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The menace of Shia militia to Kurds and Iraq itself

By Paul Iddon 30/11/2015
An Iraqi Shia militia. AFP photo
An Iraqi Shia militia. AFP photo

The recent clashes between Iraqi Shia militia the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and Kurdish Peshmerga in the mixed Kurdish town of Tuz Khurmatu earlier this month was a worrying incident. It was also a depressing reminder of the potentiality that simmering tensions between the Kurds and elements within the Shias over disputed territories could escalate into further conflict and bloodshed.

The Kurdish claim over Kirkuk for example is something that some Iranian-backed Shia militias are resolutely opposed to, and in that area they certainly have the means to forcefully oppose the Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) regardless of whether or not Article 140 is finally implemented.

The central government in Baghdad has a responsibility to reign in these militias and ensure that issues pertaining to disputed territories are resolved by negotiations or referendum, not by brute force. Especially if it wants to be seen as a legitimate authority for the increasingly divided polity that is today’s Iraqi state.

But that's the thing: There are very worrying signs that in some places these militia groups are in fact eclipsing the central government who mightn't be able to reign them in if they, say, attacked the Kurds and/or Peshmerga in Kirkuk or elsewhere. A worrying Reuters investigation from last month found that these militias may soon be in a position whereby they outgun the state and can do essentially whatever they want regardless of whatever Baghdad's official policy or stance happens to be.

Clashes in Tuz Khurmatu were halted due to Iran's arbitration between the two sides. Not Baghdad's. That itself was telling about who has the real clout among such groups. Sure Baghdad's resources--like everyone else fighting ISIS in Iraq--are understandably stretched. But the tenuous control it has over many of these militia groups is surely something that Erbil has the right to worry about. Especially in light of the complete failure of anyone but their own comparably lightly-armed Peshmerga to defend not only Kirkuk but the internationally-recognized KRG territories, including Erbil, in August 2014. There is no reason to believe that an attempt by any of the Shia militia group ostensibly under Baghdad's command today could be halted by that government if they were to take aggressive actions against the KRG.

Not only is Baghdad's ability to prevent the KRG region from being attacked by any of these groups in serious question but rigorous upholding of the 'One Iraq' policy (which is strictly adhered to by the United States) is seeing the Peshmerga being allotted small quantities of armaments and supplies with which to defend itself against ISIS and, likely, put substantial manpower and resources into any future effort to wrest Mosul from ISIS's control. In stark contrast the PMF have been seen brandishing hardware originally designated to the Iraqi military. All the while shipments of arms from Europe going through Baghdad (which include additional supplies for their forces too) have routinely been increasingly denied permission to finish their journey's to deliver arms to Erbil.

This coupled with the fact that Baghdad pays the salaries of many of these militias while not maintaining full command-and-control over them (which was evident when Iranian-backed Shia militias planned and initiated the offensive against ISIS in Tikrit by themselves earlier this year) demonstrates just how untenable such a status quo is from Erbil's perspective. Since this ISIS crisis gripped Iraq the Kurds were conclusively shown what they already, and always, knew: That they can only count on themselves and their own Peshmerga to secure and safeguard their homeland. 

Paul Iddon is a freelance journalist and political writer who writes on Middle East affairs, politics, developments and history. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.


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Naive | 30/11/2015
Kurds are naive and ignorant because they let Shia enter tuz khormatu area. This is the price of your naive behavior believing that Arabs are your brother and Turks are derece yek! Well, it's time to be extreme nationalist and selfish! If not, don't be surprise that your enemy will again destroy your litle brain! Wake up and be united! It's never too late.
Brzoo Kurdi
Brzoo Kurdi | 30/11/2015
These people need a new window to see the world through,they still look at the world through the same window that Ali did, but we all know that,that window is not suitable for the time we live is amazing the Shia militia is not able to move on and change their perspective ,why do you think we have Isis to deal with today ?because of these stagnant people.
Brzoo Kurdi
Brzoo Kurdi | 30/11/2015
If you take a look at the picture carefully,you will see why it is not possible to reconcile Isis, or Arab Sunni to these intoxicated religious people,then how is it possible to live or even to have a constructive talk with people who fight over some stupid religious deal that happened over a thousand years ago, that is why there should be a Kurdish state as soon as possible.we can not live with these backward people.
Brzoo Kurdi
Brzoo Kurdi | 30/11/2015
If anyone who is telling us that Kirkuk is not a part of Kurdistan,they are telling us that fish can live without water,or they are telling us that a bird can fly without wings,so there is no use talking to people like that,anyone who have read only one page of history, not many pages they will see that Kirkuk is indisputably belongs to the Kurds. we will never compromise the heart of Kurdistan ,Kirkuk.
kurt basar | 30/11/2015
Last 1400 years the Karduniash (land of the kurds) is occupied by the believers of fabricated religion of the ignorant Arab camel driver & become fighting ground of their savage followers (Shia versus Sunni). They also unfortunately converted the kurds to this disease by force w/ blade of the sword & divided the poor Kurds to the too many sects, for to make their unity difficult. At the present savage turmoil of the Middle East, the Kurds truly need a strong leader for to overcome these difficulties and unite the Kurds & I hope they do, otherwise god forbid they will be at the mercy of the Muslim brotherhood savages, who are supported by the Turkish Muslim barbarians.
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