Small Wars Journal

Iran-Backed Militias Step Up the Battle in Iraq

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 6:05am

Iran-Backed Militias Step Up the Battle in Iraq by Jonathan Spyer – Wall Street Journal

Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq are growing more powerful and confident as they operate with increasing impunity.


Gunmen murdered Iraqi novelist Alaa Mashzoub, a chronicler of Iraq’s lost Jewish community, as he rode his bicycle through his hometown of Karbala Feb. 3. Mashzoub was a bold critic of Iran’s increasing power in Iraq. His relatives believe that was what led Shiite militiamen to target him.


A few days after the killing, Aws al-Khafaji, a powerful Shiite militia leader in his own right and Mashzoub’s kinsman, appeared on TV and denounced Iranian interference in Iraq. He was captured by the Shiite militias of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units and has not been seen since.


The same week, in a less dramatic but equally ominous incident, Iraqi Shiite militiamen challenged a U.S. Army foot patrol near the al-Qathia base in eastern Mosul. Heavily armed men parked a vehicle in the way of the patrol and followed the U.S. troops, filming. The video clip released later triumphantly declared, against a background of tinny martial music, that the fighters of the Popular Mobilization Units’ Ninawah Command had successfully disrupted the American attempt to conduct a patrol in the city.


These events, among others, demonstrate that Iran’s Shiite militia allies are beginning to constitute a second power in Iraq, within and beside the official state. Confrontation with the 5,200 U.S. troops in the country is inevitable…

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