Iraq's Shiite Militias To The Rescue: Force for Sectarian Unity Or Thorn In Anbar's Side?
Shiite militias are making inroads into the mainly Sunni province of Anbar. Previously Anbar's Sunni tribes have not allowed the controversial militia groups in but now one tribe has invited them to help.
Things are becoming ever more complex in Anbar and the arrival of US troops, who, it seems, will be staying at the same base as the Iran-sponsored militias, are complicating things further.
Last week, hundreds of members of Iraq's Shiite Muslim militias arrived at a military base in the province of Anbar. Up until now the militias – who are not regular Iraqi army but who share the army's goal of fighting the Sunni Muslim extremist group known as the Islamic State – have confined their activities to areas bordering Baghdad and Fallujah.
Their mission seems to have been to protect Baghdad if the Iraqi army, plagued by low morale, corruption and lack of equipment, cannot.
But the Shiite Muslim militias are controversial, not least because they're not official representatives of the Iraqi government. While they know how to fight and have achieved some important victories recently, many are also backed by Iran and most recently, there have been reports that Shiite Muslim militias have been terrorising the Sunni Muslim populations in areas they control – that is, engaging in their own sectarian cleansing campaigns, in a similar way to what the Islamic State group is doing.
No wonder then, that many Sunni Muslim tribes say they won't support the Iraqi government until the Shiite militias are withdrawn; they see them as an occupying force. The Sunni Muslim people of Anbar feel this way in particular – they have very strong feelings about Shiite Muslim fighters being in their area.