This Associated Press article on the growing influence of the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Force (PMF or Hashed al Shaabi) is a must read. The Long War Journal has warned about the danger of the Popular Mobilization Force since it was established in the summer of 2014 after the Islamic State broke the Iraqi military and police.
The Long War Journal reported from the beginning that the Popular Mobilization Force is dominated by Iranian-supported militias such as Asaib Ahl al Haq, Hezbollah Brigades, Badr Brigades, and Sadr’s so-called “Peace Brigades,” as well as offshoots like Saraya Khorasani, Harakat al Nujaba, Kata’ib Imam Ali, Sayyed al Shuhada, while being directed by Iranian Qods Force pawn Abu Mahdi al Muhandis.
Despite these facts, the US military has – either directly or indirectly – aided the PMF and by extension, Iran, by launching airstrikes while the PMF was on the offensive, and sent weapons to Iraq that are then funneled by the government to the PMF.
The AP article is important because it neatly summarizes how the PMF has grown to become a dominant force in both Iraqi politics as well as in the military sphere. Iraqi officials are now worried that the PMF will supplant the military and government, as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps did in Iran. A militia commander was even quoted stating that the PMF wishes to model itself after the IRGC:
“We want to be a third power in Iraq,” alongside the army and police, al-Jazaeery [the commander of Saraya Khorasani] said. “Why can’t the Hashd be like the Revolutionary Guard in Iran?”
An excerpt of the AP article is below. Note that Iraqi militias are currently fighting in Syria, militia commanders have threatened to attack US forces in Iraq and beyond and said they would overthrow Iraq’s government if ordered to do so by Iran’s supreme leader, while the militias have attacked and intimidated Iraqi minorities. From the AP:
Two top generals warned that the army could eventually come to blows with the militias, known collectively as the “Hashd,” Arabic for “mobilization.”
“They (the militias) have now infiltrated the government and are meddling in politics,” said Ali Omran, commander of the army’s 5th Infantry Division and a veteran of numerous battles against IS. “I told the Hashd people that one day I and my men may fight them.”
The more than 50 Shiite militias in Iraq have between 60,000 and 140,000 fighters, according to estimates from the government and the Hashd itself. They are backed by tanks and weapons, and have their own intelligence agency, operations rooms and court of law.
The larger militias, like Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the Hezbollah Brigades, Badr and the Peace Brigades, have been in place since soon after the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein. They are linked to political parties, effectively forming armed branches for politicians.
But the ranks of the militias swelled dramatically after IS overran nearly a third of Iraq in the summer of 2014 and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, called on able-bodied males to fight IS. At the time, tens of thousands turned out.
Those same militias now want to remain a permanent, independent armed force and are resisting attempts to integrate them into the military or police, the AP found from interviews with more than 15 government officials, army generals and militia leaders and visits to Tikrit and Samarra, Sunni-majority areas where the militias now hold power. The militias insist they have earned a special status, pointing to the 5,000 militiamen killed and 16,000 wounded fighting IS.
“Those who sacrificed more are entitled to more,” said Hamed al-Jazaeery, head of the al-Khorasani Brigades militia. “What is written with blood cannot be removed. It is not ink on paper.”
Al-Jazaeery wears the black turban of a cleric and the camouflage fatigues of a fighter. The walls of his office are adorned with photos of the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and its current supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Other photos show al-Jazaeery posing with Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the powerful Revolutionary Guard figure who helped organize the Iraqi militias against IS.
“We want to be a third power in Iraq,” alongside the army and police, al-Jazaeery said. “Why can’t the Hashd be like the Revolutionary Guard in Iran?”
The model of the Revolutionary Guard, often cited by militia leaders, would be a dramatic change for Iraq’s militias. In Iran, the Guard is an elite force independent of — and better armed than — the military, tasked with “protecting” the Shiite cleric-led power structure. It is effectively a state within a state, rivaling the political strength of Iran’s supreme leader.