The Iranian-backed Iraqi militia forces that have spearheaded the fight against ISIS in the city of Tikrit furiously raged over U.S. and coalition intervention Thursday, which came in the form of airstrikes. In response, they threatened to order fighters under their command to not join the offensive.
Naturally, many questions have arisen in the wake of this news, including whether or not Iraqi troops can carry on alone, without the militias.
According to the Washington Post, one of the militias — Kitaeb Hezbollah, considered by the United States to be a terrorist organization — went as far as to threaten to shoot down any coalition plane involved in the airstrikes.
The U.S. has long pushed for the militias to remove themselves from the offensive, but it’s quite clear they play a significant role within the Iraqi forces. For one, there are a lot more of them. If the threats come to fruition, it could draw down the number of troops from 30,000 to just 4,000 — many of them “popular mobilization units”, a mix of militia and fighters who answered the call to battle from Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric.
“All the popular mobilization will refuse to fight until the American airstrikes stop,” said Moeen al-Kadhimi, head of the popular mobilization committee on Baghdad’s provincial council. “Let them try to do it without us. America is just trying to steal our victory.”
The struggle for Tikrit has been seen as a “crucial test” in the broader fight against ISIS, and the tactical mission of driving them out of their strongholds in northern Iraq.