Shiite Militias of Iraq Reject US Return, Threaten to Attack US Forces

By Juan Cole

The pan-Arab, London-based daily, “Al-Sharq al-Awsat” (The Middle East) reports that the major Shiite militias of Iraq are denouncing Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi for welcoming US air support in the fight against the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Prime Minister al-Abadi himself rejected conventional US ground troops for Iraq on Wednesday, even as Gen. Dempsey said that they might ultimately be necessary. The militias are going further, saying Yankees go Home altogether.

Hamza Mustafa reports from Baghdad that Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Iran-backed Badr Corps, warned that the American plan is to take credit for the victories of the Iraqi armed forces and the popular militias. He called for a rejection of the plan and dependence solely on Iraqi military and paramilitary to defeat ISIL. The Badr Brigades are the paramilitary arm of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), led by Shiite cleric Sayyid Ammar al-Hakim. Al-Hakim condemned the exclusion of Iran from the international coalition opposing ISIL. The new foreign minister, Ibrahim al-Jafari also objected to the exclusion of Iran . His party, the National Reform Trend, is close to al-Sadr.

The Bloc of the Free (al-Ahrar) led by Shiite cleric Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr called on al-Abadi to reject the US plan. Muqtada al-Sadr warned the US against trying to reoccupy Iraq and threatened, “If you return, we will return.” This was a reference to his Mahdi Army, which had subsided in importance after the US withdrawal. Muqtada boasted that the militia had inflicted heavy casualties on US troops and forced the US out. He also said that if the Mahdi Army “Peace Brigades” discovered an American presence in any province where they were fighting ISIL, they should immediately withdraw from the fight. (For the US Air Force to give close air support to Iraqi troops, there have to be US Special Operations forces on the ground to paint lasers on the targets and to coordinate with the Iraqi Army).

Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq (Gangs of the People of Truth) also condemned al-Abadi for welcoming foreign intervention.

The Shiite militias appear to have been key to the breaking of the siege of Amerli, where ISIL had planned to massacre the 20,000 Turkmen Shiites living there. The US did give close air support to them and the Iraqi Army, which they didn’t seem to mind at the time. But now they are all rejecting any US involvement. It is not clear that the Iraqi Army, which suffers from low morale, bad training and corruption, can do the job against ISIL by itself, without the aid of the militias.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports an anonymous Iraqi politician as saying that former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki made a mistake when he continued to rely on the militias and did not take advantage of the fatwa/ religious legal ruling of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in favor of the regular Iraqi Army to build it up and take recruits away from the militias.

It is difficult to tell how serious these militia leaders’ pronouncements are, since they might be attempting to save face with their followers even as they benefit from the US air cover. On the other hand, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq actually did in the past kidnap US troops, and the Mahdi Army fought them tooth and nail in spring of 2004, inflicting high casualties on them. Since President Obama’s air campaign requires Special Ops forces like Navy Seals or Green Berets to be on the ground with the Iraqi Army, they should apparently watch their backs. The people they are trying to help against ISIL don’t seem to appreciate their being there. And many of them seem to prefer Iran’s help.


Related video

from a couple of months ago: The Telegraph: “Iraq Shia militias mobilise in face of threat from Sunni-led jihadists ”

21 Responses

  1. If the military situation dangerously deteriorated in Iraq, with or without U.S. airpower, with IS seriously threatening Baghdad and other Shiite cities and towns especially to the south, and the Iranian army entered in very substantial numbers, effectively defended the Shiite cities and towns, and then began encroaching on Anbar and Mosul (Sunni areas), what might Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states do or threaten? Could hostilities break out between Iran and Riyadh? Could the oil fields in each place come under attack and the Gulf become an all-out war zone? Do I worry too much?

  2. I’m pretty sure we’ve all seen this tragi-comedy before. It has never ended well. Why should it be any different now? But, alas, election years make strange bed-fellows. Hopenchange’s legacy will be merely that white males do not have a monopoly on idiocy and hubris. Shocking, I know.

  3. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha…

    Whatcha gonna do, you Beltway idiots? You ain’t in any way ready to go to war against the who!e world! Too bad you paid so little attention to the lessons you were supposed to learn in kindergarten…

  4. Most rebellions are against rather than for something. A meaningful element in this whole business is simple anti-Americanism, and I think that is what motivates many ex patriot volunteers. No one trusts the US, not even it’s closest allies. Its track record is appalling.

    It’s perfectly natural for neighbours to engage in competitive activities including armed ones. It was going on in Europe when I was a toddler, and still is although morphed into economic conflict. These conflicts are manifestations of the flux of ordinary social life and are better left to local resolution, your third paragraph confirms this. Much of the chaos in the ME is the direct result of US hegemonic aspirations, everybody knows that; leaders of the so called terrorists have frequently come out and said so quite openly, clearly and unequivocally. The IS announced exactly why it was going to execute the US and UK captives and what was required to abort the executions. Osama bin Laden frequently addressed similar messages to the US. The US pays no attention, it’s as if those responsible cannot imagine anyone actually meaning what they say. The Australians decided, heaven knows why, to support the US against the IS and in direct consequence have just had to employ 800 police to arrest potential assassins planning to behead random Australians in Australia! link to Is it any wonder Kerry cannot readily put together his coalition and has to content himself with ever shifting circumlocutory evasions.

