Originally published in World Affairs
‘As Sunni fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) poured south into Iraq last month, a statement from Asaib Ahl al-Haq, one of the major Iraqi Shia militias battling rebel groups in Syria, announced it was withdrawing fighters to deal with this threat.
That’s bad news for Basher al-Assad, whose regime relies heavily on the support of these paramilitary auxiliaries. The loss of these fighters will likely see Damascus seek further support from Hezbollah, leaving the Lebanese group facing a deadly dilemma- as every resource committed to the regional struggle potentially undermines domestic security.
Drawn to the conflict in Syria as it took a more sectarian turn during 2013, large numbers of Shia militiamen have travelled from Iraq to fight alongside the government. Unlike many of the Sunni foreign fighters, these Shia units are well trained and equipped, and often have experience of both asymmetric and small-unit warfare, something highlighted by Phillip Smyth of the University of Maryland…’
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