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Based on his research trip to Iraq’s battle zones, journalist and Middle East analyst Jonathan Spyer details the connections between Iraq’s Shia militia currently engaged in fighting Islamic State and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp who are arming, funding and training the sectarian fighters.
“Tehran’s Servants: Iraq’s Shia Militias Emerge As The Key Armed Forces Facing IS in Iraq” is based on frontline interviews with senior commanders and fighters. This policy paper shows the political and military connections between Iran and the militias, with the elite Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani providing a direct operational channel between Iran’s Supreme Leader and events in Iraq.
The policy paper also concludes that:
The Iranian involvement with the Shia militias extends to a well-established arrangement of arming, funding and training of these groups. Accordingly, they have grown to become the most powerful military force in Iraq, with the Iraqi government being left both dependent on the militias for the defence of Baghdad and fundamentally too weak to challenge these groups even if it wished to do so.
The rise of the Iranian-backed Shia militias appears set to contribute to the de facto partition of Iraq along sectarian lines. Sunni fears about abuses and looting by the militias has almost certainly contributed to some Iraqi Sunnis preferring Islamic State rule to that of the militias.
In the longer term, the advancing power and influence of the Shia militias will only assist Tehran in its efforts to promote Iranian hegemony across the Middle East. With the prospect of sanctions against Iran being lifted in the wake of the nuclear deal, the regime’s ability to back the militias and its other regional proxies can be expected to increase significantly.
This policy paper is the first from Jonathan Spyer as he joins The Henry Jackson Society as an Associate Fellow. It warns of the dangers of the destablisation of Iraq into sectarian divides, preventing this is crucial to ensuring Iranian hegemony does not emerge in the region.