Iranian-backed Shiite militia groups are now sharing a military base with US military personnel in Iraq’s Anbar province, Josh Rogin and Eli Lake of Bloomberg View report.
The Shiite militia groups are overseen by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who is a former commander of Iraqi Hezbollah and a close ally of Iranian military mastermind Qassem Suleimani.
Many of the Shiite militia groups that Muhandis now oversees have little allegiance to the idea of a unified Iraq and instead follow the lead of Tehran.
And the Obama administration, which continues to argue for a unified Iraq, has now acknowledged that the situation means the US would be aiding Iran’s sectarian agenda.
“There’s no real command and control from the central [Iraqi] government,” a senior administration official told Bloomberg. “Even if these [Iran-backed militias] don’t attack us … Iran is ushering in a new Hezbollah era in Iraq, and we will have aided and abetted it.”
Iraqi Hezbollah, also known as Kataeb Hezbollah, is listed by the US government as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group and has American blood on its hands.
Muhandis, who has been accused of orchestrating the bombings of both the US and French embassies in Kuwait in the 1980s, was sanctioned by the Treasury Department in 2009 for his role in carrying out destabilizing actions within Iraq at Iran’s insistence.
“I met with almost two dozen national leaders in Iraq last week,” Ali Khedery, the longest consecutively serving US diplomat in the Green Zone, told Foreign Policy in March.
“I heard from Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish officials and virtually all of them told me that the real prime minster of the country is Qasem Soleimani and his deputy is Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.”
US air support
The same Shiite militias who committed insurgent attacks against US soldiers years ago are now benefiting from US aerial operations as the Iraqi Security Forces continue to melt away in the face of ISIS attacks.
But while the Shiite forces have had major success in dislodging ISIS from Tikrit and Amerli with the assistance of the ISF, Kurdish Peshmerga, and US airstrikes, their sectarianism and connection to Tehran may actually deepen the country’s sectarian fault lines.
“The political solution is to have a unified, stable, neutral Iraqi central government that represents the interests of the people,” Christopher Harmer, a senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, told Business Insider recently.
“If we have a Shia militia inside Iraq that is loyal to Tehran, that is not helping achieve the political outcome. From a military perspective, the Shia militias are a good thing. From a political perspective, it’s destabilizing.”
The role of nakedly sectarian Shiite militias now fighting in Sunni majority land under US cover in Iraq will only further ISIS’ propaganda claims that the militant group serves as the best defence for Sunni interests.
This dark reality is further compounded by Baghdad’s apparent reluctance to house fleeing Sunni refugees.
The situation is a major headache for US policy makers.
Without the Shiite militias, ISIS will likely remain unchallenged in Anbar and become increasingly embedded within the local populaces.
However, any further victories at the hands of the Shiite militias will only further embolden their Iranian backers and increase Tehran’s influence in Iraq and the wider region.