Mustafa Habib writes: Last Saturday was the anniversary of senior Iraqi spiritual leader, Ali al-Sistani’s call to arms. The cleric, who is seen as the leader of Shiite Muslims in Iraq and further afield, called upon all Iraqis to take up arms and defend the country against the extremist group known as the Islamic State, which had just taken control of the northern city of Mosul.
Since then the locals who did as al-Sistani asked have become the last bulwark against the approach of the Islamic State, or IS, group’s fighters. The volunteer militias are now known locally as the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Units, and have become both a cause for celebration – as they achieve victories and push the IS group back – and controversy, as they are accused of illegal acts of revenge, looting and generally taking the law into their own hands. The militias are mainly made up of Iraq’s Shiite Muslims and the IS group bases its ideology on a form of Sunni Islam – so the militias’ importance in the fight against the IS group has also become a source of sectarian tension inside the country.
But the tensions do not just exist between Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni Muslims. As the Shiite militias become more powerful, tensions are also increasing within the group. They may have a common enemy and share a religious sect but these militias are far from united. Basically the Shiite militias are split along the same lines as opinions in the main Shiite Muslim political parties. And their disagreements are not just military, they are based on present and future economic and political power. [Continue reading…]