The Shia Power Brokers of the New Iraq

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Iraqi security forces backed by allied Shiite Popular Mobilization forces and Sunni tribal fighters prepare to attack Islamic State positions at Khalidiya Island in Anbar province, Iraq, Monday, Aug. 1, 2016. (RWA FAISAL/AP)

 

 

As the embattled country wages war on ISIS in the north, its future may be decided by clerics in the south.

KARBALA, Iraq—The inner sanctum of the Imam Hussein Shrine shines day and night, illuminated by jeweled chandeliers. Their light is reflected in the mirrored domes of the roof, and gleams across the gold-framed marble walls. At the center of the shrine, a stream of pilgrims presses against the gilded grating that surrounds the sarcophagus of Hussein, grandson of the prophet Muhammad. In 680 AD, Imam Hussein was killed in the Battle of Karbala fighting the forces of the Umayyad caliph, his death cementing Sunni political dominance across the Islamic world. The battle was the point of no return in the schism between Sunni and Shia Islam, becoming the basis for the Shiites’ distinct rituals and identity, at the center of which is Hussein’s sacrifice.

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Who Really Controls Iraq? Inside Iran’s Powerful Proxy Armies

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When social media began to light up with pictures of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani rallying Shiite militiamen and Hezbollah soldiers ahead of Russia and Iran’s joint effort to retake the city of Aleppo, some wondered where all of these fighters came from. After all, even though the IRGC has now all but admitted it sent soldiers to Syria for the offensive, it wasn’t as if the entire Iranian army marched in overnight and if you believe the reports from the frontlines, the ground force marching on Syria’s largest city looks quite a bit different from the depleted SAA which was all but decimated just two months ago. Continue reading