Iraq's League of the Righteous: Our Friend in Iraq and Enemy in Syria
One of the groups that America, and perhaps also the UK, may be helping (with training and funding) to fight ISIS in Iraq is Asaib Ahl al-Haq -- the League of the Righteous. This group is a Shia militia led by Sheik Qais al-Khazali. It's also funded and trained by both Iran and Lebanon’s Hizb’allah.
Of course, it can be said that any help the American government will be offering will be to the Iraqi army; not to groups like the League of the Righteous. However, there doesn't really seem to be much of an Iraqi army to speak of. It was the troops of the Iraqi army who either gave up -- more or less without fighting -- or deserted in response to the preliminary advances of ISIS. (90,000 Iraqi soldiers, in total, deserted.) So all the Iraqi government -- if not the Iraqis themselves -- really has are its militias.
The League of the Righteous (Asaib Ahl al-Haq)
By 2011, the League of the Righteous had carried out over 6,000 operations against the Americans, the Iraqi army and the Coalition.
At present, the League of the Righteous has around 10,000 men, which, on some counts at least, is less than ISIS.
The League of the Righteous is not only funded and trained by Iran, it's actually controlled by it. Indeed it operates under the jurisdiction of an Iranian general, Qassem Suleimani, who is the head of Iran's Quds Force. (This group was featured in the news a couple of weeks ago when it sent 100 “advisers” to Iraq.)
In terms of Hizb’allah, not only has the League of the Righteous been funded and trained by it: this Lebanese terrorist group has also been active in Iraq in recent years.
The League of the Righteous is a typical Islamic fighting force in that it fulfils three Islamic requirements: it's a political force, a military force, and a religious force. In fact the military, political, and religious are often blended together in Islam; as the “example of the Prophet” graphically shows.
On Monday the BBC's Jeremy Bowen met a military -- rather than religious -- leader of the League of the Righteous. One of the first things he said to Bowen was that he is “a hard man”. It's not surprising, then, that his paramilitary group prides itself on being extreme. It has more or less said that it could happily outdo ISIS when it comes to sectarianism if it needs to. And indeed the League has done so in the past.
To give just one example of how the League of the Righteous replicates the sectarian actions and attitudes of ISIS, take the case when it stormed a Sunni mosque in Baghdad's Al-Amin al-Thaniyah district (in August 2012) and converted it into a Shia mosque. All Baghdad's Sunnis were thenceforth banned from entering their own place of worship.
The League of the Righetous (or Asaib Ahl al-Haq) has also said that ISIS “is terrified” by the thought of going into battle against it.
The lesson to be learned here is that Shia Islam can be as extreme as Sunni Islam; it just depends on the time and the place.
The League of the Righteous in Syria
The important point is that the League of the Righteous has fought in Syria in defense of Bashar al-Assad's regime. That's not a surprise. Assad is a Shia (i.e., Alawite).
It has fought alongside and been funded by Hizb’allah. This Lebanese Islamic group is also Shia.
The League has also been trained and funded by Iran. Yes, Iran is a Shia theocracy.
In terms of Syria itself, it has been reported that there are between 8,000 and 15,000 non-Syrian Shia (mainly Iraqi) fighting against the Sunni rebels in Syria. In fact those non-Syrian Shia will be fighting against many non-Syrian Sunnis (including ISIS and Sunnis from the UK).
So this is the scenario.
The U.S. is training and funding Sunni “radicals” to fight Bashar Assad's regime.
The U.S. may well be also training and funding Shia militias in Iraq to fight ISIS in Iraq.
Now here's the crunch.
Some of the Shia that the U.S. may be training and funding in Iraq will be fighting the Sunni radicals in Syria. That means that the U.S. is both supporting and fighting the same groups. In other words, the American government is supporting Shia in Iraq; though it's fighting them in Syria. And it's supporting Sunnis in Syria; while fighting them in Iraq. Sure, the U.S. isn't fighting and supporting the same groups in Iraq. Nor is it doing that in Syria. Still, it is fighting groups in Syria that it's supporting in Iraq.
Now all this could be played down by the American government simply by saying that the League of the Righteous hasn't got an important or relevant role in Syria. However, the Shia militia does have a fighting force, the Haidar al-Karar Brigades, in Syria which has already fought in southern Damascus and West Aleppo against the Sunni “rebels”.
In any case, even if Iraq's Shia militias weren't fighting in Syria (which they are), the Iraqi government itself wants still the Assad regime to survive and the Sunni rebels to be defeated. Thus, if we forget the League of the Righteous for one moment, we can still say that the American government is supporting a regime (the Iraqi government) which supports another regime (Assad's government) which it is also fighting against.