Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units played a pivotal role in defeating the Islamic State and are positioned to reap a greater share of power in the upcoming May elections. Fanar Haddad argues that the militias — while newly popular — are an old phenomena. Iraq has struggled to consolidate state authority and grapple with militia politics at least since Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003. Today’s problems are thorny, but don’t necessarily mark a watershed.

Also in this episode, Aron Lund discusses the latest developments in Syria, where a war that is supposed to be entering its final phase is presenting new dangers. A complicated standoff in the north, around the town of Afrin, has brought NATO allies Turkey and the United States to the brink of conflict. Russia provides a slim, and unlikely, bulwark against further internationalization of Syria’ war. A siege of the rebel enclave of eastern Ghouta, in the Damascus suburbs, threatens still more harm to civilians, unless the international community plans for the defeat of their allies. The new phase in Syria’s war is proving as deadly, and risky, as all the previous ones.

Read Fanar Haddad’s analysis of the Iraqi militias here, Aron Lund’s commentary on the crisis in eastern Ghouta here, and his exploration of Syria’s war economy through a single cement factory here.

Participants include:

  • Fanar Haddad, senior research fellow, Middle East Institute, Singapore
  • Aron Lund, fellow, The Century Foundation
  • Thanassis Cambanis, senior fellow, The Century Foundation