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.

Click here to read the full story.

(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.

Click here to read the full story.

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.

Click here to read the full story.

(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)

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

Iraqi-Saudi relations have witnessed significant improvement after years of boycott that had worsened during Nouri al-Maliki’s rule between 2006 and 2014. On Oct. 22, the establishment of a Coordination Council between the two countries was announced.

Iran, which is seeking to expand its influence in Iraq, might not like this rapprochement, especially following the latest meeting between Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud that took place with US blessing when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended the launching of the Coordination Council.

Former Iraqi Ambassador to the US Lukman Faily told Al-Monitor, “Over the past years, the US attempted to take serious steps to mend ties between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. With this development, the region’s geopolitics will change.”

Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported that the Iraqi-Saudi rapprochement will “curb the appetite of the parties that cause stability,” in a clear reference to Iran, which Saudi Arabia always accuses of “destabilizing the situation in the region.”

The results of the US-brokered Iraqi-Saudi rapprochement started appearing when Tillerson asked Iranian militias to leave Iraq, saying that the Iraqi-Saudi rapprochement will “counter some of the unproductive influences of Iran inside of Iraq.”

Hashem al-Haboubi, the deputy secretary general of the Iraqi National Accord movement spearheaded by Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi, told Asharq al-Awsat that the Iraqi-Saudi rapprochement might help Iraq break free from Iranian control.

The Iraqi-Saudi rapprochement does not include the Iraqi state in its explicit form only, but also expands to political parties that are at odds with Iran such as the Sadrist movement led by Muqtada al-Sadr, who visited Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates two months ago and headed to Jordan recently to visit King Abdullah.

On October 4, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) media outlet claimed that Iraqi forces had fully recaptured the town of Hawija; hours after the Iraqi Joint Operations Command (JOC) said it launched a fresh offensive targeting its centre.

The PMU claimed that the decisive victory came as part of a second stage of operations launched on September 29 to liberate the town and surrounding areas from IS militants, who have been in control of the area since 2014.

The JOC has not officially confirmed the liberation of Hawija town, but if confirmed, it would mean that only western the Anbar’s towns of Rawa and al-Qaim remain under the militant’s control.

The Iraqi army’s War Media Cell did however reported that its forces had regained full control over Makhoul Mountains in Hawija, the area of Al-Harareyat and the western bank of Al-Fatha Bridge. 

PMU media also reported that its forces had liberated three villages west of Riyadh on October 4.  According to a statement, PMU forces liberated the villages of Yassin Taha village west of Hawija district and Aliah and Khalaf Asuad villages, west of Riyadh district.

Separately, Iraqi airstrikes were reported to have targeted an IS headquarters in Rawa in Anbar province, killing a top IS leader Bakr Wagdi al-Rawi, according to unnamed ‘security sources’.

(Source: GardaWorld)

(Picture: US Army near Mosul, March 2017)

By John Lee.

AINA reports that a large convoy of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) has been seen moving towards the Iraqi-Saudi border.

This comes following increasing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the Iraqi government has expressed support for Qatar in its conflict with Saudi Arabia.

(Source: AINA)

By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

As the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) continue their operations in the western areas of Mosul, some PMU factions reached the Syrian border May 29 and were met by Syrian army divisions on the other side of the border.

According to the May 29 statements of Hadi al-Ameri, secretary-general of the PMU-affiliated Badr Organization, PMU forces are stationed in the Um Jaris village on the Iraqi-Syrian border, northwest of the Ninevah governorate.

The forces announced that they intend to continue to control the Iraqi-Syrian border toward al-Qaim district, north of the Anbar governorate, stretching over 300 kilometers (186 miles).

International coalition aircraft had previously bombed a convoy of the Syrian army and armed loyalists near the border triangle between Iraq, Syria and Jordan, according to Abu Alaa al-Walai, secretary-general of the Martyrs of Sayyid Battalions, affiliated with the PMU. “The US aircraft bombed Friday night, May 19, PMU forces in the area of Abu Kamal, near the Iraqi-Syrian border,” Walai said.

As the Syrian government headed by Bashar al-Assad prepares to exert influence over the Iraqi-Syrian border with the help of its allies in Iraq and Iran, the opposition armed groups seek to do the same with the support of the international coalition. The border area between Iraq and Syria will turn into a conflict zone between the allies of Tehran and those of Washington.

Ahmad al-Asadi, a PMU spokesman, told Al-Monitor, “The PMU forces will mobilize to secure the Iraqi-Syrian border and then shut it down to prevent the infiltration of terrorist groups.”