The Washington Times Covers Underreported Iran-Backed Shi’ite Militias

Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias are “liberating” areas of Iraq once held by the terror group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—and subsequently committing atrocities of their own, according to a Washington Times article by reporter Carlo Munoz (“Iran-backed militias taint terror war,” Sept. 14, 2016). Many U.S. news media outlets have failed to shine a light on the militias.

Munoz highlighted an operation by “Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias” who—“under the cover of U.S. air support”—retook the Iraqi city of Fallujah from ISIS in June. Although initially applauded by the Pentagon, gory details soon surfaced:

“Reports emerged that as many as 300 Sunni Muslim civilians had survived Islamic State’s nightmarish two-year grip on their city only to be summarily executed and dumped in shallow graves by Shiite militiamen who had taken over in the terror group’s wake.

“Such atrocities by the militias—officially known as the Popular Mobilization Units[PMUs]—underscore a crisis within the wider fight against Islamic State in Iraq, one that has vastly complicated the Obama administration’s attempt to work with Baghdad’s Shiite political leaders toward destroying the terror group without a massive influx of U.S. troops.”

The PMUs were initially deployed as a “desperate, stopgap campaign by Iraqi leaders to stem Islamic State forces from overrunning Baghdad and other major cities in the country is now fueling a new era of sectarian violence,” Munoz said.

Stopping coverage of the stopgap

Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland and expert on Shi’ite militias, has noted both the long term importance to the West and Israel of understanding the PMUs, as well as how underreported they are.

In an interview with Voice of America, Smyth pointed out that the Shi’ite militias could allow Iran to set up additional large-scale terrorist proxies, similar to Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based, U.S.-designated terrorist group (“Experts Worry About Lurking Shi’ite Militia Threat,” Feb. 9, 2015).

Calling the growth of Shi’ite militias “complex, obscure, and hardly linear,” Smyth cited three reasons for the lack of media coverage: the scope, complexity and fluidity of events on the ground, U.S. rapprochement with Iran possibly leading to downplaying Tehran’s mischief and the PMUs being less “media-minded” than groups like ISIS.
Speaking to CAMERA, Michael Pregent, an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, and a former intelligence adviser to U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus (ret.), agreed that media coverage of the PMUs is often lacking.
Pregent told CAMERA that some news outlets don’t know who many of the militias are. Further, the coverage that does occur often obfuscates the reality of what is happening in Iraq. For example, he noted that it’s common to hear media reporting that “Iraqi security forces retook an area today,” but omit that, in fact, those forces often are PMUssome of which are led by U.S.-designated terrorists. Pregent pointed out that the deputy commander of the PMUs, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, is the leader of Kata’ib Hezbollah.
According to Pregent, an estimated one to five percent of the militias include Sunni Muslims, who are usually “inadequately armed” and used in holding operations, instead of taking the villages and towns. It is, he said, more of a “PR event.”
The strength of the PMUs has led to Iraqi concerns that the militia’s sponsor, the neighboring Islamic Republic of Iran, will be able to expand its already considerable influence there.

The Times dispatch quoted an Iraqi Sunni lawmaker named Hamid al-Mutlaq who “complained that Iraqi military troops and Shiite political leaders were nowhere to be seen when Shiite fighters rounded up between 600 and 700 Sunni men in Fallujah who’ve never been seen since.”

The New York Times gives the culprits a platform

Although the militia’s activities received lengthy, front-page coverage in The Washington Times, many U.S. news outlets have failed to provide similar levels of attention. Worse still, some media gave page space to those responsible for funding and supporting the militias.

The New York Times—on the same day that Munoz’s article detailing the PMUs appeared—published an Op-Ed by Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif (“Let Us Rid the World of Wahhabism”). Zarif pontificated against Saudi Arabia, disingenuously claiming that the Kingdom was solely responsible for “a large section of the Middle East” being “in turmoil,” and that “there is a grave danger that the few remaining pockets of stability will be undermined by” a “clash of Wahhabism and mainstream Sunni Islam.”

Tehran’s role in fomenting instability by financing and supporting U.S.-designated terror groups—including Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, among others—went unmentioned by the foreign minister.

As CAMERA has noted (see, for exampleWashington Post Editorial Notes Iranian ‘Moderates’ Mendacity on Holocaust,” May 12, 2016), Zarif—often labeled a “moderate” by some press and policymakers—has too frequently been allowed to dissemble by an uncritical media.

Yet, it will be hard for the Iranian government and its representatives to obfuscate on the growing body count left behind by their proxies. That is, unless the media gives them cover—or commentary space—to do so.

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