As mentioned, Hashd al Shabi have formed local alliances with Sunnis, and in once case (Asa'ib ahl al Haq) incorporated Sunnis into their ranks in a special unit. These developments would have been unthinkable several years ago. In Salahaddin, initially in Dhuluiyah and now in Tikrit, as well as Ameriyat al Fallujah in Anbar,we have centres of Sunni--Shi’a paramilitary cooperation. Quoted in the New York Times, in March 2015, one member of the Jubbour tribe said of the Shi’a Hashd,
“They left their provinces to help us. No one else has helped to liberate our areas, not even our tribal neighbors.”
It was a similar sentiment that spurred the Anbar Awakening that led to the crippling of ISI during the Surge: first the decision of key Sheikhs that the Americans were a lesser evil than “al Qaeda” and then cooperation, and then, in many cases a cautious trust. If a similar, albeit distinctly Iraqi version of this is happening, it needs our support, but this begs another question: how is that possible, given that the Hashd al Shabi are Iranian backed militias? This is not the question to ask, because it is based on a misunderstanding of what the Hashd actually are.
Blood on their hands?
"Officially, we will not deal with those who have American blood on their hands. But how do you know? You don't. There's a degree of risk involved. A lot of it is gut instinct. That's what I'm going on. They didn't teach me how to do this at West Point."
Those were the words of an American officer in Baghdad during the surge, who was making deals with local Sheikhs to recruit “Sahwa." Put differently, former British SAS commander Graeme Lamb said in Iraq, (relating to his time in Northern Ireland)
“you don’t reconcile with people who are on your side. They’re already your friends. If you want reconciliation to occur, you need to talk to people with blood on their hands.”
This is now once again a problem for Coalition commanders overseeing events in Iraq: many members of the “Hashd al Shabi” were once in groups that targeted and killed Coalition forces. In some cases, these groups still celebrate these actions, while others have actually threatened US forces if they return to Iraq in greater numbers than the 3500 currently present.
A number of the leaders of these groups are designated by the US as terrorists, and their chief coordinator, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, is a man described by Michael Knights as a “fully paid up member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”