Following the nuclear agreement sealed with the West the Iranian regime is in desperate need of international and regional support. Iran’s influence in Iraq has diminished significantly. In all their meetings with senior Iraqi officials the Iranian counterparts are seen focusing on three main issues: Iran is facing major economic problems and the lowering price of oil – led by Saudi Arabia – has placed severe repercussions on the regime’s economy. Therefore, Tehran is asking Baghdad to trek in line with Iran in their policy making decisions in OPEC. On foreign policy senior Iranian officials have time and again called on Iraqi officials to severe their relations with Saudi Arabia and downgrade their ties with the U.S. and other Arabic countries. Iraq’s positive response to two resolutions condemning Iran in the Cairo and Jeddah sessions was unexpected.
Militarily, Iran has signed major arms deals with the Iraqi government seeking to arm and equip the Shiite “Popular Mobilization Force” (PMF). The issue of selling arms to Iraq has always been one of the regime’s demands. However, each time Iraq says its treasury is empty and sidelines the entire subject.
Rounding up and dispatching Shiite militias to Syria
Iran is facing a shortage of boots on the ground in Syria. Based on the arrangements made with Russia, Iran is responsible for providing ground forces through its Revolutionary Guards Quds Force and Russia is to provide air cover for these ground units. Following the new attacks against Aleppo where the Quds Force and Shiite militias suffered major casualties, the Quds Force has dispatched many rounds of Iraqi Shiite militias to the northern Syria due to its importance. However, Iran and the Quds Force continue to rally Iraqi Shiites militias for various fronts in Syria. The issue of sending Iraqi Shiite militias to Syria was raised by Danaie-far Iran’s ambassador in Baghdad, and Iraj Masjedi, a senior Quds Force commander. During the past few weeks Danaie-far has held numerous meetings with various Shiite militia commanders in Baghdad and raised the issue of sending even more Shiite militias to Syria. Based on the agreements made nearly 3,000 men of the PMF were to be transferred to Tehran through the Basra and Meisan borders in southern Iraq, and from there to Syria. Hadi al-Ameri plays the main role in dispatching these Shiite militias to Syria. An agreement was made to send 1,500 of these men to Aleppo through Iran by February 12th. On February 6th, around 250 PMF members were sent to Syria from Iraq’s al-Mothana Province.
Status of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis & PMF
Currently PMF deputy commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis is under immense pressure from the Iraqi government and the PMF ranks and files. Baghdad says it will not pay these forces’ overdue paychecks of 2015. With the start of 2016 in addition to eliminating the cash provided to these forces for their daily food rations, their monthly paychecks have also been decreased by 30%. PMF members are placing pressure on al-Muhandis through their brass to take action in this regard.
Al-Muhandis has told one of his inner circle that the Iraqi government is under pressure from the U.S. to dissolve the PMF. This pressure is being implied by U.S. allies and to this day measures have been taken by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi regarding the PMF aimed at dissolving this entity. It is obvious that al-Abadi this particular policy on his agenda.
Shiite militias and PMF activated for ground assaults.
In its assessments the Quds Force has reached this conclusion that keeping the PMF and Shiite militias inactive in Iraq is not in the interest of the Islamic republic. Therefore, a number of their units must be dispatched to Syria and others need to be participated in ground assaults in various areas of Iraq in order to maintain their military readiness and potential. Iran considers the PMF as a leverage of pressure against al-Abadi in Iraq. Therefore, the Quds Force has from late January ordered its Shiite militia and PMF commanders to prepare their forces for ground assaults in areas around the city of Kirkuk.
From January 29th to the 31st nearly 4,500 PMF members and Shiite militias linked to the Quds Force, mostly members of Badr and Asaeb groups, were stationed in areas around Kirkuk such as Bashir, Taze Khormatu, Daqouq, Toopkhane, Tavuq and Leilan. The number of these forces are increasing and the Quds Force, in cooperation with a number of Kurdish groups, have sent light and heavy weapons for these Shiite militias through the Kurdish borders.
Falih Fayyad travelled to the city of Suleimaniya on Monday, February 8th to meet and coordinate with Kurdish officials on PMF ground assaults, with IRGC advisors taking part, around the city of Kirkuk.
Status of PMF members
More and more PMF members are deserting the front lines more than ever before. Internal disputes between Shiite militias has significantly lowered their spirits. These disputes have been over cases of murder and killing sprees. Some time ago a leading Asaeb commander in Baghdad was assassinated at his home in Baghdad. Recently in the town of Meqdadiya a member of the Shiite militia group was murdered in his home by Asaeb members. Not receiving their overdue wages of 2015 and a 30% decrease in their wages with the beginning of 2016 have left no motivation for the PMF and Shiite militias to remain in the front lines. In early February 280 PMF members went for leave from battlefronts in Salahadin Province, north of Baghdad. However, only 80 of them returned to their posts. These defected forces have all returned to their cities and homes in central and southern provinces, saying they will not return to the battlefronts until their wages are paid.
The PMF command have fired non-combat employees due to financial shortages. The PMF had enjoyed financial, logistics and weaponry support from Iran for a very long time. However, considering the fact that the Quds Force is in a quagmire in Syria, this support has lessened significantly and these very insignificant aids are at times delayed for two to three months.