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The Shi’a Militancy in Iraq

September 22, 2011

If you haven’t heard of the CTC’s monthly publication, Sentinel, you should really check it out.  Anyway, in the August edition, Ramzy Mardini has a great rundown on the underlying Shi’a movement in Iraq and how it is affecting ground operations and the potential for the future of Iraq.

In June 2011, 14 U.S. soldiers were killed by hostile fire, representing the largest monthly toll for U.S. forces since June 2008. Twelve of those fatalities were attributed to three extremist Shi`a groups: Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), Kataib Hizb Allah (KH), and the Promised Day Brigades (PDB).[4] All three organizations are directly tied to the IRGC Qods Force, led under the direction of the enigmatic Brigadier General Qasem Soleimani.


Among the three Shi`a groups, KH has demonstrated to be the most advanced and sophisticated. “They’re much more experienced,” asserted the same military official. “It’s a learning process. They have better facilities, more money and backing, more experienced fighters, and better recruiting.”[9] On June 6, 2011, KH carried out multiple IRAM attacks on Camp Loyalty in eastern Baghdad that led to the deaths of five U.S. soldiers, the most in a single incident since April 2009.


The frequency and type of operations by Iranian-sponsored Shi`a insurgents has demonstrated their higher level of confidence and freedom of movement in Baghdad and southern Iraq. This is partially the result of the elevated political influence of the Sadrist Trend in key southern provinces since the March 2010 parliamentary elections. Occupying 40 seats out of the 325-seat Council of Representatives, the Shi`a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr holds more representation in parliament than any individual party in Iraq.


The Iran-Syria axis is the most enduring alliance in the Middle East.[25] Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad made Syria the first Arab state to recognize the Islamic Republic of Iran and was its only Arab partner throughout the devastating 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. While serving as a linchpin for Iran’s reach to the Arab world, including the Palestinian Territories, Syria is also Iran’s bridge to Lebanese Hizb Allah. The consequences of al-Assad succumbing to the same fate as Mubarak could limit Lebanese Hizb Allah’s influence and mobility. In response, reports indicate Tehran is intensifying its efforts to reproduce the Lebanese Hizb Allah model by grooming various Shi`a proxy groups in Iraq to extend its interests in the Arabian Gulf and the greater Middle East.


The United States perhaps overstresses the “prestige motivation” behind the revival of Shi`a militancy, and by default overlooks the broader dynamics playing out in the region as a source of instability in Iraq. Indeed, the strategic implications carried by the Arab Spring—the consequences of developments in Syria, heightened Saudi-Iranian rivalry, and a new assertive Turkish foreign policy in both Iraq and the region—will largely characterize Iraq’s security environment for the foreseeable future.

Read the whole thing here.

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