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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Iran general said to mastermind Iraq ground war

BAGHDAD (AP) — When Islamic State militants retreated from the embattled town of Jurf al-Sakher last week, the Iraqi military was quick to flaunt a rare victory against the extremist group, with state television showing tanks and Humvees parading through the town and soldiers touring government buildings that had been occupied by the militants since August.

However, photos soon emerged on independent Iraqi news websites revealing a more discreet presence – the powerful Iranian general Ghasem Soleimani – whose name has become synonymous with the handful of victories attributed to Iraqi ground forces. Local commanders said Lebanon’s powerful Shiite Hezbollah group was also on the front lines.

Shiite militias have played a key role in driving the Islamic State group out of the so-called Baghdad Belt of Sunni villages ringing the capital. But the sectarian militias have long been implicated in brutality against the country’s Sunnis, and while they have benefited from U.S.-led airstrikes, their advance could undermine efforts to knit the troubled country together. Continue reading