As ISIS Shrinks in Iraq, Shi’ite Militias Continue to Grow

Joining Militias 'Easier' Than the Military

Once controlling virtually the whole western side of the country, ISIS has lost the overwhelming majority of its territory in Iraq, and a shift to try to defend their territory in Syria is also reducing their numbers in the country. As this is happening, the Shi’ite militia movement in Iraq continues to grow at a rapid pace.

In recent years, fatwas from Shi’ite religious leaders urging the faithful to join militias to fight ISIS brought a lot of new recruits. Economic struggles resulting from oil’s weakness on the market brought in even more, seeking a steady paycheck.

One security official noted that for many, joining the militias was seen as “easier” than joining the military, and some may be hoping that the waning of ISIS’ fortunes in the country may prevent them having to fight anybody. The danger, of course, is that whenever these ideology-driven militias get so big, they’re going to find something to do.

And while they will doubtless serve as much less of a direct threat to the central government in Iraq, that could be bad news for the country’s stability. Many of the militias have been faulted for violent revenge attacks in Sunni parts of the country after ISIS was expelled. If they remain a huge, and quasi-governmental force, they’re going to continue to harm an already shaky sectarian environment.

This is doubly problematic because the government has shown neither the willingness nor the ability to keep the militia movement in line. Indeed, many of the top politicians in Iraq are themselves top militia figures. This could be an enduring problem long after the ISIS war.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.