“I announce from here the end and failure and the collapse of the terrorist state of falsehood and terrorism which the terrorist Da’esh (ISIS) announced from Mosul,” the Iraqi Prime Minister declared on state television recently.
Following a three-year long blitz, Iraqi forces with the support of the international coalition, have now defeated ISIS in Mosul, despite all challenges and sectarian disputes.
But the defeat of ISIS has created a vacuum and there are some hard questions about Shi’ite militias such as the People Mobilization Units (PMU) that must be answered. This is particularly important because the PMU was established because of the sectarian divisions in Iraq.
But what role will the PMU play in the future of Iraq? Who will control and command the PMU? It is a known fact that some Shi’ite militant groups in Iraq – such as the Kata’ib Hezbollah, Badr Organization and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq – are supported by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Thus, it is not surprising that these militias pursue IRGC’s goals and depend on Tehran for their financial and military supplies. It is worth pointing out that a few days ago, the commander of IRGC’s Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, said that the IRGC “had been working around the clock to arm the PMU” after its establishment.
This makes them under command of the IRGC’s Quds Force. Apart from financial affiliation and weapons, these groups have indicated that they believe in and are loyal to the Iranian regime’s ideology of Khomeinism who was the flagbearer of “the path to Quds(Jerusalem) goes through Karbala”.
In 2014, a Reuters report said that “Asaib and Kata’ib Hezbollah, who have sent fighters to Syria to defend Shii’te shrines ... recognize Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei as their spiritual leader.”
Based on the realities on the ground, it is no exaggeration that the regime in Tehran has the last word in Iraq and the IRGC controls some part of the current Iraqi governmentHamid Bahrami
Direct dependence on Tehran
Despite this direct dependence on Tehran, the PMU has been incorporated in Iraq’s armed forces. Muqtada al-Sadr, an influential Shii’te cleric who Lead one of the PMU's groups, expressed his concern with this development in Iraq in an interview and said, “I can see that Iraq will be under the control of militia groups.”
He then demanded that security should be exclusively under the control of Iraqi army. The Iranian regime has long sought to create a safe corridor from Iran to Lebanon. Consequently, the existence of a domestic paramilitary force parallel to the traditional army in Iraq is crucial for the IRGC and Tehran’s plan for future of that country.
Due to the growing demand in the US Congress and the White House contemplating to designate the entire IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, the Iranian authorities, need a heavily-armed paramilitary force, such as the PMU, to keep the corridor safe and to achieve their goals in Iraq.
This is because the successful terror designation of the IRGC will limit the Iraqi government’s ability to cooperate and provide facilities to the Iranian regime. Hence at this stage after the defeat of ISIS, it is only the regime in Tehran who will profit and rip the benefits of the PMU’s existence.
In addition, the existence of a parallel paramilitary force with an extreme Shi’ite ideology will undermine the country’s constitution, as this militia will follow the politicians who support it rather than the country’s constitution or the government.
In this case, the Iranian regime is trying to replicate its creation of Hezbollah in Lebanon and strives to establish a similarly trustworthy paramilitary force in Iraq in order to take control and dominate the Iraqi politics in favor of its agenda.
It is true that there are disagreements among the militia groups, which form the PMU about the destructive and destabilizing actions of the IRGC. But the Iranian regime will try to bribe or eliminate any influential clerics or opposition, if this proves to be necessary.
Another reason for the Iranian regime increasing its intervention in Iraq today is the upcoming Iraqi elections. If the Islamic Dawa Party with the former Iranian-backed PM, Nouri al-Maliki, loses that elections to some other politicians like the progressive Shi’ite voice Ayad Allawi, the IRGC’s corridor will be threatened.
Unchallenged, the commander of IRGC’s Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani will use the PMU to tilt the upcoming elections in Iraq to Tehran’s favor and secure the outcome that the regime in Iran prefers.
So, what is the solution to prevent a new sectarian war in Iraq? As long as the Iranian regime and its proxies are allowed to continue their destructive role in Iraq, Iraqi people will never see peace.
Based on the realities on the ground, it is no exaggeration that the regime in Tehran has the last word in Iraq and the IRGC controls some part of the current Iraqi government.
However, the Iraqi government must now dissolve and dismantle the PMU, effectively, cutting off IRGC’s hand in Iraq. This is particularly important following the defeat of ISIS in Iraq.
It also needs to reconstruct the Iraqi army based on national interests and to run an independent foreign policy. The West and the Arab countries should push the Iraqi government towards this direction otherwise Iraq will be offered to the regime in Tehran in a silver plate.
Freelance journalist Hamid Bahrami has served as political prisoner in Iran. He is a human rights and political activist living in Glasgow, Scotland. His works covers Iran’s destructive actions in the Middle East and social crackdown in Iran. He tweets at @HaBahrami & blogs at analyzecom.