The Popular Mobilization Force (PMF), the command assigned by the Iraqi government with organizing militias to fight the Islamic State, has exceeded the scope of its mission by attempting to impart changes in society and culture through threats and force.
This month, the PMF began harassing Christians in Baghdad by suggesting women wear the hijab, or veil, and instructing the religious minority not to celebrate Christmas.
The PMF erected posters in several Baghdad neighborhoods with large numbers of Christians in mid-December, calling for women there to wear the hijab, multiple witnesses said according to Qenshrin. The posters were plastered on “churches and monasteries” in the neighborhoods of “Al Karada, Karadat Maryam, Al Kathmiyeh, Al Sayyideh, Zeinouneh, and Al Ghadir,” the news service reported.
A Christian woman told Al Arabi al Jadid that she saw a similar poster at an official government building with “a slogan” written on it “which made clear that these instructions had to be carried out willingly or by force,” Qenshrin reported.
Additionally, some Christians in Baghdad said they “they had received threats from militias who had taken over the city” that warned them not to celebrate Christmas or the New Year “in order to honor the martyrs of the Hashid Shaabi [Popular Mobilization Force] who defended ‘the nation and the religion,’” against the Islamic State, Al Qods Al Arabi reported.
One poster, displayed above, is titled “Why was the Virgin Mary, Peace Be Upon Her, veiled,” according to a translation by The Long War Journal.
“Stop and Look!,” the poster continues. “To our respected Christian sister: The Virgin Mary (peace be upon her) was veiled because it was the tradition of the prophets. And because it comes from one source and from One God who is God Almighty, but the devil is not pleased with this. So it is incumbent upon you to follow the Virgin Mary as a role model, so why do you not wear the hijab!!?”
The existence of the posters suggesting Christian women wear the hijab was confirmed by Luis Rofael Sako, the Patriarch of the Iraqi and International Chaldean Church, Al Qosh reported. Sako said that the “circumstances of Christians celebrating [Christmas] this year are the worst” in Iraq in decades.
The PMF’s actions in Baghdad are in line with the Iranian government’s imposition of Islamic law.
The PMF, also called Popular Mobilization Unit or Committee, was created in June 2014 after the Islamic State overran large areas in northern, central, and western Iraq after Iraqi forces collapsed. The unit was established with the approval of the Iraqi government, and is comprised of various militias.
The paramilitary organization is dominated by Iranian-backed Shiite militias such as Hezbollah Brigades, Asaib al Haq (the League of the Righteous), Saraya al Salam (Muqtada al Sadr’s Peace Brigades), Harakat Nujaba, Saraya Khorasani (Khorasan Brigades), the Imam Ali Brigades, and the Badr Organization.
Hezbollah Brigades is listed by the US as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, while top leaders of Asaib al Haq, the Imam Ali Brigade, and Harakat Nujaba are listed as specially designated global terrorists. All of these groups remain hostile towards the US. Two of them, Harakat Nujaba and Saraya al Salam, have threatened to attack US interests as recently as this spring. One of the militia leaders even said he would overthrow Iraqi’s government if ordered to do so by Iran’s “supreme leader.”
The deputy commander and operational leader of the PMF is Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, a former commander in the Badr Organization who was listed by the US government as a specially designated global terrorist in July 2009 and was described as “an advisor to” Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani. Qods Force is Iran’s external special operations branch that is, among other things, responsible for establishing, training, funding, advising, and at times, commanding Shiite militias in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
The PMF has been instrumental in liberating the Iraqi cities of Tikrit and Baiji as well as other towns from the Islamic State. Soleimani, the Qods Force commander, was directly involved in those operations and has been spotted on multiple battlefields in Iraq.
Despite the fact the organization is operating under the command of a specially designated global terrorist, the US military and State Department have praised the PMF – also overlooking that its largest and most powerful militias are Iranian proxies which have reportedly committed war crimes.
The PMF’s harassment of Christians in Baghdad is a clear indication that the militia continues to stray from its mission of combatting the Islamic State and seeks to enforce its own version of sharia, or Islamic law.