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The presence and activity of Iraq’s Shia warlords and their militias have an impact on U.S. interests and policies at both the strategic and operational levels. The practical objective of this monograph is to provide a better understanding of the Shia militia phenomenon and to highlight the factors with which U.S. policymakers and U.S. Army planners and commanders will have to deal with respect to operations in Iraq.
The appearance and rapid advance in 2014 of ISIS, or the Islamic State as it calls itself, and the security crisis that resulted in Iraq also engendered a mushrooming in the size and role of the Shia militias in Iraq and has resulted in the unprecedented importance and status of the warlords who lead them. With the reenergizing of the pre-
The militias are embedded in mainstream society, and the warlords who lead them are also political and often religious leaders and have emerged as powerbrokers in the country’s political system in their own right. Not only have the militias had an impact on the battlefield, but the warlords have also shaped policies on such issues as the formation of a National Guard in the Sunni areas, whether to target ISIS in urban areas, whether to rehabilitate the Baathists, and whether to establish detente with the Gulf States; they have also hindered reconciliation with the Sunni community, which is needed in order to weaken ISIS’s appeal in that community.
Given the militias’ links with Iran, Iranian hostility to U.S. policies or a degradation in U.S.-
This study was created at the Army War College Strategic Studies Institute.