Shi’ite Calls to Arms Threaten to Escalate Iraq’s Sectarian War

Leaders Envision Shi'ite Militias to Fight Alongside Military

Attacks have soared in Iraq across the summer, and have brought with them death tolls rivaling the waning years of the US occupation. Despite all efforts to the contrary, sectarian civil war is back in Iraq, with political disputes and spillover from Syria combining into a deadly powder-keg.

The sectarian nature of the attacks is fueling more tensions between Iraq’s Sunni and Shi’ite communities, and is leading to calls from Shi’ite leaders to establish “popular committees,” armed Shi’ite-only militias that would fight as auxiliaries to the military.

During the worst of the last sectarian war, militias on both sides acted as de facto death squads, “cleansing” neighborhoods of the rival sect, and fueling yet more resentment on both sides.

Combining that with the Iraqi military could be an even bigger problem, since after the last election and a reneged-on power sharing deal there is already a sense among Iraq’s Sunnis that the government is biased against them, and shoring them up with Shi’ite militias would only strengthen that belief.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of