The military operation in Iraq to root out the militant group Islamic State from the city of Tikrit has empowered new militias, which emerged from obscurity to now play the lead role in the fight for the city.
Now Iraqi and U.S. officials are hoping the irregular Shiite militias, which they said are not beholden to Iran and do not want to stoke sectarian tension with the community of Sunnis, will help to defeat Sunni militants across the entire country of Iraq.
One challenge however to this type of plan is found in the hills that surround Tikrit, where there are thousands of militia members that are Iran-backed and helped during the initial stages of the fight of more than a month to liberate the city.
These troops however have become resentful after being put on the sideline as a condition for airstrikes by the U.S. that helped to liberate Tikrit, the largest city reclaimed from ISIS thus far. The response by those militia backed by Iran is unknown and unpredictable.
Officials from the U.S. have warned as well that the fight for Tikrit is not likely over. Iraqi forces continued to clear the city Wednesday and attacks from the remaining fighters of the Islamic State could hamper the complete takeover.
Nevertheless, officials from the U.S. were heartened by the ease of which the forces from Iraq swept into Tikrit in a relatively short period following the allied and American airstrikes joining the fight a week ago.
Washington policy makers have long had problems over the Shiite militias, warning that by using them to liberate areas populated by Sunnis threatened to worsen the sectarian tensions.
However, they also acknowledge that with security force in Iraqi weakened by the invasion of the Islamic State, there was a need for the militia to defend the government in Baghdad.
On Wednesday, officials in the military reiterated that the U.S. is going to continue working with the Shiite militia, as it did in Tikrit, but only if they remained under Iraqi control and not Iranian.