New York, March 5, 2015—The discovery that Shiite militias in Iraq are leading the charge against the Islamic State should come as no surprise. Despite the official version coming from Washington, the Iraqi army doesn’t exist in fighting form, except for a few elite units.
Fighters from the Shiite ‘Badr Brigade’ militia strand guard outside the town of Sulaiman Park last September.
The militias, on the other hand, have long been fighting—they grew up battling the Sunni insurgency after the 2003 US-led invasion (they also fought the Americans). They answer to sectarian parties and warlords, not the government. Unless, in some cases, you mean the government of Iran. Both the Bush and Obama administrations pretend that Iran is not the major outside player in Iraq. It is. The New York Times wrote about Iran’s influence in today’s edition.
One problem with the Shia militias: they are brutal. They terrorize the Sunni population. Maybe they are the answer to taking territory from ISIS. They are not the answer to pacifying the Sunni minority population that has been marginalized by the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.
No one has chronicled this better than Tirana Hassan, a colleague of mine when I worked at Human Rights Watch. Her report is five months old, but is worth revisiting if you want to get an idea of what’s ahead. Here’s the preamble to her story:
Marauding pro-government militias are using the fight against the Islamic State as a pretext to destroy Sunni Arab communities across the country.