Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi plans to include the Iranian-backed Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi militias, many of which are trained or controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in any planned offensive to retake Mosul.
A Kurdish source told the Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that Iran placed considerable pressure on Al-Abadi to include these Shiite militias in his war plans. "There is no pressure from the U.S. on the participation of Hashd al-Shaabi forces in Mosul's liberation, but they will participate," Al-Abadi told Iraq's parliament.
The Islamic State captured Iraq's second largest city in June 2014, and Iraqi officials say they plan to launch an offensive to retake the city late this year or early next. The demand shows the depth of Iranian influence in Iraq, said Washington Institute Adjunct Fellow Phillip Smyth, who specializes in studying Shiite militias.
"It says their influence is not only present but expanding," Smyth told the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT).
Al-Abadi previously conceded that these same militias committed war crimes during assaults on Takrit and Muqdadiyah. The militias do not answer to Al-Abadi. They report to Hadi al-Ameri, leader of the Iranian-backed Badr Corps, who in turn reports to Gen. Qasem Soleimani, leader of the IRGC Qods Force.
The State Department considers Kitaib Hizballah, a component of Al-Hasd Al-Shaabi, a terrorist group.
The Kurdish source expressed concern that Iran could exploit the operation to retake Mosul as a pretext to threaten Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan's capital. Iraq's Kurdish leadership opposes Iran's influence.
Sunnis also oppose including the Shiite militias, warning it could trigger a Sunni versus Shia bloodbath that would play into the Islamic State's hands.
Atheel Al-Nujaifi, commander of the pro-government Al-Hashd Al-Watani Sunni militia, told Asharq Al-Awsat that ISIS would not be defeated if Shiite militias participate in the offensive. He described Al-Abadi's decision as "imprudent" and warned that it was being done without concern for the relations between Iraq's different regions.
A Kurdish leader told the Saudi newspaper that most of the inhabitants of the Nineveh province surrounding Mosul will not join the fight if the Shiite militias participate in the offensive.