The scope of internal disputes amongst the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq is increasing by the day. Up to a few months ago these differences were limited to their salaries and supplies. However, currently in addition to the previous problems these matters are being raised at the top brass of the PMF, leading to more troops defecting. Shiite militias in Salahadin are literally in a limbo. The salaries they received once in a while from their commanders is now no more and they are facing serious financial problems. Any budget received by deputy PMF commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis as salary for the Shiite militias he has divided amongst in his inner circle, spent on arms and ammunition for his own special militia groups, all due to his differences with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and PMF commander Hadi al-Ameri. The Quds Force is intensely involved in Syria and due to high casualties has conditioned any salary pay for the Shiite militia groups on their taking part in the war in Syria.
Divides between Hadi al-Ameri and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis are also increasing as we speak. Although the media name al-Muhandis as the PMF deputy commander, he considers himself as actually the complete custodian and guardian of this force and has no trust in al-Ameri’s inner circle. To this end, al-Muhandis had from day one installed his own inner circle, mainly figures from the city of Basra, in top PMF ranks. These individuals include Abu Hessan al-Basari, whose real name is Hamid Ibrahim al-Sahlani; Abu Ali al-Basari (former 9th Badr commander), whose real name is Adnan Ibrahim al-Muhseni. Al-Ameri seriously opposed these appointments.
To depict himself as a figure close to the central government, Hadi al-Ameri is resorting to various measures that intensifies his difference with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Al-Muhandis strongly opposes al-Abadi’s policies regarding the PMF, demanding this entity be placed under the government framework. The main divide between these two is over the budget and command structure, which al-Muhandis is not willing to accept.
Despite the fact that the PMF have been set aside from the Ramadi operations, al-Muhandis ordered various PMF units associated to his own Shiite militias to use federal police uniforms and enter the Ramadi clashes to thus provide a portion of their financial needs. These measures were mainly intended to stonewall the government’s plan for Ramadi. Iraqi and American forces discovered al-Muhandis’ plan, and Baghdad ordered his forces out of Ramadi.
Due to budget problems the PMF have not received their salaries for the last months of 2015. A PMF commander has said it has been nearly four months that around 85% of the PMF have not received their paychecks for the last months of 2015.
According to an official order, al-Muhandis declared to all PMF commanders that no remnant wages of 2015 will be paid to the PMF, and this has to be informed to all of the PMF units in all fronts.
Al-Muhandis’ orders has led to major dissent and all-out disorder amongst the PMF ranks and files. A large number of elderly PMF members from the southern and central Iraqi provinces have departed all battlefronts in Salahadin and returned home. PMF members are saying this policy is the beginning of the end for this entity, especially since they have been set aside from the Ramadi operations, and the Quds Force and Iranian regime are no longer able to support them. Therefore, they can no longer place any pressure on al-Abadi.
A number of PMF forces have received special weapons training and have become experts in the use of these arms. Currently many of them have left the battlefields and these weapons are mainly left for those who have no knowledge of how they are to be used. More than 50% of these weapons are of no use considering the fact that trained personnel are not willing to take part in the battlefields.
Financial problems and not receiving their paychecks have caused PMF to not return to battlefronts after their leave. In many areas of Salahadin Province, especially in districts near the cities of Samara and Baiji, in two different periods when PMF members were sent for leave more than 40 of them refused to return to their fronts.
A large number of PMF and Shiite militias who have left the battlefronts due to financial problems have now come to Baghdad to find a job, and they are now resorting to theft, abduction and extortion from the people. Robbing currency exchange stores has become a popular method of obtaining money for the PMF members. Moreover, the PMF are now abducting people from various parts of Baghdad and demanding high ransoms from the locals. In many cases PMF gangs have received the ransom money and murdered the abducted individual. From early January to this day PMF gangs murdered the six individuals abducted from different parts of Baghdad in the Rasafa region, including al-Sha’b, Baghdad al-Jadida, Rashediye, Bab al-Moazam and Salikh.
Shiite militias and the PMF are resorting to these crimes with two objectives in mind: first, to resolve their financial problems due to not receiving their salaries; second, placing pressure on the al-Abadi government by cementing a climate of insecurity.
The Quds Force deliberately refuses to resolve the PMF’s financial issues to force these units – who have been set aside from all operations and Baghdad is refusing to provide for their budget – to be dispatched to Syria based on conditions set by the Quds Force.