Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Iraqi Shi’a Militia Response to the U.S. Anti-ISIS Coalition

By Ahmed Ali

On September 15, Iraqi Shi’a militias issued statements concerning any further involvement by U.S. military personnel in Iraq or neighboring countries. The groups included the Sadrist Trend, which has fully reactivated its Mahdi Army under the banner of the “Peace Brigades,” Asai’b Ahl al-Haq (AAH), and Katai’b Hizballah (KH). Both AAH and KH are supported by the Iranian government while the Sadrists have had more complex relations with the Iranian government. The three groups, along with the Badr organization, have also had a forward-deploying role in the Iraqi government’s ground campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The role of KH and AAH has been coordinated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force (QF). The Peace Brigades have avoided public association with the Iranian government and may be coordinating with QF to a lesser extent in comparison to AAH and KH.

In his statement, leader of the Sadrist Trend Moqtada al-Sadr stated that the Iraqi government should not call on assistance from the “occupier,” A reference to the U.S. Sadr added that “as we made you taste the heat of our fire and [power] in the past, we will make you taste the scourge of your decision.” Sadr ordered his forces state to withdraw from the frontlines if “U.S. forces or others [forces] intervened through land or sea, directly or indirectly.” KH also stated that its elements will withdraw from the frontline against ISIS due to the U.S. role in Iraq. KH also attributed this decision to its belief that if “we and America are in one place, we have to be in a fighting situation not cooperation and peace.” AAH also stated that it will attack the U.S. embassy with its “Avenger” rocket if it thought about “sending its soldiers to Iraq.”

These statements are a reaction to President Barack Obama’s speech last week announcing the U.S. effort to counter ISIS. Furthermore, they represent an Iranian government position against the anti-ISIS coalition that the Administration is consolidating, which has not included the Iranian government. In short, the Iranian government is replicating its strategy before the withdrawal of U.S. Forces in 2011 by directing the militias to attack U.S. forces and presence in Iraq. Furthermore, the Iraqi Shi’a militias want to maintain their influence, and the presence of U.S. forces will result in limiting their influence.

Iraq’s Shi’a militias will have to acknowledge the active involvement of U.S. and other western countries in breaking the siege of Amerli. They will also have to contend with expanded U.S. air support that has included areas south of Baghdad on September 14-15, both of which support the Iraqi government against the threat of ISIS. It will be important to watch how the Badr organization will react to these statements given its close ties to the Iranian government and Badr’s desire to occupy one of Iraq’s security portfolio ministries of either Defense or Interior.

Ahmed Ali is a Senior Iraq Research Analyst and the Iraq Team Lead.