One method Iran is imposing its hegemony in Iraq is through militia groups. Prior to 2012 before the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq these entities had diminished to a significant extent and had little military power in Iraq. Following the departure of U.S. forces, Iran’s puppet in Iraq former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki provided political power, arms and equipment the U.S. was providing for Iraq’s army and police, all at Tehran’s behest. Currently in Iraq one can truly say that these groups are much more powerful than the Iraqi army.
After the fall of Mosul, Tikrit and al-Anbar provinces to ISIS, and Baghdad being on the brink of certain overthrow, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) was formed based on orders issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the highest Shiite figure in Iraq. A call was placed on all youths and people to register in the PMF to defend Iraq against ISIS and to take part in various fronts. Iran took advantage of this opportunity and by absorbing PMF volunteers into militia groups they were organized and provided training. This led to the unimaginable growth of power for the militia groups in Iraq. These groups received money from the Iraqi government to resolve the issues of the PMF, and this became a very serious source of income for them. These groups forged the numbers of volunteers to receive enormous amounts of money from the government of Prime Minister Dr. Haider al-Abadi.
In November al-Abadi’s rifts with the PMF increased on a daily basis, with the PMF budget and this force having a free hand in all military affairs forming the epicenter of this quarrel. This is completely against al-Abadi’s policy in line with imposing hegemony over the PMF and taking control over this force. From late October to this day PMF deputy Abu Mahdi al-Mohandess has met with al-Abadi on three different occasions discussing the status of the PMF. The high number of meetings between Mohandess and al-Abadi shows the extent of their divides over the PMF. Below are a few examples of these differences between the two men:
1. al-Abadi is not willing to allow the PMF to be present and flex their muscles in Sunni areas. Al-Abadi’s policy is to adopt the National Guard and/or the National Defense bill to thus allow each province to take control over its own military status.
2. Due to the presence of U.S. forces in al-Anbar Province and the limitations this poses for the militia groups, currently these units have no hegemony in al-Anbar and have been set aside from the operations aimed at liberating Ramadi from ISIS. U.S. forces have to this day finalized training and armed Sunni units in al-Anbar Province. These forces are currently fighting alongside government forces in al-Anbar in the attacks against ISIS.
3. One of the divides al-Abadi has with the militia groups is their taking advantage of the Iraqi government’s military assets. Military arms and equipment provided by the U.S. for the Iraqi army and police (such as M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, HUMVEE military vehicles and …) have been transferred by these militia groups to Syria where they are used against Syrian opposition forces.
4. The subject of the militia groups’ budget has become a major rift between al-Abadi and Mohandess (a terrorist wanted by the U.S.). According to the calculations made by the Iraqi government and the statistics that al-Abadi has from this force the total number of militia and PMF members range between 50,000 to 60,000. However, Mohandess has calculated the PMF forces at 110,000 and is demanding a budget based on these numbers. He is seeking to get his hands on this kind of money to purchase the arms needed for the PMF.
5. In late-November Mohandess had prior to his meeting with al-Abadi he had gone to see Iranian ambassador to Baghdad, Hassan Danaie-far. The issues raised in the meeting between Mohandess and al-Abadi reflects the policy Iran is pursuing regarding the PMF.
6. Mohandess in his meeting with al-Abadi on November 23rd raised the militia and PMF’s deep resent over al-Abadi’s policies regarding the PMF, and the fact that this resent will lead to unpredictable consequences. He was literally threatening al-Abadi.
7. The militia groups and how they are treated is the main dispute between the Iranian regime and al-Abadi. Mohandess has asked al-Abadi to visit Tehran to resolve these differences, yet al-Abadi has said he has no problems with the Iranian regime.
8. The issue of the budget and arms for the PMF has remained one of the unresolved matters in Iraq. Al-Abadi is only willing to provide the budget and arms demanded by the PMF that they merge into the Ministry of Defense and be placed under the hegemony of this ministry; this is a condition completely unacceptable for the Iranian regime.
9. al-Abadi in his meeting with Mohandess told him specifically that currently Iraq is at war and the differences between the militia groups and PMD on one side and the government forces on the other are not anything very significant. However, when the war is over there is no possibility of a military force parallel to government forces in Iraq and having its own set of policies and orders.
10. Currently, al-Abadi enjoys no significant control over the PMF and militia groups, and Tehran through Mohandess and Hadi al-Ameri is pursuing its own policies with the PMF. As a result, their disputes and divides with al-Abadi are increasing in this regard.
1. After Maliki was set aside and al-Abadi came to power the PMF became one of the main leverages for Iran to pursue its policies in Iraq, and Tehran has invested heavily on this force.
2. al-Abadi still needs the militia groups and PMF in the war against ISIS, and he doesn’t want to set them aside.
3. al-Abadi’s policy is to have the militia groups and PMF under the umbrella of state armed forces. However, the Iranian regime is completely against such a move.
4. al-Abadi will accept arming the militia groups and PMF under the framework of the armed forces. However, the PMF is seeking weapons equal to that of the army in order to use them to follow the regime’s goals in this regard.
5. Militia groups are attempting to place al-Abadi under pressure, yet their policies are not to exactly be in too much of a dispute with al-
6. al-Abadi is insisting on not using militia units and the PMF in Sunni areas; the same policy the Americans are demanding from him.