Joyce Karam writes: While the invasion in 2003 and the shortsighted policies by the U.S. disbanding the Iraqi army and propping up the sectarian rule of Nouri al-Maliki, opened the door for Iranian meddling and militia-building in Iraq, ISIS has invited a more aggressive role for Iran along the Euphrates.
“Iran has taken full advantage of the collapse of the Iraqi army in Mosul” says Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland and author of a policy paper on Shiite Jihad. The rise of ISIS as an existential threat to Shiites whom it considers heretics and apostates, drove many in that community to carry arms and defend themselves while the Iraqi state continued to crumble. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s Fatwa last summer “to defend the country, its people, the honor of its citizens, and its sacred places” was exploited to set the stage for the formation of the Popular Mobilization Forces, made up of disciplined Shiite recruits and a much smaller component of Sunni tribal and Kurdish forces.
Smyth sees Iranian influence in funding, training and equipping Shiite militias at an all time high. He estimates the number of Shiite militia fighters in Iraq today between 70,000 [to] 100,000, a volume that “is both astounding and strategic to the way that Iran has constructed them.” The expert sees Iran as player whose influence is only rising in Iraq, “they run ministries in Iraq today with their own security apparatus.” This new dynamic was front and center in appointing Mohammad Ghabban from the Iranian funded militia Badr as the new Iraqi interior minister. [Continue reading…]