The New York Times reports: All along the green irrigated plains in the heart of what American occupying troops used to call the Sunni triangle, lampposts and watchtowers are flying the flags of the Badr Organization, a Shiite militia long hated and feared by many Iraqi Sunnis.
The road from Baghdad to Tikrit is dotted with security checkpoints, many festooned with posters of Iran’s supreme leader and other Shiite figures. They stretch as far north as the village of Awja, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, on the edge of Tikrit, within sight of the hulking palaces of the former ruler who ruthlessly crushed Shiite dissent.
More openly than ever before, Iran’s powerful influence in Iraq has been on display as the counteroffensive against Islamic State militants around Tikrit has unfolded in recent days. At every point, the Iranian-backed militias have taken the lead in the fight against the Islamic State here. Senior Iranian leaders have been openly helping direct the battle, and American officials say Iran’s Revolutionary Guards forces are taking part.
Iraqi officials, too, have been unapologetic about the role of the militias. They project confidence about their fighting abilities and declare that how to fight the war is Iraq’s decision, as militia leaders criticize American pressure to rely more on regular forces. [Continue reading…]