March 1, 2016
As the Popular Mobilization Force (PMF) was set aside from all ground assaults launched to liberate Ramadi from the control of Daesh (the Arabic acronym of the self-proclaimed Islamic State), and preventing the PMF’s participation in any operations planned for Mosul, the issue of dissolving or merging the PMF into the Ministry of Defense has gained more serious proportions. With 3 Americans begin abducted in Baghdad, Washington began increasing its pressures on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to further limit the PMF and Shiite militias. All efforts placed by the Iranian regime and senior PMF officials to maintain this entity have remained futile. Tehran uses the PMF as a lever of pressure against al-Abadi, yet the Iraqi PM, enjoying support from Washington, is further pursuing the policy of restricting the PMF.
On February 6th PMF deputy Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis had said, “Through its diplomats Washington has announced to Baghdad there is no need for a popular volunteer force known as the PMF, and their role must be brought to an end.” Al-Muhandis went on to say that according to facts on the ground and information at their disposal, the Iraqi government is taking steps aimed at restricting the PMF and to this day many steps have been taken in this regard.
As the PMF were unable to enter Tikrit, the Iranian regime and Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani asked al-Abadi to have coalition warplanes enter these clashes to open the path for their forces to advance. The Iraqi government reached this conclusion the PMF are not a reliable source for military assaults and these ground attacks must be carried out by government military troops with the coalition.
In mid-December 2015 Revolutionary Guards chief Mohammad Ali Jafari in a gathering dubbed “Gaza: Symbol of Resistance” in Tehran said there are measures being carried out in Iraq and Syria to dissolve the PMF. However, in a meeting with Iraqi National Security Advisor Falih Fayyad he has told him “dissolving the PMF and/or any measures aimed at weakening these forces are a red line for the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
In January U.S. forces learned of the presence of PMF forces in the Ramadi front, entering the area wearing federal police uniforms. The Americans stopped all operations and demanded these forces to exit the area. They only re-launched their operations after these forces had left the area.
At the beginning of 2016 around 80% of all PMF forces had not received their paychecks for 4 months. PMF deputy Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis had ordered all PMF ranks and files their delayed paychecks will not be paid and the government lacks any budget.
In this regard Fayyad is pursuing the policy of Washington and limiting the PMF in their activities. However, he is taking into consideration reservations regarding the Iranian regime. Fayyad believes the PMF will not continue its activities as it is today, and to refrain from dissolving the PMF he is seeking to merge the PMF into a single unit in the Ministry of Defense, placing them under the government’s hegemony. Fayyad travelled to Tehran in mid-January and referred to the issues of divide between Iraq and the regime in saying: “The first issue is the PMF and the future of this unit. The government believes the PMF must not become a force in line with the army, and our Iranian friends want the PMF to be in parallel and even more powerful than the Iraqi Army.” Fayyad has cited U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter saying the PMF are a temporary force and after the war against ISIS they either be dissolved or merged into the ministries of defense and interior.
With the criminal case of Shiite militias and the PMF in Baghdad and Diyala provinces becoming active, the social atmosphere against the PMF has become much more active, and the revelations against the PMF’s crimes have made it difficult for the government to have any contact with this force. A number of PMF commanders in Baghdad and Diyala have been arrested and others are wanted by security forces for sectarian killings and kidnappings.
PMF commuting is very strictly controlled by Baghdad Operations Command, only allowed to move around with written permission from the Baghdad Operations Command. The central government has gathered all the PMF heavy weapons belonging. The Baghdad Operations Command has placed regulations on holding heavy weapons in Baghdad and the capital beltway, conditioning such arms on possessing special cards from the prime ministry. The freedom of action for the PMF inside Baghdad in using tinted-window and government vehicles, and having military convoys entering or exiting Baghdad are now very limited and restricted.
Al-Abadi in his speech at the Munich Security Conference described the PMF as a government entity, yet added this entity has allowed armed groups to join that are out of the government’s control, and the government will not allow arms to be out of its control. The government intends to take on these groups and bring suspects before courts.
Al-Abadi took action to limit the PMF by decreasing their wages, cutting their numbers by 30% as a result. This measure is in line of eliminating the PMF, whose numbers are estimated at 30,000 to 40,000.
Last week al-Abadi appointed Mohsen al-Ka’bi as PMF deputy in administrative, financial and logistical affairs. The post held by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis has been described as PMF director of military operations. This post is truly rhetorical considering the fact that the PMF is not involved in any military campaign.