ShareThis Page
World

Shiite militias risk sectarian rift

| Friday, June 3, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Iraqi security forces and Shi’ite fighters fire artillery towards Islamic State terrorists near Fallujah Iraq,
REUTERS
Iraqi security forces and Shi’ite fighters fire artillery towards Islamic State terrorists near Fallujah Iraq,
Abdul Rahman Ismail, an Iraqi soldier who has been targeted by ISIS terrorists who destroyed his house two years ago, is reunited with his family Friday, June 3, 2016, outside an Iraqi military camp outside Fallujah.
Abdul Rahman Ismail, an Iraqi soldier who has been targeted by ISIS terrorists who destroyed his house two years ago, is reunited with his family Friday, June 3, 2016, outside an Iraqi military camp outside Fallujah.

BAGHDAD — Iraqi soldiers are battling to drive the Islamic State out of Fallujah. But just beyond the edges of the flashpoint city are Shiite militias that many Iraqis fear could undermine the campaign against the radical group.

These government-aligned militiamen have helped push the Islamic State out of key areas of the country but also have become a complication for the U.S.-backed military coalition assembled to destroy the hard-line Sunni group. They filled an important void left by Iraq's weakened armed forces, but their religiously motivated agenda has aggravated Iraq's combustible sectarian divisions.

That is particularly problematic in a place like Fallujah, in Iraq's Sunni heartland, where residents have a history of revolt. A decade ago, al-Qaida militants staged a punishing insurgency against then-occupying U.S. troops. Anger at the government in Baghdad helped the Islamic State win control of the area in January 2014.

Iraq's government has ordered the militias to stay away from the fighting inside the city. And the U.S. military says it refuses to give them air support, fearing that their involvement could help the Islamic State rally besieged residents to its cause.

The militias “are sectarian just like Daesh is sectarian,” said Majid al-Juraisi, a tribal leader from the city who fled to Baghdad when the Islamic State took control in January 2014. Daesh is the Arabic name for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL.

“We reject their involvement in this campaign — completely,” he said.

The militias — mostly Shiite Muslim groups known collectively as popular mobilization units, or PMUs — have a reputation for brutal reprisals against Sunnis suspected of being loyal to the Islamic State. Iraqis and human rights groups have accused them of torture, forced disappearances and executions.

Iraqi officials fear that in Fallujah, about an hour's drive west of Baghdad, the militias' reputation has played into the hands of the Islamic State. The group appears to be telling residents that the government's assault will result in sectarian slaughter.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me