Shi’ite Iraqi Militants Fight Rebel Groups in Syria, in Increasingly Sectarian Proxy War

Iraqi Shi’ite militants have crossed the border to fight in Syria, often alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s troops, adding to the sectarian nature of the proxy war there.

The news that Shi’ite Iraqi militias are fighting in Syria with the Assad regime and against many of the other foreign fighters, primarily Sunni, that have flooded into Syria to fight alongside the rebel opposition complicates and compounds an already messy civil conflict rife with foreign fighters and meddling from foreign powers.

This conflict has gone far beyond Syrian opposition groups taking up arms against the Assad regime. On the one hand, there are Sunni militant groups flooding to Syria from all over the Arab world, including Sunni fighters from Iraq as well as Sunni Gulf states, and they are fighting to topple Assad. Many of these groups are hard-line Islamic jihadists fighting under the banner of al-Qaeda.

On the other hand, there are Shi’ite militias from Iraq fighting to keep Assad in power. “Among them are defectors and former fighters from anti-U.S Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army, the Iran-backed Badr group and Asaib al-Haq and Kata’ib Hezbollah, militias who once waged a bloody war on American troops,” Reuters reports.

Many of the Shi’ite Iraqi militants claim to pledge loyalty to Iran’s supreme Shi’ite religious leader, and Iraq’s Shi’ite leadership claims they have no sanction from Baghdad.

The unraveling and increasing complexity of the war in Syria is in part a reflection of the great power politics of the region. Syria’s Assad is Iran’s close ally, both Shi’ite. Sunni monarchs in the Gulf, like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, et al. want Assad to go in the hopes that a Sunni ally will arise in Syria. These Gulf states are supporting their own foreign Sunni fighters in Syria.

The argument that the United States ought to get involved in the sectarian proxy war is becoming exceedingly dangerous. The US is already sending aid and facilitating the delivery of weapons from the Gulf states to rebel groups fighting to topple Assad, but recent reporting has confirmed Washington has little control over who receives that assistance. Meddling in Syria needs to reduce overall if conditions on the ground are to improve.

Last 5 posts by John Glaser

Author: John Glaser

John Glaser writes for Antiwar.com.

  • Duglarri

    Welcome to the sixth century. What we westerners fail to understand is that there is a war between Shia and Sunni that has been going on since the battle of Karbala in 680 AD. The west was only Osama's target as an ally of the Shia, as he saw it; once we were out of the way the real war – against Shia- would begin.

    And now, in Syria, with the Shia coming in from outside, the real war is on.

    We really, really need to stay out of this.

    • Umm Abdullah

      This not something new in Syria; the Syrians have been reporting Farsi speakers (Iranians) in there since the beginning.

  • Ben_C

    The "sectarian nature" of the 'conflict' is an intentional 'invention'…

    After all: virtually everyone in Syria are "Arabs" (unlike the 'evil' "Persian" Iranians the so called "opposition" has made it clear this is a 'dual' war on…)…

    What's to 'fight' about among "Arabs"???

    "Reuters" has no (zero) 'credibility' on this "issue" ('situation')…

    • Umm Abdullah

      Intentional invention by whom?

  • MoT

    Reduced meddling? Why, that's the antithesis of American foreign policy!

    • Augustbrhm

      america`s foreign policy is invasion, murder,destruction as they have done to so many countries. To date 100Million died as a result of her policies least we forget the 43Million native americans.

  • Umm Abdullah

    The sectarian conflict has always been important here. Normally, when I try to say that here, I get all the thumbs downs…

    "Syria’s Assad is Iran’s close ally, both Shi’ite."

    Their other ally is Hezbollah (also Shiites). Actually, though, the Alawites who run Syria are actually an offshoot that's so far off that even Shiites don't consider them Shiites.

    "Sunni monarchs in the Gulf, like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, et al. want Assad to go in the hopes that a Sunni ally will arise in Syria. These Gulf states are supporting their own foreign Sunni fighters in Syria."

    It's actually the PEOPLE of the Gulf countries who want Assad to go. The monarchs have to respond to the demand. They are NOT supporting their own citizens going off to fight in Syria; the men that do so do it secretly, and governments like the Saudis' stop them when they can. They also detain shaykhs who speak out too much on Syria. The UAE government has been cracking down on Islamists for a while now, and they hate the Muslim Brotherhood. I'd like to see any evidence you have that the Gulf countries are sending jihadis to Syria (not counting Iranian or Russian TV).

  • Augustbrhm

    After AbuGarib and the invasion of Iraq america is finished in the middle east and so will israel. Iran will control them all being nuclear ready since the late 80`s and is just playing chess with them.

  • anti_republocrat

    "Meddling in Syria needs to reduce overall if conditions on the ground are to improve."

    Why on earth would the MICC or the rest of the 1% want "conditions on the ground" in Syria to improve? How could the MICC justify intervening in the "arc of instability" if there is no instability? Why is just about every country within the "arc of instability" more unstable than it was 10 years ago?