“We’re moving on Salahaddin,” said Badr Organization spokesman and military commander Karim al-Nouri. “And there are three names that strike fear in the heart of daesh: Hajj Qassem Suleimani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and Hadi al-Amiri.”
These three figures might not be household names in Indiana, but in Iraq they are the biggest stars within the constellation of Shiite militias that are now trying to drive the Islamic State out of Tikrit, the capital of Salahaddin province. Suleimani, who is the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, regularly travels around the Middle East to lend support to Tehran’s allies; Muhandis, who is the leader of the Kataib Hezbollah militia, was convicted for the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait; and Amiri is the commander of the Badr Organization, one of Iraq’s largest and most prominent Shiite militias. Together, they form the backbone of Iranian influence in Iraq, which is at its highest point in almost four centuries.
Iraq’s Shiite militias have seen their influence skyrocket since last summer, as they have played a central role in beating back the Islamic State’s advance in Baghdad and the surrounding area. Tikrit, however, presents them with new challenges: It is the largest predominantly Sunni city that they have sought to reclaim, and U.S. officials have warned of a sectarian bloodbath if the militias launch an offensive there.