US support for Iranian-backed Shiite militias ‘should not alarm us,’ General Allen says

In an interview with CBS News, General (retired) John Allen, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition To Counter ISIL, or the Islamic State, attempted to assure Americans that they should not be concerned with the US providing military and other support for Shiite militias, many of which are backed by Iran. Allen attempts to separate the “extremist elements” from the Popular Mobilization Force (or Committee), when the distinction is practically meaningless. From the interview, which was published on the US State Department’s website (emphasis is mine):

With regard to militias, it’s really important to understand that the militias are not just a single monolithic entity. There are the militias that you and I are used to hearing that have close alignments with Iran. Those are the extremist elements, and we don’t have anything to do with that. But there are elements of the Shia militias that volunteered last year to try to defend Iraq from the onslaught of Daesh [Islamic State] who were called to arms by Grand Ayatollah Sistani, and those elements, or the Popular Mobilization Force, as they are known, have been subordinated to the Iraqi higher military campaign or command. And they will provide maneuver capacity and additional firepower to the Iraqi Security Forces as we continue to build them out, as we continue to build the professionalization of the Iraqi forces.

So the fact that militias are involved and tribes are involved in this part of the campaign, this part of the implementation of supporting Iraq ultimately to recover the country, should not alarm us. We just need to ensure that we manage the outcome of this. Prime Minister Abadi’s been clear that these organizations within the Popular Mobilization Force, the Shia volunteers, will eventually either transition into the security forces themselves or go home. That’s the solution that he intends and I think that that’s a supportable outcome. So for now – this goes back to the point that you made about urgency – urgency is an important factor here in helping us to focus on supporting the Iraqis, the tribes, and the Popular Mobilization Force to take those actions necessary to defeat Daesh locally.

The “extremist elements” referred to by Allen include the Hezbollah Brigades, which has been designated by the US government as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, Saraya Khorasani, the Badr Organization, Asaib al Haq (League of the Righteous), Kata’ib Imam Ali (Imam Ali Brigade), Sayyed al Shuhada Brigade, and Harakat Nujaba. Top leaders of the last four groups are listed by the US as specially designated global terrorists.

The problem with Allen’s comments is that these so-called “extremist elements” are indeed the largest part of the Popular Mobilization Committee. In fact, when the Iraqi press and government refer to deploying the Popular Mobilization Committee, one or more of these groups are in the lead.

And the Popular Mobilization Committee itself is directed by Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, a former commander in the Badr Organization who was listed by the US government as a specially designated global terrorist in July 2009. The US government described Muhandis, whose real name is Jamal Jaafar Mohammed, as “an advisor to Qassem Soleimani,” the commander of the Qods Force, which is the external operations wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

The US military has supported these “extremist elements” in past operations, and continues to do so today. We’ve documented this multiple times here at The Long War Journal.

The US support of Iranian-backed Shiite militias began at Amerli in the northern Salahaddin province in late August 2014. Kata’ib Hezbollah, Asiab al Haq, Saraya Khorasani, and the Badr Organization all took part in the fighting. Human Rights Watch detailed how the militias rampaged after the completion of the operation.

At the end of October 2014, the US launched airstrikes in Jurf al Sakhar in support of the League of the Righteous, the Hezbollah Brigades, and the Badr Brigade. The Islamic State was driven from Jurf al Sakhar.

The Tikrit operation, which took place in March 2015, was led by the Kata’ib Imam Ali, Badr Organization, the League of the Righteous, and Hezbollah Brigades. At the start of the operation, General Martin Dempsey said that Iran’s involvement in Tikrit could be a “good thing.” The US halted airstrikes once Iran’s involvement became too difficult to hide, then restarted once the militias purportedly backed off. But the militias participated, with the help of US airstrikes.

Today, in Ramadi, Hezbollah Brigades is taking the lead in the fight to liberate the city from the Islamic State.

Allen is playing an all-too-familiar game with respect to the Iranian-backed Shiite militias. At the end of March, US Central Command leader General Lloyd Austin justified US airstrikes in Tikrit, claiming that Iranian-backed Shiite militias had withdrawn from the fighting there.

