(by Holly Williams, CBS News) AL MUQDADIYAH, Iraq — In Al Muqdadiyah they’re celebrating victory over ISIS.
“Run away ISIS, we’ll crush you,” the soldiers chanted, a week after they drove out the extremists.
But these soldiers are not part of Iraq’s National Army. Instead, they’re volunteers with a Shiite Muslim* militia known as the Badr Brigade. [*see “Background for explanation]
“Our guns all come from the Iraqi Defense Ministry,” said Badr Brigade Commander Essam Yahya Hussein, who ran a grocery store before he joined the fight six months ago.
The U.S. spent $20 billion training and arming the Iraqi army. Now many of its weapons are in the hands of these unchecked militiamen.
But with the Iraqi army in disarray, they have the best track record of defeating ISIS in central Iraq. The villages around Al Muqdadiyah are battle scarred and the local people have all fled. The battle for Al Muqdadiyah lasted four days, and when ISIS was finally defeated its fighters fled over hills where they’ve now regrouped.
The Badr Brigade may be effective, but they were born of Iraq’s bloody civil war and their notorious death squads are implicated in the torture and murder of thousands of Sunni Muslims*. [*see “Background for explanation]
Last week, they were accused of shooting more than 70 unarmed Sunni men in Al Muqdadiyah.
“It’s not true,” said the militia leader when we asked him about the alleged massacre. “The civilians are our brothers.”
Despite their murky past the Badr Brigades [made up of Shiite Mulsims] are being given unprecedented power by Iraq’s Shiite dominated government. General Ali Al-Wazir commands the Iraqi Army’s 20th Battalion, but now he and his men – along with their American weapons and equipment – have been put under the command of the leader of the Badr Brigade.
“But you’re national army and he’s part of the Badr organization,” I said.
“He was given the job by the prime minister,” General Al-Wazi told me. “Everybody knows it.”
As for Iran, its officials have admitted that their Quds special forces are fighting against ISIS in Iraq. That means, in Iraq, the U.S. is on the same side as both Badr – an infamously brutal militia – and Iran. It’s a connection that shows just how complicated the battle against ISIS has become. [NOTE: Iran is known to have supported and trained some Badr Brigade soldiers.]
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Read the “Background” below before answering the questions.
1. What is the Badr Brigade?
2. Where does the Badr Brigade get their weapons? Be specific.
3. What success has the Badr Brigade had that benefits all Iraqis?
4. a) How is the Badr Brigade harming Iraqis?
b) How did Badr Brigade leader Essam Hussein respond when asked about the murder of Sunni Muslims?
5. What is surprising about the chain of command between the Badr militia and the Iraqi Army?
6. Why is Iran believed to be fighting ISIS?
EXPLANATION OF SUNNI AND SHI’A (Shi’ite) MUSLIMS
From a January 8 Business Insider report “The Obama Administration Has Made A Striking Choice In Iraq”:
The US is stepping up its assistance to the Iraq, with plans to send 175 M1 Abrams tanks and scores of armored vehicles to an army that’s hasn’t been a trustworthy recipient of American aid.
And now Bloomberg is reporting that Iranian-backed Shi’ite sectarian militias are receiving equipment intended for the Iraqi military’s sole use, with the likely complicity of officials in Iraq’s security apparatus.
According to Eli Lake and Josh Rogin, US weapons are ” winding up in the possession of the country’s Shiite militias.” American policymakers are aware of this but have decided that the moral hazard of supplying an Iraqi army that in turn supplies Shi’ite militias pales in comparison to the dangers of another ISIS blitz.
“One senior administration official told us that the U.S. government is aware of this, but is caught in a dilemma,” Bloomerg reports. “The flawed Iraqi security forces are unable to fight Islamic State (ISIS) [which is a Sunni Muslim group] without the aid of the militias, who are often trained and sometimes commanded by officers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. And yet, if the U.S. stopped sending arms to the Iraqi military, things would get even worse, with ISIS overrunning more of the country and committing human-rights horrors on a broader scale. The risk of not aiding them was greater than the risk of aiding them, the official said, adding that this didn’t mean the administration was unconcerned about the risks involved.”
Iran has been closely advising Iraq’s military during the anti-ISIS fight. Sunni tribes — a crucial but fledgling partner in the US strategy in Iraq — have accused the Iraqi government of handing over military power to Iranian advisors as Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah fighters [terrorists from Lebanon backed by Iran] enter the country.
“Since the outbreak of the conflict Iran has wanted to turn Iraq into its own backyard through its agents,” Anbar tribal chief Sheikh Abdul Qadir al-Nael told Rudaw. “Now the military presence of Iran in Iraq has become clear as it has exceeded the Iranian advisers to thousand of other soldiers.”
The Shia Militias
As Matt Bradley and Ghassan Adnan reported for the Wall Street Journal in December, Shi’ite militias are more motivated, better trained, and more tactically proficient than Iraq’s national military. But these aren’t exactly virtues, considering Iraq’s ethnic and religious diversity, when those militias are burning Sunni villages to the ground.
The militias’ high morale and competence has fueled and enabled a spate of sectarian human rights abuses, “including mass shootings of prisoners and Sunni civilians and the forced displacement of Sunni families on a scale approaching ethnic cleansing.” (read the entire article: businessinsider.com/american-weapons-are-ending-up-with-iranian-proxies-in-iraq-2015-1
From a Jan. 6 Associated Press report: “Iraqi Shia Militias Fighting ISIS Are Kicking Sunnis Out Of Their Homes”
From a Jan. 77 International Business Times report: “Iraqi Sunni Leaders Accuse Shia Militias Of Killing Civilians During Diyala Offensive”
Watch a June, 2014 BBC report on the Badr Army in Iraq: