For VICE I Interviewed an expert on Shiite militias — groups that function as our partners against ISIS but are also helping to sustain the Assad regime in Syria and fuel the sectarian conflicts that define Iraq.
Not all of these militia groups pledge allegiance to Iran, the Shiite stronghold trying to position itself as a champion for Muslims and minorities against Sunni jihadists like ISIS. But the influx of Shiite fighters reveals the tendrils of Iran’s influence. Shiite militias that aid us in a pragmatic, Machiavellian way also help sustain the Assad regime in Syria and, through retribution against Sunnis, feed the entrenched, sectarian animus that defines Iraqi society. As more forces are activated to combat ISIS, many scholars have argued that Iran stands to gain, on the ground in Damascus and Baghdad and in the zoomed-out power game.
Among them is Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland and adjunct fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In an in-depth study on Shiite militarism, Smyth argues that the militias represent a mobile army of Iran’s bidding. VICE spoke to Smyth about the future of Iraq, Iran’s foreign policy, and the consequences of sectarian war.