“I will not — and I hope we will never — coordinate or cooperate with Shiite militias,” Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee at the time.

“These forces obviously were not being controlled by the government of Iraq,” he continued.

But the militias did in fact participate in the final push for Tikrit. This was proven when Asaib al Haq’s flag was raised over central Tikrit.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • mike merlo says:

    beyond pathetic. General (retired) John Allen is just ‘towing’ Valerie ‘Rasputin’ Jarrett & President Obama’s propaganda

  • popseal says:

    BETTER IDEA: let the savages fight it out……..then we carpet bomb the winners!

  • Dennis says:

    With Allen’s comments, one would think that the human race, or maybe just us in the west, has no memory of the past and are doomed to relive it. The time to have dealt with this is so long past. Obama obviously undertook this knowing he would be handing it to someone else, hence the piecemeal approach. Only the Powell Doctrine is workable here,unfortunately for those servicemembers who get there first.

  • Jeff Edelman says:

    The retired General said, “…the Popular Mobilization Force, as they are known, have been subordinated to the Iraqi higher military campaign or command.” I’m sure IS is overjoyed at this. The General would have us to believe that unlike money, terrorist are not fungible.

  • Oberron says:


    Nevermind, more proof we need to go back to the WW2 system minus segregated units and promptly relieve Generals and Officers till we find ones that can win wars, not live in Lala Land. Its only after we got rid of the relief system of WW2 that we saw the US with few exceptions lose wars at the operational and strategic levels which are more important than the tactical level which we excell in but doesn’t win wars.

  • M3fd2002 says:

    I am stunned at the logic coming from obamas national security team. I’m also convinced they believe it, which is more concerning. He had to really look long and hard to find these clowns. The shiites are rolling on the ground laughing, literally. What a gift!

  • Dad says:

    This is (just 1 Reason) why i succesfully talked my children from joining the military.
    There is absolutely NO HONOR left i. the Stars and Scrambled Egg crowd.
    All Boot lickers beholden to the DC Bolshevick Club

    Thank you !

  • adam says:

    Just another sop to Iran. Anything for a nuclear agreement.

    One wonders why the US isn’t intervening in Syria on behalf of Assad.

  • vadsputin says:


  • m3fd2002 says:

    Looks like the Islamic State have torched Baiji refinery:
    Like I had anticipated. For Arab forces these guys are showing some grit.

  • mike merlo says:

    @ m3fd2002

    spot on! Comparatively ‘speaking’ its like watching Rommel & the ‘Desert Rats’ have their way with their opponents

  • In my mind, it’s more a problem of a series of presidents and members of Congress who get very low marks on choosing which wars to fight and defining what “victory” means for each. Responsibility and accountability start at the top.

    That is not to say that generals, admirals, DCI, the NSC, and the Secretary of State, etc. have no share of the blame. They should be saying more than “can do” when the folks at the top want to do mission impossible or to just pull a dumbout like trying to counter the Iranian influence in Iraq by arming, supplying, and unleashing Salafist mercenaries.

    I agree that Obama is just kicking the can down the road to the next president. Meanwhile the slaughter in the Mideast continues. It really reminds me of “Vietnamization” of the war in Viet Nam. All of us there knew that wasn’t going to work. But Johnson was politically too cowardly do undo what he had started and Nixon’s “secret plan” turned out to be “Peace with Honor” that dragged on for years, killing hundreds of more thousands.

    There is no honor in lacking the courage to order a retreat.

