Better Pay, Better Weapons: Are Shiite Militias Growing More Powerful Than Iraqi Army?
Iraq’s unofficial Shiite militias are an essential part of the fight against the extremist Islamic State group. But they act independently of the army, and are sometimes brutally murderous. Army officers now note that the militias have better weapons and better working conditions and that’s why their men are swapping teams.
There are no official figures as to how many Iraqis might be fighting with the Shiite Muslim militias, unofficial groups who have taken up arms to oppose the Sunni Muslim extremist group known as the Islamic State. But unofficial estimates suggest they number between 60,000 and 90,000 members altogether.
The relationship of the six main Shiite Muslim militias fighting in Iraq today to the Iraq’s regular army is a troubled one. In Arabic, they refer to the militias as “the popular crowd” and this “crowd” includes the League of the Righteous, the Badr Brigades, the Peace Brigades (formerly the Mahdi army), Hezbollah in Iraq, the Najbaa brigades and Harakat al-Nujaba, as well dozens of smaller groups who come under the alleged control of the larger ones.
Most of the new members of these militias are volunteers from the regular population who joined up after the highest religious leader for Iraq’s Shiite Muslims, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called upon ordinary Iraqis to defend the country against the Islamic State, or IS, group in June last year. Al-Sistani later clarified his statement, recommending that anyone who wanted to defend the country do so in an official way, by, for example, joining the regular army.
“The popular crowd has better and more sophisticated weapons, an Iraqi army captain serving in the Salahaddin province, told NIQASH. They are also paid around US$600 a month, a salary that is equal to that paid to regular soldiers, he noted.