    • I wonder whether those Australian “beheading plots” are a fraud. The PM clearly wants US military investment, and would not quickly have offered troops otherwise. Nor would they have suddenly found such plots afterward. Nor is it likely that IS would be so anxious to recruit enemies on the other side of the world. Who benefits? The Australian right wing.

  5. America will fight for the good of the people whether the people like it or not!
    I am guessing that the main tug of power (among the many tugs of power) is for the U.S. to prevent Iran from gaining greater “hegemony” in the Middle East—in addition to pushing ISIL back.

    • One little oindex of what the “main tug of power” is, out of the mouth of one of the ” really smart” architects of imperial idiocy himself:

      Some of the U.S. Army’s sharpest minds warned young combat leaders of what they should expect as America enters a new chapter in its war with Islamic extremists.

      Seasoned leaders such as retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal met with young Army officers and sergeants at Fort Benning, Ga., just hours before President Obama outlined his strategy for destroying the extremist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

      “We are at a period where our enemies respect us, but they don’t fear us,” McChrystal told his audience at the 2014 Maneuver Conference Wednesday. McChrystal is the former commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.

      “The specter of American power is no longer enough to get somebody just not to do something.” From that General Idiot (ret.) Stan McChrystal. link to

      The limits of power have been insanely exceeded. Of course, like with the Israelis, we always have all those Rapture-ready nukularweapons…

  6. We broke it, so we own it. That’s why we broke it in the first place.

    Simple, we’ll just have to add al Sadr and his corps to the rejectionist list for you know what.

  7. Surprise? All during the US occupation of Iraq, the Badr brigades (heavily backed by Iran) tacitly backed the Americans, and now just a day or two after Iran was excluded from ISIL talks, Badr is coming out opposed to US interference and opposed to Iranian exclusion.

    On the other hand, I’m surprised it took the Mahdi army this long to express their opposition to US interference.

    The US is using the new civil war in Iraq as an opportunity to expand US military influence in the region. Unless the US can mollify the Iraqi militias, what choices will the US have? Much of that comes down to al-Abadi’s government.

    I’m assuming al-Abadi is receiving a lot of pressure from the US to give legitimacy to US involvement. I’m assuming the US is using the carrot of money and military success with the stick of instability and lack of money. If he attempts to say no to the US, though, the US has few recourses to force him to comply. Unless the US has been grooming Iraqi military officers its unlikely they could mount a coup. Would the US encourage Kurdish independence? No, that would lead to a split with important ally Turkey. What about funding a Shiite militia to oppose al-Abadi? I do not know of any militia the US could hope subvert is such a way. What about a Sunni militia, ex the Awakening militias? Possible, but they’d be nothing but spoilers, along the lines of the Nicaraguan contras, with no hope of seizing power. So really, al-Abadi, is currently in a powerful negotiating position with respect to American involvement.

    Given that al-Abadi is in a powerful situation vis-a-vis the Americans, the only question is what kind of danger does he face from the militias? Historically, the Mahdi militia is the only militia that actively opposed US involvement. But it looks like now across the board militias are rejecting a new occupation, i.e. the so-called boots on the ground. Hence, as long as al-Abadi can hide the US face on the conflict, he can likely keep the militias from opposition. And he has a carrot, too. The militias have been getting good press from their successes against ISIL. By fighting alongside US special forces and air force they can continue to get good press.

    But long term, al-Abadi or any other Iraqi leader faces the usual danger of cooperating with American interests. The US is only fighting in Iraq because of oil. As much a possible they want their dependents to be in control of the oil. So, in Iraq, the Americans will seek to instigate government changes, subvert the Iraqi military and militias along the 20th century Latin American lines, and expand their military presence. It will become increasingly difficult for al-Abadi to hide the US face on the conflict. And the US really has no reason to resolve the conflict. At some point al-Abadi will either have to accept the US face and use authoritarian techniques to control the people, or he will have to oppose American involvement and face replacement.

    If I had to make a prediction, I believe the Obama admin can maintain the low profile required to stay involved. But come Spring of 2017, with the change of president the balance will be lost. By Spring 2018, Iraq will be run by an authoritarian.

  8. It’s not a surprise but it should leave a lot of people scratching their heads about the urgency of providing “American help” both in Iraq and in Syria (whose “moderate rebels” also are less than thrilled by our impending “help”)

    re syria (09/11/2014) nyt: U.S. Pins Hope on Syrian Rebels With Loyalties All Over the Map.


