Their enhanced role in the fight against the Sunni militants will deepen Iran’s influence in Iraq, giving the non-Arab and mostly Shiite country a role similar to the one it plays in Syria. Tehran has thrown its weight behind Assad’s government in his struggle against mostly Sunni rebels and militants from al-Qaida-inspired or linked groups.
Shiite militiamen interviewed by The Associated Press in the past two days talk of undergoing training in Iran and then being flown to Syria to fight on the government’s side. Once there, they say they are met by Iranian operatives who give them weapons and their assignment.
The militiamen, interviewed separately, paint a picture of their groups as being inspired by what they call a “grave” threat to their community. They say they have been motivated by the call to arms by their most revered cleric, the Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Ominously, they don’t see the ISIL as their sole enemy; they also list Iraqi Sunnis whom they accuse of supporting the al-Qaida-inspired group in areas now under the militants’ control.
Their comments also suggest a high level of acquiescence by al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government. Six years ago, the government battled the Shiite militias in Basra to establish his authority and project his image as a national leader.
Now, al-Maliki publicly meets with militia leaders, like Qais al-Khazali of the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, a group that staged some spectacular attacks against U.S. troops before their withdrawal in 2011.
Hadi al-Amiri, a Shiite Cabinet minister who once led the Badr Brigade militia, created by Iran and trained by its Revolutionary Guard in the 1980s, is now a close ally of al-Maliki and personally directs battles against militants in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, where he won a parliament seat in April elections.