The Powerful Militias in Iraq Part 2

By | November 28, 2021

The invasion in 2003 led to a significant weakening of the security situation in Iraq. The militias have primarily arisen as a consequence of the invasion, and state security forces say the inability to protect their own civilian population. A major challenge for the Iraqi state has been to provide public services that Iraqis depend on in their daily lives, including a well-functioning police and defense. A contributing factor to this was the so-called discounting of Iraq. Occupied Iraq had American Paul Bremer as its de facto head of state, sending out two fateful orders to define the new state; The CPA Order 1 disbanded the ruling Ba’ath party and caused thousands of civil servants responsible for governing the state to lose their jobs, and the CPA Order 2 disbanded the Iraqi military and the extensive intelligence services. This was done, among other things, because the coalition feared that the Baath-era government employees were not loyal, and in the worst case, could organize a coup to take back power. Among those who lost their jobs were several who were members of various resistance movements and rebel groups, such as the al-Qaeda network .

When the new state apparatus in Iraq was to be built up, there was thus a lack of both capacity and legitimacy to offer security and to enforce the law in all parts of the country. This gave the militias a unique opportunity to consolidate power and increase their legitimacy among the civilian population. Initially, they protected sacred cities such as mosques and mausoleum, but after a quarter of an hour they gained far more extensive control. Among these militias were also the Kurdish and Shia Islamists armed opposition groups that had returned from exile, in addition to new ones that had emerged from local activist groups, neighborhood committees, as well as networks of clergy and local tribes. Both old and new parties had one important thing in common: they wanted a comprehensive redistribution of power after years of brutal repression under Saddam Hussein. In addition, several were very active in attacking US coalition forces, something that was the most important issue for multiple Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents. After the civil war broke out in 2006, they also began to attack each other.

The violence, unrest and power vacuum created after 2003 is thus the main reason why the militias gained influence, but the number of militias has also increased significantly since 2014. On June 15, 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself the caliph of the Islamic caliphate. in Iraq and Syria, namely IS. The group was already dangerous near the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and Iraqi security forces were unable to stop the advance. What happened then was that Ayatollah Sistani, the most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq, sent out a religious fatwa. In the fatwa, he urged all men, regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation, to recruit into the Iraqi army to defend the country against IS. It was nevertheless among the country’s Shia Muslims that the fatwa had the greatest influence, since many of them see Sistani as their supreme spiritual camp. When tens of thousands of men actually did this, the military was unable to receive them, and they were therefore sent on to well-organized militias. These were better suited to recruit new soldiers who could contribute to the battle. This massive recruitment led to the militias mobilizing to become stronger – something they did under the name Hashd al-Shaabi – or “the popular mobilization forces”, as it is translated in Norwegian. Among the various groups in Hashd al-Shaabi, the Shiite militias are the most powerful – especially those with ties to Iran. They proved to be very effective in the fight against IS,which also received help from an international coalition, Iraqi security forces, and the Kurdish peshmerga.

4: How is this part of the regional power struggle?

When it comes to Shiite militias in Iraq, the Islamic Republic of Iran is the regional power. which has the greatest influence. Iran is the largest Shiite power in the region, and its foreign and security policy is largely influenced by this. In fact, Iran supports a large number of these groups, both militarily, economically, ideologically, and even religiously. Today, one can roughly divide the Shiite militias into two categories: those who follow the thinking of Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and those who follow the thinking of Ayatollah Sistani, who is headquartered in the Iraqi city of Najaf. The main difference between the two camps is the view they have on the relationship between religion and politics. To understand Iran’s relationship with the militia, we must go back to 1979, when the Iranian revolution led to the country becoming an Islamic republic.

But why do states like Iran support militias? There is not just one answer to this question, and it can often be difficult to distinguish between different motives. For example, a state may choose to support a militia if the militia is fighting an enemy of the state. An example of this is that Iran has supported Hezbollah in Lebanon for several decades, and together they have taken a hard line against the common enemy Israel. Similarly, Iran has supported militias fighting for the Assad regime in Syria. In Iraq, Shiite militias have also attacked US coalition forces since 2003, something Iran is said to have supported. In this way, Iran can influence developments in a conflict or intimidate a counterparty without using its own state army, something that would probably have far greater consequences. Iran and Saudi Arabia are known for fighting each other in this way . The militias are therefore often seen as Iran’s extended arm in the region, compensating for being militarily submissive to regional “enemies” such as the United States. In recent years, they have also significantly increased support for groups fighting the terrorist group IS, which Iran sees as a major threat. The support can also be based on calculations to increase its influence in another country if the militia actually becomes so politically powerful that it affects the decision-making processes in the country.

5: Implications for the future of Iraq

According to watchtutorials, militia usually emerges in weak states. When the state’s capacity increases and it tries to consolidate power again, disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating the militias into a state, legal framework is a major challenge. After the military victory against IS, Iraq is in such a phase, namely the stabilization and reconstruction of a very war-torn country. Iraqi Shiite militias have played an important role in ensuring Iraq’s territorial integrity, as well as protecting civilians from IS. On the other hand, the militias have also contributed to undermining the state, in that they challenge the monopoly the state should in principle have on both power and the exercise of power. Several of the Shiite militias have signaled that they do not want to be integrated into the state forces, while others have even said that they are obeying Iran’s top camp ahead of Iraq’s prime minister. When a plan is to be drawn up for Iraq’s future, one must therefore also find out what role the militias will have in it. The militias have probably come to stay, but whether they will be allowed to rule the country or not depends on the election to be held on 12 May.

The Powerful Militias in Iraq 2