Recent warnings from international organizations of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) had brought the militia back to the front as a dangerous organization. There is a serious campaign trying to mislead the public by comparing it to other organizations like the the Sunni Awakening and Peshmerga.
During the last years of U.S. presence in Iraq, military leadership formed a force of Sunni tribes of al-Anbar to fight the terrorist organization al-Qaeda, after U.S. troops failed to do so.
New York Times published back then statements of U.S. intelligence officials saying that Anbar governorate was in a desperate state and the situation in west of Iraq has gotten out of hand.
A force was then formed called the Awakening (Sahawat), which was ridiculed given that all residents of Anbar are suspects, and since Qaeda was in its prime, especially after the formation of its most dangerous wing, what we now call ISIS, led by Zarqawi. They managed to kill the Awakening leader, after which the area was under two years of grueling battles that ended terrorism there.
At that time, government of Nouri al-Maliki objected the formation of such a sectarian tribal movement, given that Awakening is Sunni. The government claimed that the movement will become an armed force against the central government. Eventually, Awakening was terminated and its allocated funds were stopped. Few members of the movement were enrolled in the armed forces.
Theoretically, their fears were justified since there is no parallel force facing it. But in the field, Awakening was sacked and no alternative governmental forces was deployed to guard the west of Iraq. The result was that Qaeda returned and took control of large areas killing and displacing thousands of civilians.
Due to Maliki’s failure to present a substitute for Awakening, the caner of terrorist organizations and it surrounded Baghdad, took over Mosul, Biji and many other cities.
This is the story of Awakening.
There is another alternative force: Peshmerga.
Peshmerga is an armed Kurdish forces and it was agreed that it will operate in its areas and thus the government doesn’t have to deploy its forces there. As long as the Kurds enjoy a special situation in their semi-independent region, Peshmerga will remain there to protect their areas.
But, the situation with PMF is different than that of Awakening and Peshmerga. PMF was formed of previously existing Shi’ite militias and is backed by the authorities as part of the allocations among the rivalling Shi’ite forces.
After ISIS took control of Mosul, and military officials escaped the area, Iran wanted “to help”. It instructed the political powers to undermine the regime, including the army, formed by the U.S., claiming it was of the remains of Saddam Hussein regime.
This is not true.
Since the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime, thousands of the armed forced were killed or neutralized in 2003.
But Iran and sectarian leaders have the will to form a sectarian military force, in parallel with the army and their orders, where the government ensures the funds for its armament and payroll of its members.
The case is similar to what Ayatullah Khomenei followers did after the revolution against the Shah. They formed the Revolutionary Guard to be part of the authorities and alienate the rest of Iranian partners in the revolution.
PMf is a large militia which in formality is part of the government, but we will later see how it evolved to empower a single Shi’ite party of ruling the country and marginalizing other Iraqi and Shi’ites forces. Thus, Iran will be the dominant over political powers that control PMF.
The difference between the two armed groups, Sunni Awakening and PMF, is that the former was formed to fight Sunni extremists in Sunni regions, while the latter is a Shi’ite militia devoted to rule Iraq as a whole. Now that Awakening has been terminated, PMF is growing and not only in liberating Mosul or fighting ISIS.
Though Iraqi authorities tried to ensure the skeptics and those opposing by including small Sunni units, PMF and its leadership remain a dangerous sectarian project and a weapon with which Iran can threaten all Iraqis.
The final question here is: can Iraq be saved from those threatening alterations?
As long as the elected central government is weak, and as long as Iran is gradually overtaking the Iraqi institutions, it won’t be easy to stop the PMF project. It is similar to that of Hezbollah militias in Lebanon, who practically have taken control over the whole country without having to cancel out the ruling political institutions after rendering them useless.
The solution lies within the hands of the Iraqis, firstly, to stop the sabotage of the government. It is after all up to the international organizations to hold PMF accountable for its actions and enlisting its leaders on the black list. The U.S. should also be responsible and prompt to take action and rectify the situation.
Iraqis will lose their modern state if they don’t unite against the militias and sectarian blocs and in face of the Iranian control over the government.