By Hamdi Malik for Foreign Affairs. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Mustafa al-Kadhimi (pictured), Iraq’s new prime minister as of May 12, has already announced a bold intention.

In a short government manifesto he submitted to the Iraqi Parliament, Kadhimi emphasized his plans to “impose the state’s prestige” by bringing armed groups under government control.

To observers of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, the manifesto’s meaning is clear: the damage to the state’s “prestige” has, after all, come mainly from pro-Iranian militant groups who answer to the commanders of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), rather than to Iraq’s commander in chief.

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By Ali Mamouri for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraqi prime minister stresses PMU should be Iraqi institution under state authority

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi faces a difficult task in implementing his reform plan for the Popular Mobilization Units organization and bringing its various military factions under full control of the Iraqi state.

He has started approaching PMU leaders, but reining in the organization will not be an easy task.

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(Picture credit: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

By Shelly Kittleson, for Foreign Policy. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

A Powerful Iran-Backed Militia Is Losing Influence in Iraq

Five months after its charismatic leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was killed by a U.S. drone strike at the Baghdad airport, the Iran-backed group Kataib Hezbollah’s influence on Iraq may be quietly eroding.

Despite an institutional void since widespread protests across Shiite-majority central and southern Iraq forced the previous government to resign late in 2019 and the international coalition’s recent withdrawal from several Iraqi bases, moves are afoot to more fully integrate some Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) factions into government chains of command and structures that existed prior to 2014.

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By Seth J. Frantzman, for Foreign Policy. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The PMU Is Getting More Aggressive in Iraq

In January, Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of Iraq’s largest political party, traveled to Iran’s holy city of Qom to meet with representatives of several Iraq-based paramilitaries from the hugely influential Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).

That visit was part of an attempt by Sadr to position himself as the face of public anger directed against the United States over the assassination of Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani.

Sadr is an important figure in Iraq not only because of his ties to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei but also because members of his Saraya al-Salam militia turned out in significant numbers to protect anti-government protesters against Iraqi security forces, including the PMU, last year.

The death of Suleimani caused pro-Iranian paramilitaries to flex their muscles by clashing more openly with U.S. troops, which could be a sign that the PMU is reimagining its future role in Iraq. Sadr’s intervention now makes the PMU’s ascendance undeniable.

While he tried to navigate the wave of popular protest last year, he has hedged his influence with the PMU this year, illustrating that the organization cannot be sidelined.

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By Michael Knights, Hamdi Malik and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Honored, Not Contained: The Future of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces

Hastily raised when the Islamic State was knocking at the gates of Baghdad, the state-backed Iraqi militia network al-Hashd al-Shabi has swollen into a 160,000-strong armed force with an annual budget exceeding $2 billion.

But more than five years after its formation, the Hashd — also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces — still lacks defined roles and has largely fallen under the sway of Kataib Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed factions. Now that Iranian Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis are no longer on the scene, observers are asking what comes next for the Hashd.

In this highly detailed Policy Focus, meant as a primer for Iraqi and international agencies, analysts Michael Knights, Hamdi Malik, and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi lay out the PMF’s current status, offering a novel look at its functions, structure, and activities as a military institution.

The study identifies achievable security-sector reforms while exploring longer-term options around which consensus must first be built. Although demobilization is not a realistic goal in the near term, Iraq and its partners can take practical steps to honor Hashd units for their sacrifices while also containing them in the interests of national sovereignty and stability.

Full 236-page report here.

By Ali Mamouri for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraq orders militias to fully integrate into state security forces

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi issued a decree July 1 ordering the factions of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) to integrate fully into the state security forces.

According to the decree, all the military factions within the PMU must retire their political and military affiliations and come under the full control of the prime minister as the commander in chief of the armed forces.

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(Picture credit: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

By Omar Sattar for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

As more factions within Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) are being designated as terrorists by the US administration on account of their close ties with the Iranian side, Tehran is moving toward pulling the Iraqi file from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and leaving it with the Foreign Ministry, local reports say.

This reported shift in Iranian policy would seek to address a number of critical concerns — none more important, perhaps, than protecting the PMU, which is striving to repurpose itself as a fully-fledged security institution, especially after Washington explicitly told Iranian authorities that supporting militias in Iraq must come to end as part of 12 requirements outlined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in November for the lifting of US sanctions.

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By Shelly Kittleson for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

In Iraq, tension between the US-led coalition and armed groups linked to Iran has risen in recent months.

For example, the United States sanctioned key representatives of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah on Nov. 13, saying they had moved money, acquired weapons and trained fighters in Iraq. Problems have also arisen with some factions of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).

As a whole, the PMU are part of Iraq’s security forces, but some of its dozens of factions are Shiite armed groups with ties to Iran. There has long been tension between some of the local Sunni population and those Shiite-majority PMUs from southern and central Iraq.

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(Picture Credit: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

By John Lee.

US-based General Dynamics, which produces Abrams tanks, has reportedly suspended its maintenance program in Iraq after one of its tanks was provided to the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi Popular Mobilization Force (PMF).

Iraq’s al-Ghad Press has reports that the company withdrew from its base at Baghdad’s al-Muthanna airport after finding out that Iraq violated the terms of the contract which only authorized the Iraqi army to use the US-provided tanks.

Iraq owns 140 M1 Abrams tanks, sixty of which are now out of service.

Read more here.

(Source: Kurdistan 24)

By John Lee.

The Institute for the Study of War has issued a new report — Iraqi Security Forces and Popular Mobilization Forces: Orders of Battle — in which it claimes that the liberation Daesh’s urban holdings in Iraq was necessary but not sufficient to secure America’s vital national interests.

It says ISIS has lost neither the will nor the capability to fight, even as it withdraws into desert hideouts and sleeper cell formations in November 2017.

Rather, dispersed ISIS militants have begun an insurgent campaign in northern and western Iraq as some of its foreign fighters have returned to their home countries to serve in ISIS’s external operations network.

The report includes considerable detail on the various players and agencies involved in security in Iraq.

Click here to download the full report.

(Source: Institute for the Study of War)