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Why Saudis may take on Iraq’s Shiite militias

Saudi Arabia sees Iraq's Popular Mobilization Units, formed from various Shiite militias to fight the Islamic State, as a dangerous long-term foe for the Sunni Islamic world.
Head of the Badr Organisation Hadi al-Amiri (C) walks with Shi'ite fighters in Makhoul mountains, north of Baiji, October 17, 2015. Iraqi forces and Shi'ite militia fighters recaptured most of the country’s largest oil refinery from Islamic State militants on Thursday, security officials said. The report could not be independently confirmed because it is too dangerous for journalists to enter the battle zone around the refinery near the town of Baiji, about 190 km (120 miles) north of Baghdad. REUTERS/Thaie
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While the Obama administration focuses its attention on the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda, it is ignoring an equally deadly and unchecked terrorist force in the Middle East: the Shiite militias of Iraq. Groups such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kata'ib Hezbollah and the Badr Organization are the main three of the nearly 40 Shiite militias working under Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units, an umbrella organization created, funded and supported by Iran in mid-2014, ostensibly to take on IS. However, as the Saudis and their allies have long known, these militias are in fact a growing terrorist force that has been causing havoc and bloodshed for more than a decade in the name of a sectarian Shiite revolution.

To prepare for the possibility of having to take on these militias in the near future, a massive military training exercise code-named Northern Thunder is getting underway next week in the north of the kingdom. Under the umbrella of the newly announced Saudi-led Islamic anti-terror coalition, joint land, air and naval exercises will take place on the Saudi border adjacent to Iraq. The Saudi National Guard has been conducting exercises and deploying in and out of the theater of operation for the last year, giving it the ability to have around 75,000 troops on the ground at any one time around the Hafar Al Batin military city. The coalition’s first joint exercises will include special forces, mechanized and infantry battalions, as well as air and naval forces from 20 countries, including Pakistan, Egypt, Malaysia, Sudan, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, Mauritania, Chad and all the Arab Gulf states. Overall, between 150,000 to 200,000 troops are taking part in Northern Thunder.

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