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Iraqi Shiite militants return from Syria, aggravating security crisis

Some Iraqis now worry that Shiite militants who are fighting alongside the regime in Syria will eventually return to Iraq once the Syrian crisis is over, a situation some fear might aggravate the security situation in Iraq.
Iraqi Shi'ite fighters demonstrate with their weapons during a military-style training at a camp in on the outskirt of Damascus February 13, 2014.  Picture taken February 13, 2014. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani (SYRIA - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS CONFLICT) - RTX18VD3

Many questions have been raised in Iraq about the fate of the Shiite militants fighting in Syria alongside the regime of President Bashar al-Assad once the Syrian crisis ends.

While most attention has been given to Sunni terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which is battling Iraqi government forces in Anbar province, there are also worries about those Iraqi Shiite fighters who have joined the fight on behalf of Assad.

US Secretary of State William Burns testified to the US Senate Foreign Relations on March 6, "Assad has recruited thousands of foreign fighters, mostly Shia, to defend the regime, with active Iranian support and facilitation. The hard reality is that the grinding Syrian civil war is now an incubator of extremism — on both sides of the sectarian divide."

These concerns are legitimate, especially since the number of fighters from these militias — which as Al-Monitor previously reported are substantial — consist of 14 factions. These probing questions are all the more meaningful in light of the exacerbating security crises in Iraq, without any solution in sight on the part of the Iraqi government.

It appears that Iraqi fighters continue to go to Syria to fight. The pictures of those who perished in Damascus are being hung in the squares of Iraqi Shiite cities, before the eyes of the government and political parties. Nevertheless, no measures are being taken to reduce this phenomenon. What’s more, many of the politicians have gone as far as to accuse Shiite parties of sending fighters to Syria.

Walid al-Mohammadi, a member of parliament (MP) from the Al-Iraqiya List, said, “The government is the one providing fighters to join Shiite militias fighting in Syria alongside the regime of President Assad.” He added, “The photos of dead fighters hung in the streets of Iraq are a clear proof of the government’s involvement.”

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Mohammadi said, “The armed Iraqi groups in Syria will return to Iraq once the Syrian crisis is over, which will create a state of chaos, especially since these factions are affiliated with different parties with different political arms.”

He expected these factions to “start an intense struggle for power, which will further exacerbate the security situation.”

“It is imperative to hold accountable every person who went to fight in Syria. Countries that send militants to fight in other countries are clearly violating the international law,” he added.

According to Shuwan Mohammad Taha, a member of the parliamentary Security and Defense Committee, “The presence of armed groups, whether in Syria or Iraq, is a clear indication of the dangerous security situation.”

“These militias threaten Iraq’s security and stability as well as the country’s economic and political situations,” he added.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, the Kurdish MP refused to address the subject of Shiite militias in Syria, saying that it is “a very delicate subject.”

Furthermore, writer and journalist Qassem al-Sanjari said, “The return of fighters from foreign battlefields to their homeland will not be normal. Their return will be carrying the seeds of war.”

“These extremist fighters, whether they return victorious or defeated, will try to recreate the same experience they went through all over again. If they fail to find battlefields to fight in, they will create their own in their country,” he added.

Sanjari told Al-Monitor, “Many of the fighters who returned home have been feeling a sense of alienation because they lost the rhythm of the life they were used to. It is not easy for them to return and reintegrate in a society that is already in direct conflict with their ideas and beliefs.”

“The return of the fighters serves as the transmission of the war virus from one country to another, through the war-infected bodies,” he said.

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