As the Iraqi invasion of Mosul continues, the Shi’ite militia groups who have proven so controversial in previous attacks have begun to deploy west of the city, aiming to block the escape of any ISIS forces into Syria. The militias see this as the last real fight against ISIS inside Iraq, and are openly talking about heading into Syria next.
While the militias’ involvement in previous captures of major Sunni Arab cities around Iraq has seen them looting, torturing, and killing with reckless abandon, the militias’ ambition to get into Syria once this is wrapped up may mean less are left behind around Mosul to harass the locals.
The sectarian nature of the wars in Iraq and Syria have both led to a spike in recruitment for the Shi’ite militias, with many being deployed around significant religious sites in both countries to protect them from groups like ISIS. For many of them, this has also meant a blurring of the lines between the two wars.
There remains considerable concern about the impact on the Mosul population of the militias’ presence. This is doubly true because, in “blocking” ISIS escape, they may also end up blocking the escape of the civilian population,. which is unlikely to be welcomed if they flee into Kurdish territory.
That’s also a recurring reality in Iraq’s war, that the Sunni Arab civilians aren’t welcomed into Kurdish or Shi’ite territory, and generally end up having to flee into other ISIS territory for lack of alternatives. With little ISIS territory left, it is unclear where they’ll go.
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