed atrocities. This would become a deterrent against future transgressions.

If Abadi and Sistani cannot restrain the militias, Iraq will be doomed to an endless cycle of sectarian bloodletting.

...and the bloodletting will be over fairly quickly.

Posted by at February 20, 2015 6:01 PM

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