Prior to the Tikrit operations in Iraq, the Iranian regime attempted to strengthen the structure of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and weaken the Iraqi army to impose its military hegemony in Iraq. The failure of the Quds Force’s military plans in Iraq that led to the PMF being set aside in future operations, the death and wounding of most senior Quds Force commanders in Iraq and Syria, and the formation of the international coalition against ISIS led to the Iranian regime’s decreasing military role in Iraq. The Shiite militias were becoming in Iraq hated more and more by the day, and in line with Iran’s objectives they resorted to sectarian warfare. The high number of Shiite militia casualties in Syria alongside Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) brought major disputes amongst Shiite militias in a way that they no longer have any motive to remain in Syria and they have now resorted to sectarian wars in Iraq.
The decreasing military role of the Iranian regime in Iraq was a heavy blow to the Shiite militias and the PMF. The Shiite militias were set aside from taking part in all government operations in various battlefronts of Iraq. In a meeting of the PMF high command held in October a PMF field commander said the mood in the government and the society is against them due to the actions taken by the PMF and Shiite militias, including the battlefronts of Fallujah and Saqlviya. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is determined to not permit the Shiite militias to take part in any military operations. Therefore in the span of time they have to begin thinking about leaving the Anbar front.
Iraqi Shiite militias have suffered enormous casualties in various fronts of Syria. On a daily basis a large number of dead bodies of these Shiite militias are transferred from Syria to Iraq. The number of those killed are very high and most of the Shiite militias were killed near Aleppo during their withdrawal, falling into ambushes set by Syrian fighters and getting killed. In November 2015 around 20 Iraqi and Lebanese Shiite militias, along with IRGC members, were killed in only one day. Most of the Shiite militias in Syria are associated to the Asaeb al-Haq, Harekat al-Nijba and Harekat al-Ansarallah groups. A commander by the name of Sabah Kadhem, belonging to the Shiite militia group Iraq Ansarallah al-Olfia, is seen amongst those dead.
In early November members of the Shiite militia group Asaeb al-Haq fell into an ambush set by Syrian rebels, losing 40 of their fighters and many others were arrested. Two arrested members of the Asaeb group are commanders of the Sho’le and Karkh regions of Baghdad. Furthermore in mid-December Asaeb members fell into another ambush of Syrian rebels in a region engulfed in fighting near Aleppo, losing more than 80 of their members and others being arrested.
Most of the Asaeb casualties were killed and injured in mid-December. In late December most of the Asaeb commanders in Iraq were involved in transferring their dead militia members from Syria to Iraq.
Under orders issued by the Quds Force, Akram al-Ka’bi, head of the Harekat al-Nijba militia group dispatched most of its fighters to Syria. In mid-December in only one area of fighting in Latakia of Syria more than 50 of the al-Nijba militias were killed and in late December in a rocket attack launched by Syrian rebels on militia bases near Aleppo more than 30 al-Nijba members were killed. An Asaeb commander recently transferred to Iraq from Syria said to this day more than 400 members of the al-Nijba militia members have been killed in Syria.
The high number of casualties amongst Iraqi militias and IRGC forces rose to such an extent that in mid-December the Quds Force decided to stop Aleppo operations and withdrew from their positions. Iraqi Shiite militias who suffered heavy casualties also withdrew with the IRGC forces. The IRGC carried out this retreat under the pretext a re-organization and redevelopment of its troops.
The status of Iraqi Shiite militias in Syria and the amount of dissent amongst them regarding their presence in Syria has risen to a point that the Quds Force dispatched PMF deputy Abu Mahdi al-Mohandess to Syria in mid-January to provide promises aimed at lifting their spirits.
The Quds Force has emphasized to all Iraq Shiite militia commanders to never make public the number of their casualties and the bodies must be transferred to Iraq in secret. The IRGC has emphasized the publication of this number of deaths in Syria will both crush a blow to the spirits of Shiite militias in Iraq, and make future dispatches of Shiite militias to Syria extremely difficult.
In early January, Asaeb commander Qeis al-Khazali and Akram al-Ka’bi first met in Baghdad with Hassan Danai’far, Iranian ambassador in Iraq, with the objective of finding a solution to lift the spirits of their forces. They then visited Tehran in their mission. Following the high number of casualties amongst Shiite militias in Syria and their units being set aside in the Anbar battlefront, they launched a new trend of sectarian killings in Iraq.
The killings of Sunnis in the town of Meqdadiya in Diyala Province located north of Baghdad was launched on January 11th, being the same policy of sectarian killings the Iranian regime had launched in Iraq in the past. Massacring people and bombing Sunni mosques in Meqdadiya is part of this Iranian regime policy in Diyala with the goal of changing the social fabric of this province. For years Diyala was under the control of Shiite militia groups linked to senior commanders Badr commander Hadi al-Ameri and al-Khazali.
Shiite militias and PMF units, set aside from government-run military operations, and considering the fact that Baghdad is no longer willing to allocate a separate budget for them, are actually welcoming this sectarian war. Asaeb and Badr militia commanders have been briefed by Quds Force commanders to stretch the scope of this sectarian war to Baghdad. Currently Shiite militia commanders have held secret sessions in mosques and other religious centers in various areas, all aimed at planning this sectarian battle in Baghdad and they enjoy the strong support of the Iranian embassy in Baghdad.