While most of the attention given in the last few months to events in Iraq and Syria has focused on the Kurdish fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan and Rojava, the Kurds don’t particularly care about the rest of Iraq. The majority of the organizations moving to secure Arab Iraq are Shi’a militias, the most prominent (and powerful) being the Badr Organization and the Peace Brigades.
The Peace Brigades are nothing less than the resurrection of Moqtada al Sadr’s Jaysh al Mahdi. The Mahdi Army first clashed with US forces in Najaf in 2004, and was, at one time, considered more dangerous than Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda in Iraq in the areas where it held sway. Backed by Iran, the Jaysh al Mahdi also funded itself through extortion, kidnapping, protection rackets, car theft, and weapons trafficking.
While in recent years, starting around 2008, the Jaysh al Mahdi had turned more to Hezbollah-style political base-building through education and social services (most of the original Jaysh al Mahdi fighters had traveled to Lebanon to get training from Hezbollah, so the parallel should not be surprising), the ISIS offensive in June, 2014 prompted al Sadr and his political party, the Sadrist Trend, to re-brand the Jaysh al Mahdi as the Peace Brigades, and set them against the Sunni guerrillas in the north and west. While Sadr initially spoke against allying with “the occupiers,” meaning the US, the Peace Brigades have been working directly with the Iraqi Security Forces, who are receiving some support from the US.
The Badr Organization is now a political party, led by Hadi al Amiri. It began as the Badr Brigade or Badr Corps, the military wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a party formed in 1982 primarily to fight the Mujahideen E Khalq, a splinter group from the Islamic Revolution in Iran that was working with Saddam. (As an interesting aside, Camp Fallujah was built on the compound Saddam had built for the Mujahideen E Khalq, leading to its other name, The MEK.)
The Badr Organization split off from the SCIRI in 2009, and formed its own party, but it remains closely tied to Iran and strictly sectarian. Al Amiri is reputed to have been involved in Shi’a “death squads” going after Sunnis in Baghdad. One of the Badr Organization’s recent successes, highlighted in an interview by al Amiri, has been the clearing of the town of Jurf al Sakhar, just ahead of the celebration of Ashura, that would have put many Shi’a pilgrims within striking distance of the ISIS fighters in the town. During the operation, several photos were publicized of al Amiri getting chummy with Qasem Suleimani, the commander of the IRGC Qods Force.
Even now, most successful operations being run by the ISF against ISIS are in partnership with these militias. While the West has pontificated at length about how the solution to the war in Iraq and Syria has to be a more inclusive, non-sectarian unification, the on-the-ground solution, at least south of Iraqi Kurdistan, appears to be coming together as very sectarian. While the Sunni Sahwa militias (the Awakening) in Anbar have been fighting ISIS along with the ISF (and that’s an old feud that apparently outweighs the treatment of Sunni tribes by Maliki’s government), the majority of the resistance in the central part of the country is coming through ISF-Shi’a militia-Iranian partnership.
This will have the effect of drawing Iraq (or what’s left of it; a three-way split between Sunni, Shi’a and Kurd sections of the country is still not unimaginable) even more solidly into Iran’s orbit. With Assad’s Syria barely a viable state for the last three years, Iran needs allies in the region, especially as the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia heats up across Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. The end result is not likely to be friendly to the US, regardless of air support being lent to units fighting ISIS on the ground; the Islamic Republic has been steadfastly anti-Western since its inception, and repeated diplomatic overtures by the Obama administration to Tehran have gone unanswered.
(Featured Image Courtesy: Iraqinews.com)