Iraqi Shiite militias grow brutal in anti-IS fight

The vengeance that Iraq's Shiite militias mete out as they fight the Islamic State group can be just as brutal as that of their sworn sectarian enemies.

PTI| Last Updated: Nov 11, 2014, 15:23 PM IST

Baghdad:The vengeance that Iraq's Shiite militias mete out as they fight the Islamic State group can be just as brutal as that of their sworn sectarian enemies.

In a grisly video recently posted online, a Shiite fighter shouts the name of a revered imam in victory as he poses beside decapitated bodies. Another militiaman sits nearby, grinning as he maims a corpse.

One bearded militiaman explains the bodies are those of fighters who "killed our comrades." Another man shouts, "Our fighters were good guys. These are dogs."

The Shiite militias who have answered the call-to-arms by the government to fight the Islamic State group are growing more brutal, stoked by a desire for revenge against the Sunni extremists who have butchered Shiites who fall into their hands.

That vigilantism is posing a challenge for the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, where authorities have been embarrassed by international criticism of the militias and are worried about militiamen getting out of control.

Sunnis whom the government is trying to win over accuse the militias of atrocities against their community, and there are concerns over the militias' links to Iran and Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah guerrilla group.

At the same time, the state can't do without them. The Iraqi army melted away in June when the militants overran the northern city of Mosul and has struggled since to regroup. The tens of thousands of fighters in about half a dozen Shiite militias have filled the void. Militias have been credited with many of the recent battlefield victories south and west of Baghdad, while in the north, Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters backed by US-led airstrikes have taken back some territory that fell to the Sunni militants this summer.

"The intervention of the Shiite volunteers was vital to saving Iraq," said Shiite lawmaker Faleh Hassan, who joined the Kataeb Hizbollah, one of the most prominent militias. He said he was answering the call by Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to help fight the extremists.

He said he fought in the battle that broke the extremists' siege on the Shiite-majority town of Amirli in August and later participated in operations to liberate Jurf al-Sakher, a town south of Baghdad.

He acknowledged "some misdeeds done by some Shiite fighters." But, he said, "such practices happen during wartime."