  • Steve says:

    Just for clarification in terms of whom we’re dealing with (and to a degree in what strength although the nomenclature should be taken with a pinch of salt): ‘Kata’ib’ as in Kata’ib Al Imam Ali and Kata’ib Hezbollah is the transliteration of the Arabic كاتئب which is the (broken) plural of كتيبة, meaning battalion or regiment rather than brigade. Though since I’m with popseal on this one, I guess I’m being needlessly pedantic…

  • Jake says:

    We’re working with former enemies. So what? It isn’t the first time opposing groups have aligned in order to counter a threat deemed more important. Those Iranian “terrorists” attacked us when we invaded Iraq in the 2000’s. An invasion carried out on questionable pretenses to say the least. Look, I don’t trust the Iranian government, and I’m completely opposed to theocratic, repressive governments of its kind. I’m proud and thankful for being born in the US. However, I don’t blame Iranians for fighting against us in Iraq, nor distrusting/disliking the US government. Our government has a history of organizing coup attempts and meddling with politics in their country. It’s no surprise they hate us. If Russia or Great Britain meddled in our affairs like we have in Iran, wouldn’t any patriotic American despise them? It’s time to look in the mirror, accept responsibility for our country’s past actions, and then move ahead and try to end old hostilities. Iran is a former enemy, and may even be a current enemy, but that doesn’t mean they have to be our enemy forever. Aside from that, John Allen is indeed blowing smoke up our arses, and it’s a pretty sad sight that no one in our leadership has any guts to speak up, tell the truth, and lead us to a better path instead of toting the same old nonsense.

  • mike merlo says:

    @ Jake

    “Those Iranian “terrorists” attacked us when we invaded Iraq in the 2000’s.” I guess you never heard of Khobar Towers, Marine Beirut Barracks Bombed in 1983, William Francis Buckley, etc., etc., etc.,.

  • code jnkie says:

    I agree with Jake part way. I am a firm believer that should a sizeable contingent of Marines enter into the fray they will nearly instantly become targets. Just like before. By allowing the moderate extremists (jeez does that term even exist?) a certain level of success we prevent the need of U.S. Forces to intervene. At this juncture what would the mission be? Take on Shiite Militia? Now? or Later? First we attack IS then go after whichever extremist group decides to expose itself the most when they Go after the coveted American targets of opportunity?
    The level of complaining, whining and crying here is relentless. Though it is no doubt a very difficult job to keep track of all of the elements on the ground (I personally feel LWJ does a superb job at it.) There are more than tactical considerations here. The Strategic considerations in my opinion are the most important. Forcing the extremist elements to face each other and wipe each other out by providing some air support is a small price to pay when the task is to take out isis while not using american troops.
    Has it already been forgotten what happened in the country after “Mission Accomplished”?
    Are we so ready to wade into another decade long quagmire? Oh, right “We will just fight this one battle and be done”. Ha! Like that will ever happen. How many armies have stood up to fight the monstrosity of IS? ……. Exactly NONE! Not the Jordanians crossing into Anbar , Turkey isnt moving, Saudis claim their interests lies to the south…Ya ok. Who does that leave? The U.S.? No way! Bad idea, stop talking about it. No more battalions of amputees thank you very much. Time for the Middle East to solve Middle East problems. Keep crying about how we are just sitting around when we should go in there or criticize how badly this really is. Deal with it. Let the damned extremists wipe each other out, they are the only ones fighting anyway. I don’t like just watching this pot stir anymore than anyone else. Bottom line, it is better for the United States to let the middle east work out its problems with U.S. management overseeing things to keep things contained. IMO.

  • Jake says:


    The Iranian government has been involved to some degree with terrorist attacks in the past. I’m not claiming otherwise. The comment you quoted was referring to the inappropriate labeling of resistance/separatist forces as “terrorists” which our government and other governments around the world are so prone to do. Labeling the leaders of the Shiite resistance forces as “terrorists” because they fought against us when we invaded their land is BS, in my opinion. If any of the “terrorists” referred to in this article were directly involved in the attacks you mentioned, then I’ll retract my statement.

  • G says:

    The General is obviously missing key points of Islam and direction of Muhammad. Tribal warfare is a proximate priority right now… the Mujahideen, the “good” Islamist factions will turn their weapons (weapons we gave them) in our direction once they meet their immediate goals. Greater good of Islam is always the ultimate goal….not interests of the US or any other nation…except the Ummah.

  • mike merlo says:

    @ Jake

    Huh? Totally bass ackward logic.

