There are several reasons for this shortcoming. First of all, the Iranian regime has been capable of selling its narrative to some; a narrative that depicts those militias as key players in promoting peace and stability in Iraq. This narrative is totally fallacious, as the proliferation of militia groups is the main reason behind the fact that Iraq has been engulfed by a bloody civil war for over a decade. This conflict has resulted in more than three million displaced Iraqis inside the country, and hundreds of thousands of refugees. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government continues to struggle to maintain security.
Secondly, there is an unsophisticated argument and misconception in the West that projects Iraq from a binary lens and religious perspective; that is the Shiites versus Sunnis. Daesh receives the most coverage from Western media outlets as the malevolent group; as a result, some jump to the simplified conclusion that other groups or militias must be the benevolent force.
Third, through its influence in the Iraqi government, the Iranian regime has pushed Iraq into recognizing these militias as “legitimate” groups, incorporating them into the state apparatuses and making the Iraqi government allocate wages and ammunition for them.
Currently, the Iraqi government pays for a conglomerate of militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. However, it is critical to break up these misconceptions. Based on my research at Harvard, I found over 30 prominent Shiite militia groups in Iraq, some of which are designated as terrorist groups, while one of the PMF's key figures is Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis — a US-designated terrorist. The number of militias continues to increase, as many keep emerging as offshoots of larger organizations.
Fight against Daesh has given Iran-backed extremist groups legitimacy, but the international community must hold them responsible for their continuing crimes against humanity.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
These groups are engaged in various crimes against civilians, including summary executions, disappearances, torture, the use of child soldiers, widespread demolition of buildings, indiscriminate attacks, and unlawful restrictions on the movement of people fleeing the fighting.The militias are skilled at exploiting religion and using sectarianism as a powerful tool to gain power and further Iran’s parochial, religious and political ambitions.
In addition, the militias attempt to recruit more fighters by targeting civilians and imposing their ideological and political agendas on ordinary people. Civilians are targeted for several reasons, including their social and economic status, as well as their religious and political beliefs. Extortion and kidnapping for ransoms are other options used to make money. Some militias demand that ordinary people join them, threatening them if they refuse, and there is plenty of evidence that they have harmed those who interfere with their agendas.
According to several human rights groups, those who oppose the militias’ agendas have faced various methods of violence, including torture, rape, burns, knife cuts, and bruising from beatings. Furthermore, some civilians have been forced by various militia groups to carry out compulsory military or non-military service. Civilian men, women, and children are being targeted indiscriminately. Regardless of age and gender, civilians have been arbitrarily arrested, detained, tortured or killed. As a report by the UN pointed out: “The violence suffered by civilians in Iraq remains staggering.”
Militia groups such as Kataib Al-Imam Ali, which is trained and supported by the Iranian regime, have used horrific tactics such as showing videos of beheadings and the burning bodies of dissidents. Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq, which is also known for its cruel tactics and violent attacks, reportedly receives about $2 million a month from the Iranian regime.
Militias in Iraq have detained, tortured, killed and are continuing to abuse many civilians. It is incumbent on the international community and human rights group to hold the Iran-backed militia groups in Iraq responsible for their continuing crimes against humanity.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business.