Iraq’s New ArmyDecember 2, 2016 in Iraq
On November 26th, the Iraqi parliament passed a bill recognising the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), as part of the Iraqi security forces. The PMF is an umbrella organisation composed of around 40 militia groups. The law does not stipulate how many forces will be incorporated under the legalised Popular Mobilisation corps, which currently claims to have more than 110,000 fighters. The Iraqi government says there are between 25,000 and 30,000 PMF members from Sunni tribal fighters and nearly all the rest are Shi’ite, with a few Yazidi and Christian units. The bill was passed with 208 votes out of 327, with no votes against due to a boycott by Sunni politicians who disagree with giving power to Shia militants. Raad al-Dahlaki, a Sunni MP, said: ‘I don’t understand why we need to have an alternate force to the army and the police.’ The law specifies that the PMF has a right to preserve their identity if they do not pose a threat to Iraq’s national security. The law allows the PMF and their formations to assume their military and security duties and activities, upon a request from Iraq’s armed forces commander when they are needed to provide support. They are also allowed to take any measures required to deter terrorist groups and security threats facing Iraq.
PMF militias rose to prominence due to their battlefield successes against IS after the collapse of the Iraqi army in 2014. More than 100,000 fighters mobilised to fill the security vacuum and prevented IS from taking Samarra and western Baghdad. The problem is that these militia groups cannot be militarily defeated, not when this would bring greater costs than benefits to a war-ravaged society and weak Iraqi state. Therefore, the institutionalisation of the PMF could help bring some order to Iraq’s atomised security structures and help to establish limits to their powers.
One of the major problems with the inclusion of the PMF, and one of the major fears from critics is that the PMF contains some of the most dangerous militia groups in Iraq. Groups like Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq have killed hundreds of US and British soldiers. They have also murdered thousands of Iraqi Sunni and Shia civilians, particularly in Baghdad, where Asaib Ahl al-Haq committed mass sectarian cleansing of Sunnis. There are also fears over the groups links with Iran.
After their hard work and success fighting IS in Iraq many believe it is right and fair that the PMF fighters get medical and logistical support plus salaries and pensions equivalent to other Iraqi soldiers. Supporters of the law believe it provides a controlled way for the fighters to receive support. It would be dangerous if the PMF starts to build up a set of parallel institutions like Iran’s Islamic revolutionary Guard Corps or Lebanon’s Hezbollah. In Iran and Lebanon these forces are powerful political, voting and intimidation machines, and they can threaten even elected ministers. However, Prime Minister Abadi has welcomed the law saying PMF is now under direct orders of the Armed Forces, which sets its regulations and represents all Iraqi people and defends them wherever they may be.