Over 13 years, the US spent at least $21.7 billion training and equipping the Iraqi army, police and counter-terror forces. Then, in the space of a few days in the summer of 2014. it all collapsed. As thousands of ISIS fighters poured over the border from Syria, as many as 90,000 soldiers and police deserted their posts. The terror group seized major cities in a matter of hours. Within days, they were charging towards the capital of Baghdad and the semi-autonomous Kurdish capital of Erbil. The borders between Iraq and Syria that had existed for 100 years disappeared overnight. With the Iraqi military in shambles, the government called for volunteers to defend their homeland. In the holy city of Najef, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani – one of the most respected Shiite voices – urged all able-bodied Iraqis to enlist.
Soon, neighbourhoods bristled with newly formed militias – manning checkpoints and holding rallies to sign up more recruits. But, nearly seven years after the call went out, Iraq's militias are still there and they're more powerful than ever. Welcomed into the security establishment to stop the country falling to ISIS, these largely Shiite forces now run a nearly parallel state. But some of the groups stand accused of kidnapping, torturing and assassinating dozens of prominent Iraqi activists and protesters since late 2019, as thousands take to the streets demanding a new Iraq, one without corruption and nepotism, and where the state can provide education, jobs, power and water.
There is very little the government can do. The country, today, faces a new battle – for an Iraq ruled by the militias or one ruled by an elected government where the rule of law is paramount. On this week's Beyond the Headlines host James Haines-Young looks at the man in the middle of these two, Iraq's prime minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi, and asks how can he rein in the militias?