Who is calling for a decrease in sectarian violence in Iraq?
By Sarah Husain At the age of 17, Al Nasir Bellah Al-Nasiry was shot in the leg by a sniper outside of his home in Baghdad. After being treated in the emergency room without anesthesia, Al-Nasiry discovered the demand for physicians and for generally improved healthcare in Iraq. While many youth in Iraq may have sought revenge against their attackers, Al-Nasiry applied to medical school. Now at age 26, Dr. Al-Nasiry is an emergency room physician in Iraq. He is on a mission to create a system of role models for his generation in Iraq in order to keep them from joining violent extremist groups such as the Islamic State.
Since its establishment on June 30, 2014, the Islamic State, commonly known as ISIS or Daesh, has succeeded in attracting tens of thousands of members from around the world. Thousands of disenfranchised Sunni-Iraqi youth are estimated to have joined the ranks of ISIS. While Dr. Nasiry is promoting professional role models for the marginalized Sunni-minority, religious leaders and Iraqi government leaders such as former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, have further targeted Sunni-communities by backing violent Shia militias who are attacking Sunnis in the wake of ISIS. Though current Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has been cracking down on the actions of Shia militias, they are still violating the human rights of Sunnis in the name of fighting ISIS.
The Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa or religious order on June 13, 2014, which called on citizens, no matter their religion, to take arms and volunteer with the government security forces to fight ISIS. Following his order, numerous militia groups formed in Iraq. Though Sistani clarified that citizens should not be seeking revenge, numerous Shias responded to the Ayatollah’s call by engaging in violence against Sunnis. While Shia militias have succeeded in keeping the Islamic State from taking over Baghdad and kept them from the Iranian borders, militias have abducted, detained and even executed hundreds of Sunni prisoners without trial. Amnesty International reported in October of 2014 that Shia militias have abducted more than 170 young Sunni men from their homes in a majority Sunni city, Samarra. Dozens of these men were later found dead and the rest remained missing. Militias have also destroyed homes and businesses of alleged ISIS supporters in areas in which they have regained control from the terrorist organization.
About 40 of these militia groups operate under the umbrella of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). When Al-Maliki came into power in 2006, sectarian tensions were at a height in Iraq. While he was in power from 2006 to 2014, Al-Maliki and many other Iraqi officials supported Shia militias, which include Badr Brigades, Hezbollah in Iraq, Khorasani Brigades and the Mahdi Army.
Since al-Abadi, has come into power, he has imposed more strict regulations against the Shia militias. The Iraqi government, under al-Abadi, voted to bring PMF under government control on April 7, 2015. However, the government has yet to condemn Shia militia leaders for their numerous war crimes and human rights violations. They have also yet to ask Shia militias to release the 160 men that were abducted and were last known to be in the custody of Hezbollah forces. Overall, there has been no effort to encourage disarmament in Shia militias or Sunni tribes due to the government’s commitment to gain the maximum number of fighters against ISIS. While Abadi is making progress, many steps still need to be taken towards Sunni inclusion and ending sectarian violence in Iraq.