    “If any of the “terrorists” referred to in this article were directly involved in the attacks you mentioned,” that’s the same irrational convoluted counter-intuitive Prosecutorial insanity that the Clinton Administration applied when adjudicating concerning Terrorists & Acts committed by them. The US didn’t invade Iran it invaded Iraq. So trying to somehow generalize “Shiite’s” is not only disingenuous but patently false. The US capture & killed many “Shiite’s” who were not Iraqi but Iranian. Try & stay on a course that you yourself have elucidated.

    Its also obvious that you are ignorant of what ‘State Sponsored Terrorism’ is. Save your caterwauling for the Latte Leftist’s, Basement Bolsheviks & Cafe Communists.

  • Jake says:

    I’ll try to explain my point another way since I’ve failed to get through to you. The US invades Iraq. Iraqi Shiites form militias to combat US forces. Some of these militias receive logistical support and training from the Iranian government (the Hezbollah Brigade for example since it is one cited in the article). Because the Hezbollah Brigade attacked US forces with modern day guerrilla warfare tactics (IEDs, VBIEDs, mortar attacks, etc), that justifies calling them terrorists? And hence, Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism? If that is true, then the US government is a state sponsor of terrorism as well because our government committed similar acts in Cuba, Afghanistan (in the ’80s), Nicaragua, and Iran (via regime change and support to Jundallah). I’m sure there are other examples that I’m not even aware of. And Mike, know that resorting to name calling only makes you look foolish and immature to anyone of worth.

  • mike merlo says:

    @ Jake

    whats foolish is a sophomoric idea of what Communism was & is & a reconfiguration & definition of State Sponsored Terrorism

    Many Iranian Paramilitary personnel were Captured, Killed & Identified by US & Coalition Forces during the US Occupation of Iraq.

    The US didn’t invade Iraq to target the Shia. They had every opportunity to make Common Cause with the US Efforts. Many Iraqi Shia chose otherwise & committed multiple heinous acts against US, Coalition & indigenous Iraqi’s. Hence they are Terrorist’s along with the Iranian’s that participated with them

  • Jake says:

    Mike, that argument is similar to the argument Salafi jihadists make…only their beliefs fall on the other side of the scale. From your view, because the Iraqi Shia didn’t make “common cause” with the US invasion of Iraq (or possibly to a broader extent, US foreign policy in the Middle East), you believe that justifies calling them terrorists – which makes it okay to kill them. From the Salafi jihadists’ view, because Westerners and Shiites don’t make “common cause” with their beliefs, they believe that justifies calling them infidels and apostates – which makes it okay to kill them. And if anyone is guilty of reconfiguring the definition of terrorism, it’s the US State department/government and their army of lawyers who created the definition in the first place and can change it as they see fit.

    I’m critical of the US’s foreign policy over the last half century….not because I disagree with western ideals…but because I feel it’s causing our nation more harm than good. In my view, we all ultimately have to make a choice over which worldview is the best for humanity, and I believe a tolerant, western worldview is the best available (at least the best I’ve seen). I’ll choose it over an Islamic theocracy or an authoritarian/fascist state any day of the week. And I’ll fight to ensure my government and my country continue to be governed by western ideals…but I also believe people in the Middle East and other parts of the world have the right to make that choice on their own – without the coercion of a United States military presence or economic pressure. Make no mistake, our presence in the Middle East is there to protect western commercial interests (such as to prevent regional governments from nationalizing western corporate assets, for example), not to protect Muslims from themselves.

  • Paul says:

    If a second lieutenant gave explanation to a company commander this convoluted, it would probably be the last answer of his or her career. General Allen knows better than to try to pass this crap off as a full course meal. I realize he works for our child in chief but General (ret) Allen please enough of this b.s. Iran is calling the shots for all the militias that count and we are assisting them. Now we are doubling down (maybe it’s tripling down) on stupid by sending in more advisors to train the mythical Iraqi Army. My God we have been training Iraqi soldiers for over a decade now and its not working. The reason? Its a tribal society, if we want to train people who will actually stand their ground and fight, we need to train the available Sunni tribes and the Kurds. Screw the Shia, they have made the deal with the devil. Forget about the idea of an Iraqi Army or a cohesive Iraqi state for that matter. It’s a fools errand.


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