Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

Iraq PM Adel Abdul Mahdi concerned about integration of Iranian militias into army

Adel Abdul Mahdi expects process to be complete by end of month

Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi speaks during a joint statement with French President at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on May 3, 2019. AFP
Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi speaks during a joint statement with French President at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on May 3, 2019. AFP

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has raised concerns over the integration of the Iranian-backed militias into the country’s armed forces, after some of the factions expressed their reservations.

The militias fall under the umbrella of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a collection of mostly Shiite militias that fought ISIS and were incorporated into the Iraqi armed forces in 2016.

Together they number more than 140,000 fighters, and while they fall under the authority of Iraq’s prime minister, the PMF’s top heads are politically aligned with Iran.

“Although the PMF has shown great commitment to respect and abide the rules of the integration, some of the groups have expressed their reservations,” Mr Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday evening during his weekly press conference.

The decision to merge the fighters is mainly to protect the country’s security and stability, the premier said.

Mr Abdul Mahdi has set a tight deadline of July 31 for the militias to comply, but the government will have to take the decree's enforcement seriously if it is to have any effect.

“We aim to complete the process by the end of the month,” he said, adding that details of the operation will be revealed soon.

In a decree a few weeks ago Mr Abdul Mahdi said the offices of the militias that operate independently within or outside Iraqi cities will be closed and any armed factions working “openly or secretly” against the new guidelines will be considered illegal.

The premier’s order stated that the groups must take up political or paramilitary roles, but not both, and demanded the militias leave their local military headquarters and shut down their so-called economic offices.

Mr Abdul Mahdi said that some factions of the PMF have started to shut down their headquarters.

In response to the orders, several powerful groups welcomed the announcement, but it was not immediately clear if they would fully abide by the order, and the implementation could prove to be tricky.

One of the most powerful groups of the militias, Kataeb Hezbollah, was among those welcoming the order, saying its forces within Iraq would implement it.

But it added that its men fighting outside Iraq would not abide by the new rules.

Some of the PMF’s constituent groups have played a troubling role within Iraq, according to rights groups, who have accused them of kidnappings and extrajudicial killings.

The decree to limit their power comes amid rising pressure from the US and the Gulf states to tackle Tehran's influence at a time of rising tensions.

Earlier this year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly asked Iraq to dismantle the PMF but, given the scope of Tehran’s political and military influence in Iraq, such a move would be ambitious.

The order came two weeks after three mortar shells landed on the Balad military base, the first of several unclaimed attacks on bases in Iraq hosting US troops, and on a site used by an American energy firm.

Officials blamed the militias for one of the incidents but Iran has not commented.

Updated: July 17, 2019 08:23 PM