Why is Hezbollah bringing Iraqi militias to Lebanon?
Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah recently angered Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi after he organized the expulsion of hundreds of IS fighters from Syria and Lebanon to border areas between Syria and Iraq.
It was all part of a deal that raised many suspicions about Hezbollah’s “credibility”. Abadi said the deal was unacceptable, especially since there are battles against the Islamic State in Iraq. However, this is not the first time that Nasrallah has undermined Abadi’s activity.
The United States is concerned, especially as tensions with North Korea escalate. Europe is busy pursuing ISIS while the Gulf tries to protect itself from threats. Nasrallah therefore feels that Lebanon is his open field away from superpower scrutiny and that he is about to carry out his plan to bring hundreds of Iraqi Shiite militiamen to Lebanon. According to Iraqi law, these militias are under the power of Abadi.
Recent reports have shown that Iraqi militiamen have started arriving in Lebanon to train in Hezbollah camps in Bekaa and in the south. The plan is for these militiamen to settle in the country and work with Hezbollah permanently.
Trained by Hezbollah
Over the past two years, several media outlets have claimed that Shia fighters have gone to Lebanon to be trained by Hezbollah under the sponsorship of Iran’s Quds Brigade, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards. After the training, these groups were sent to the battlefields in Syria and Yemen and they did not stay in Lebanon. It seems that the plan for 2017 and 2018 is to permanently integrate these fighters into Hezbollah units in Lebanon.
This development is the result of 6 months of meetings between Hezbollah officials, mainly the head of the party branch in Iraq, the commanders of the Qods brigade and the leaders of the Iraqi Shiite militias. The fighting in Syria, which improved Hezbollah’s relationship with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Iraqi Shia militias, including the Righteous League and Popular Mobilization, led to this tripartite cooperation.
Hezbollah has now decided to bring in more groups that have a different mentality and culture and impose them on the Lebanese people
Some militiamen who came to Lebanon belong to the Popular Mobilization. They represent an official military power under the command of the Iraqi Prime Minister. However, the activity of these militiamen in Lebanon contradicts Abadi’s policy in Baghdad.
It is of course not Abadi behind this maneuver but Iran which controls all the Iraqi Shiite militias and the Afghan and Pakistani mercenaries and deploys them on the battlefields of the Arab countries.
Iran has not excluded Hezbollah since it sent its units to fight in Syria. They have been fighting there since 2012. According to some estimates, Hezbollah sent more than 6,000 fighters to the Syrian swamp in the last three months of raging fighting, about a third of its combat strength. Hezbollah paid a high price for its participation in the war as it lost around 1,500 fighters.
Some inside sources said that around 1,000 other people were seriously injured and will no longer be able to fight. It is also possible that their injuries affect their daily activities. This is in addition to the negative economic consequences suffered by the party.
When it started fighting in Syria, Hezbollah was doing well financially. However, Iran pressured him to send more troops to save the Assad regime. As a result, they used up their funds and they had to look for other sources of funding.
Hezbollah’s secretary general continues to lose fighters and money to Iran’s war in Syria. However, and as he always says, he can always count on his Iranian sponsor.
In a speech on Jerusalem Day in June, Nasrallah said that in times of war, hundreds of thousands of Shia fighters around the world would help his party. He meant Iran and he meant that Iran is ready to do whatever it takes to strengthen its control over the Middle East all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.
The arrival of Shia fighters in Lebanon will be a blessing and a curse for Nasrallah. Hezbollah is working hard on a plan to explain the deployment of these fighters as it will not be easy for Nasrallah to explain to his supporters why he is sending their children to fight in Syria when he is bringing in thousands of Iraqis to settle in South Lebanon.
Lebanese officials criticized this speech and many Lebanese also expressed their rejection because they believed that these fighters who are in Lebanon will stay here. Hezbollah quickly calmed the situation down and said Nasrallah’s statements were against the backdrop of anti-Israel propaganda. The truth is that Nasrallah does not make empty threats. He tests the circumstances first, and he also doesn’t give up on what he’s doing as he relies on others to eventually give up and submit.
Attack on Lebanese sovereignty
He began to take steps to implement his plan and further undermine Lebanese sovereignty. According to some estimates, hundreds of fighters arrived in the first batch, and they will be followed by thousands more.
To confirm the seriousness of the threat, we can look at what happened when the Syrian regime was subdued as the number of Shia fighters in Syria rose to 12,000 – none of them born in the country they were fighting for. When Iraqi fighters come to Lebanon under Hezbollah sponsorship, who will prevent them from bringing their wives and children later?
Some of them can marry Lebanese women but their children will not obtain Lebanese nationality, and this in accordance with the current law on civil status. This scenario means that a huge Shia community will arrive in Lebanon and they will not enjoy any rights.
The burden will fall entirely on Hezbollah as it will be responsible for the needs of other Shia citizens. Hezbollah has little money as the war in Syria rages and international sanctions are also imposed on it. He will have to save money by cutting the funds of the Lebanese Shiites who are affiliated with him and who actually need this money the most. However, the greatest burden will fall on Lebanon and the Lebanese people.
The Lebanese people have been suffering for 70 years now, since the arrival of Palestinian refugees in the country. Their number has increased over the years and has reached around half a million. They still lack proper legal rights and their camps now harbor terrorism. Take the example of the threat from the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp. Then, more than 1.5 million Sunni Syrian refugees arrived in Lebanon.
Influx of refugees
These growing numbers led to economic burdens as the refugees competed with the Lebanese people for jobs. This has increased unemployment and infrastructure has further deteriorated. This influx of refugees also poses a threat to security and stability.
Hezbollah has now – due to Iranian ambitions – decided to bring in more groups that have a different mentality and culture and impose them on the Lebanese people in the hope that they will simply be contained. Nasrallah certainly remembers the events of 2010 when an argument broke out at an event commemorating Ashura in Nabatiyeh, a Hezbollah stronghold.
At the time, clashes erupted between rival Iraqi factions – between members of the Sadrist movement who were in Lebanon for combat training and members affiliated with Ayad Allawi’s movement who were looking for work. Clashes escalated and Lebanese security forces had to intervene. What guarantees that clashes between Iraqi Shiites and Lebanese Shiites will not break out later?
The Lebanese complain that the character of their country is gradually changing. Lebanon no longer belongs to the Lebanese but to the Palestinians and the Syrians, and soon to the Iraqis. The arrival of Iraqi Shia fighters will certainly have long-term economic repercussions and, even worse, it will have major demographic consequences.
Nasrallah said his party had joined the fighting in Syria to defend Lebanon. Does bringing Iraqi Popular Mobilization Shiites to Lebanon also aim to defend Lebanon or is it done in accordance with Iran?
This article is also available in Arabic.
Huda al-Husseini is a political writer who focuses on the geopolitics of the Middle East.
The opinions expressed by the authors in this section are their own and do not reflect the views of Al Arabiya English.