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Policy Analysis

Policy Notes 46

Iran's Foreign Legion: The Impact of Shia Militias on U.S. Foreign Policy

Hanin Ghaddar

Also available in العربية

February 2018

The Syrian war has provided Iran with an unmatched opportunity to expand its "foreign legion," a collection of Shia regional proxy militias nurtured since the dawn of the Islamic Republic. The leading such group is undoubtedly Lebanese Hezbollah, which has been central to the Iranian push to bolster the Assad regime. In Iraq, a collection of fighting groups known as the Popular Mobilization Forces counts as many as 120,000 members, of whom some 50,000 operate directly under Iran's elite Qods Force. The Houthis in Yemen and various tribal entities help fill out the picture.

In this Policy Note, derived from a workshop held in June 2017, veteran Lebanese journalist Hanin Ghaddar discusses the wide-reaching regional threat posed by Iran's Shia network. She assesses not only military components but also prospects for governance among these groups, for which Hezbollah's infiltration of the Lebanese state offers a deeply unsettling model.


HANIN GHADDAR is the inaugural Friedmann Visiting Fellow at The Washington Institute, where she focuses on Shia politics throughout the Levant.