The establishment of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) is an extension of Iran’s plan to export the revolution, which keeps war against Sunni extremists from reaching the country’s borders, argued Brigadier General Iraj Masjedi, senior adviser to the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force.
Masjedi was speaking to an Iranian audience at a ceremony commemorating an IRGC commander killed in combat in Syria last year, which was held in Iran’s northern province of Mazandaran on Dec. 14, according to Fars News. He spoke at length about the sacrifices of Iranian military personnel in Iraq and Syria. The martyrs extend Iran’s strategic depth, uphold revolutionary values, defend holy Shiite shrines, and keep the homeland safe, proclaimed the Qods Force commander.
Senior Iranian officials and commanders have repeatedly made this line of argument, especially about peace at home, as the IRGC’s involvements have become increasingly open since the Islamic State’s incursion into Iraq in 2014 and the IRGC’s military escalation in Syria in 2015.
Masjedi warned that war would continue in Syria following Aleppo and Mosul, even as “takfiri and Salafi groups” are in decline. He argued that the only way “all of the Islamic community” would be at peace is to “destroy the takfir front.”
“They will show mercy to none, and this is not exclusive to Shiites,” Masjedi warned.
The Qods Force commander tied the mission of fighting Salafi jihadist groups on their turf and away from Iran’s border to the the export of the revolution. That has been the IRGC’s mission since 1979.
When “Iraqi and Syrian forces saw your children among themselves,” their morals heightened, he said. Masjedi then subtly made the shift from the sacrifices of Iranians to exporting the revolution.
“The next step of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been the formation of the massive basij [mobilization] force that is faithful and a friend of Islamic Iran, such as the Iraqi Hashd al Shabi [PMF], which has been established as a powerful army with our organizing and our experience in the Sacred Defense [Iran-Iraq War],” Masjedi said.
FDD’s Long War Journal has argued that Iran helped nurture the PMF in Iraq as part of its efforts to extend its influence in the country and create an Iraqi version of the IRGC. [See FDD’s Long War Journal reports, Iraq’s prime minister establishes Popular Mobilization Forces as a permanent ‘independent military formation’ and Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces in Iran’s game plan.]
Meanwhile, the expansionism, abuses, and destruction wrought by IRGC and its supported militias on the ground – on display in Aleppo – feed into sectarianism and Sunni anger. That perpetuates radical environments fertile for Salafi jihadism and lethal anti-Shiism, feeding into a vicious cycle of sectarian violence. The war against the Islamic State and al Qaeda is inextricably linked with the IRGC.
Masjedi’s statement about Iraq’s PMF comes less than three weeks after Iraq’s parliament passed a law that established the PMF as an independent security force supposedly answerable only to Iraq’s prime minister, according to the The Washington Post. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Hayder al Abadi issued an order that established the PMF as a permanent “independent military formation.”
The law passed by Iraq’s parliament was greeted warmly in Iran. Earlier this week, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei received Ammar Hakim, head of the Shiite National Alliance party that helped passed the PMF law. The PMF is “a great wealth, a major resource for today and the future of Iraq,” Khamenei said, “they should be supported and consolidated.” Khamenei’s office publicized the meeting.
The top political office in the Islamic Republic also advised Hakim: “Do not trust the Americans at all.”
Hakim called the Iraqi parliament’s passing of the PMF law one of the party’s “important” achievements, in which the National Alliance was able to secure the votes of other movements and groups.
The PMF was established in June 2014 after the Iraqi military and police forces were overwhelmed by the Islamic State in northern, central, and western Iraq. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani issued a fatwa for Iraq to support the collapsing security forces and drive the Islamic State from the country.
Militias that are supported by Iran which openly fought US and British troops during the occupation answered the call. These militias are responsible for killing hundreds of US, British, and other allied troops during the occupation of Iraq.
IRGC-backed militias that dominate the PMF have been infiltrating the Iraqi government for year, occupying important government posts. The recent law enshrines their militia formations as permanent fabric of the Iraqi state. These actors are open about their ideology, promotion of the IRGC’s brand of Islamic identity, and links with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Without serious overhaul and dissolution of these formations as currently constituted, it would be difficult to imagine the Iraqi Prime Minister wrestling these groups under his command and control in practice.
Many of the militias that are part of the PMF remain hostile to the United States, and some have threatened to attack US interests in the region. One of the more influential militias within the PMF, Hezbollah Brigades, is listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Several influential PMF leaders, including the operational leader of the PMF, are listed by the US as global terrorists.