Sectarian Militias Assume Larger Role

“The residents know that the sheikh is involved one way or another in the killing and support of armed groups. Although he has not been seen carrying a gun, he maintains a terrifying power over the people, justified by the rumors spread about a group of youth being threatened, attacked and killed due to their lack of religious commitment,” Ali, an Amiriya resident, told Al-Monitor.

When not carrying weapons, militiamen play roles in governing the lives of residents of the neighborhoods where they work. Sometimes, however, they seem particularly concerned with scrutinizing the movements of women. They do not hesitate to talk to the father or husband of a woman if her attire or hijab are dissatisfactory to them. Usually, female employees and students wear the niqab (full-face veil) when going into or coming out of a neighborhood that is under the control of militiamen.

“Sometimes I feel that Sheikh Mohammed is scrutinizing me. He constantly sits in front of his house and does nothing but monitor the residents. I feel as if he is implicitly telling me, ‘We will get you, sooner or later,’” Marwa, a woman who lives in the Baya neighborhood, told Al-Monitor.

Some former militants, especially those who have been jailed on charges related to sectarian violence, are known in their neighborhoods. The residents do them favors to avoid trouble. Some pay them salaries and give them financial aid, while others ask for their guidance to settle familial or tribal problems. Gradually, the former prisoner is transformed into an unspoken leader, imposing his influence on the people and deciding their fate.

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