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Al hashd al shaabi
The decision of the Iraqi government to pay its militia forces equal to [regular army units] made by Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi suggests the growing clout of Iraqi paramilitary groups, some of whom have ties to Iran and other problematic actors in the region.
The policy was initially put forward by Former Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Abadi as a sop to the growing influence of the Popular Mobilization Forces, known in Arabic as Hashd al-Shaabi, earlier this year.
However, as the election approached the prime minister backtracked from the policy in an Al-Abadi maneuverer to maintain power in the Arab world’s fourth most populous state.
“This means that their power and influence in the political decision making of these groups has grown,” said Majid Al Qaysi. Qaysi is the former Director of Intelligence Analysis for the Directorate of Military of Intelligence and retired in 2016 with the rank of general.
The move is likely applauded by many Iraqis who saw the militias taking a leading role in anti-Da’eshh battles in both Iraqi and Syria. However, within the Sunni officer corp there is much resentment toward the new policy which allows militia members to earn the same as career officers some of who have spent decades earning their ranks. While Hashd is under the command of the Iraqi Prime Minister they are a parallel structure in Iraq and have a different paymaster then regular Iraqi forces.
The United States and other members of the Global Coalition against ISIS have repeatedly called for the militias to be disbanded.
The influence of Iran in Iraq is growing with Iranian actors increasingly playing an increasing role not just in the country’s politics, but in the country’s economic situation as well.
“Everyone knows Iran will have some influence in Iraq but the idea is to support Iraq as an independent functioning republic, ” said Lincoln Bloomfield, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs in an interview with the author earlier this year, “Iran’s goal is to undermine the idea of constitutional republics in both Iraq and Syria and toward that end have committed war crimes in both countries.”
Hashd is the most visible example of Iran’s influence in Iraq. The militias have been accused by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty international of human rights violations. These accusations have yet to be proven. The Hashd was formed after Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for them in a religious appeal in 2014 in a non-sectarian fatwa. Today Al Hashd includes a minority of fighters of Yazidi, Sunni and Christian background. Many analysts feared that Hashd would emerge as a “new Republican Guard” and some even feared that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi would use the new force to launch a coup to stay in power.
Furthermore, some Sunnis feared that Hashd forces would attempt to “ethnically cleanse” areas of Iraq. Both fears proved largely unfounded. However, the close ties of some of the Hashd forces to Iran allow an alternative source of income.
Iraq’s Shia militias are increasingly becoming geopolitical players in the region.
One of the most controversial of the original seven militias involved in the program was a group known as Kata’ib Hezbollah which has received training from Hezbollah and fought against U.S. forces in Iraq after it was formed in 2007. Designated a terrorist organization by the United States it has reached far beyond Iraq, supposedly providing support to Shia terrorist groups in Bahrain and also playing a role in the conflict in Syria.
According to the BBC, Qatar paid as much as $1 billion between 2015-2017 to the Iraqi militia Kata’ib Hezbollah after the group captured some Qatari royals in the country on an ill-timed “hunting trip.” The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Corp Guards Gen Soleimani supposedly leveraged Kata’ib Hezbollah ties with Qatar to urge Qatari support of the “Four Towns” Agreement which allowed for ethnic cleansing in Syria. Under the agreement, two Sunni towns were evacuated to the benefit of the Assad regime and two Shia majority towns were evacuated to the benefit Sunni militant groups.
Kata’ib Hezbollah, like other militias which grew out of groups which fought American forces, continue to have tensions with the Anti-Daesh coalition forces. This summer a Kuwaiti newspaper reported that the Israeli Air Force carried out a secretive strike on the group. The truth surrounding both incidents remains unclear but, they further symbolize the geopolitical aspirations of Iraqi paramilitary groups.
“These groups are the most powerful and [well] armed of the militias,” Qaysi said,” and also the most secretive.”