In a move that appears set to further exacerbate sectarian tensions within Iraq, the Iraqi parliament has voted to fully legalize armed Shi’ite militias as a state-sanctioned entity, with guarantees of military-level wages for all of their fighters.
The militias have grown dramatically during the ISIS war, and are estimated to number over 100,000 fighters. The groups have been highly controversial, as many have engaged in violent purges of Sunni Arabs in “liberated” areas from which ISIS was expelled.
The new law aims to give these groups a greater veneer of legitimacy, but doesn’t appear like it will restrict such purges. The law also explicitly excludes the groups from restrictions on ages of recruits as well as education, allowing them to recruit people normally ineligible to be in Iraq’s military.
The vote was broadly opposed by Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority, with Vice President Osama Nujaifi complaining that it marks a dangerous move away from political inclusion, and creates a force that will ultimately operate parallel to the police and military.
Shi’ite officials dismissed the complaints, insisting the only people who could possibly be opposed are “Sunni politicians following foreign agendas.” Since the last parliamentary election took place during the ISIS war, much of the Sunni population was not given the vote at any rate, and were subsequently far too small a portion of parliament to oppose the move.