    The Syrian rebels are a scattered archipelago of mostly local forces with ideologies that range from nationalist to jihadist. Their rank-and-file fighters are largely from the rural underclass, with few having clear political visions beyond a general interest in greater rights or the dream of an Islamic state.

    Most have no effective links to the exile Syrian National Coalition, meaning they have no political body to represent their cause. And the coalition’s Supreme Military Council, which was intended to unite the moderate rebel forces, has all but collapsed.


    We seem to be in considerable denial when we talk about these countries as if they were “real” nation-states able to control their borders and their people, see also Turkey (which frankly baffles and alarms me). The Syrian rebel militias are said to number in the hundreds — the Iraqi appear to be similarly numerous, small and regional — none of them have any practical way to negotiatewith Baghdad, even to negotiate a surrender, much less (as was and is true in Libya) a way to actually unify sufficiently to be able to govern/rule should they ‘win’.

    If this were a presidential election year, I’d suspect McCain of “dirty trick” but I don’t think (even) he has enough connections or finesse to orchestrate this embarrassing spectacle.

    • Today, on the Senate floor, Rand Paul came out against arming the Syrian rebels. He’s already getting ready for 2016 and Hillary the Hawk is the anticipated target not to mention all the GOP presidential candidates who are also hawks.


  9. The real problem comes if and when the Iraqi army and/or the militias enter one of the Sunni areas and begin to exact their revenge. Then what does the US do?

  10. Pastor Richard

    @SarahElshair Every so often I feel the US can’t win. ‘Please save us from ISIS!’ .. ‘Er, OK, coming’ .. ‘You’re not welcome here!’

  11. Pastor Richard

    I wish the ME would decide: do you want the West’s help or not? Because we Brits will be glad to leave you all to it @SarahElshair

  12. Obama has said that politicians shouldn’t do ‘stupid stuff’ but in the tradition of don’t-do-as-I-do-but-as-I-say he seems to have reserved for himself the right to do ‘stupid stuff.’

    With regard to Obama saying no boots on the ground and Dempsey saying maybe boots on the ground, Dempsey may have been authorized to say this as a trial balloon.

  13. Robert Parry has an article at Consortium News about the long memories of Scots that apparently apply equally to people in the Middle East.

    “Braveheart, Edward I, and Bush: From the Archive: As Scots vote on independence from Great Britain, part of the motivation for those voting “aye” is the brutal history of English repression of Scottish freedom, dating back centuries but fresh in the minds of many Scots, a lesson about unintended consequences of violence that should be remembered by today’s politicians,” as Robert Parry noted in 2005. – link to

    When he originally wrote that article Parry believed it was something Bush the Younger should have heeded. Today, it is obviously something Obama should heed.

  14. Iran couldn’t beat Iraq in the last war…if they entered this fight the Sunnis will beat them back…the Shiites in Iraq don’t have the stomach to fight Isis and t,he saudis couldn’t fight a paper bag,nor any of the gulf weenies…so it’s Iran or nothing..the US air war won’t work unless we go to mass high carnage and napalm …which we won’t do…so it s a real real mess…and nobody can forecast anything

  15. There’s a whole lot of things the crooked Al-Maliki didn’t listen to and unfortunate that pretty much most Shia Iraqis didn’t heed Ayatollah Sistani’s call for a national unity through the Iraqi army, which however had an image problem due to their earlier cowardice and dysfunction.

    There’s one thing not noted in the article about the Iranian backed Shia militias calculus and their distrust of the US, despite benefiting from much needed desperate help when the Turkmen faced a massacre….that one thing is Syria (where Iraqi men did fight in, mostly to protect their shrines). Their rhetoric or paranoia is not totally unfounded.

    Despite the current US help, the Iran/Iraq alliance is still uneasy and just an unsure alignment. The US is still turning towards the Sunni states (its not like the Shia militias didn’t notice the likes of Saudi, Qatar, Bahrain, etc being in that alliance, who they believe support the Sunni Islamist extremists in every way) in Iraq, to arm Sunni tribals again (where there’s still no guarantee that they won’t turn against any Shia-led govt again) AND arming the Syrian rebels again when ISIL gained its success from there into Iraq (Even though AQI was earlier Iraqi based), and do not believe there are ‘moderate’ Sunni rebels.

    They see a double game of the US backstabbing them (who clearly excluded Iran, which was again noted), when its still on a course to knock off Alawite Assad, who is in Iran’s interest, or overall regional Shia interests who may fear being crushed again, be it by a sectarian Sunni hegemony or Israel.

  16. A Special Forces saying about Afghanistan that is true for the ISIL catastrophe: “We’ve got all the watchers but they’ve got all the time”.

  17. Es muy sencillo: los iraquíes (todos los iraquíes) no quieren la presencia de los americanos en Irak. Está muy claro. ¿Y porqué? pues muy sencillo, porque los americanos siempre agravan el problema, nunca lo resuelven; siempre crean problemas, nunca los solucionan.

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