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Iran-Backed Iraqi Militias Pour Into Aleppo, Sparking Fears of Their Use as a Regional Force

The recent influx of Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militias into Syria has helped tilt the fight for Aleppo in favor of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and possibly portends the emergence of the militias as “a larger, externally focused force” throughout the Middle East, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

The Iraqi Shiite militia al-Nujaba, or “The Noble Ones,” has sent some 1,000 troops to Syria last month to support the siege of eastern Aleppo, according to Hashem al-Mosawwi, one of the group’s commanders. Other militia leaders have also said that they recently deployed fighters to Syria, although they did not share specific numbers. According to the Journal, Iraqi militias now constitute some 5,000 of the estimated 10,000 ground troops backing Assad.

Assad’s forces, “depleted by deaths, defections and attrition over five years of war,” are heavily supported on the ground by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s terrorist proxy Hezbollah, and Afghani fighters, the Journal noted. Russian and Syrian bombing campaigns over the past several weeks have also “killed hundreds, including scores of children,” and prompted the suspension of talks between the United States and Russia over a ceasefire and a future political solution.

“Those…terrorist groups cause all problems in the region and the world and they should be stopped,” al-Mosawwi told the Journal, referring to Sunni rebel groups in Aleppo that he views as being equivalent to ISIS.

The Journal noted that, in a “remarkable” turn of events, the Shiite militias are pouring into Syria even as Iraqi forces are preparing to fight ISIS for control of Mosul, the terrorist group’s last stronghold in Iraq.

The combination of ISIS’s diminishing power in Iraq and the deployment of the Iraqi militias to Syria has caused a number of regional diplomats to “worry that Iraq’s Shiite militias are morphing into a larger, externally focused force set on settling Shiite-Sunni scores across the region,” the Journal added.

The growing prominence of Shiite militias has stoked fears among Sunni powers that Iran is creating a “Shiite Crescent” in order to bolster its influence across the Middle East. Iran’s recent formation of a Shiite “Liberation Army” has also raised concerns among observers that Tehran “is asserting itself as a regional or even an imperialistic power,” Tallha Abdulrazaq, a researcher at the University of Exeter, observed in August.

Reuters reported in August that Washington failed to rein in the Popular Mobilization Forces, as the Iraqi Shiite militias are known, even as they “detained, tortured and abused” hundreds of Sunni civilians. In Syria, forces backed by Iran have ethnically cleansed several Sunni neighborhoods in and around Damascus.

[Photo: الاعلام الحربي لحركة النجباء / YouTube ]