PMF leads Iran’s ambitions for expansion in the Arab region

Saleh al-Qallab

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Contrary to what many Iraqis say, it is not surprising that the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions against the head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and former Iraqi National Security Advisor Faleh al-Fayyad for his links to serious human rights violations and for ties between PMF members and Iran. In October 2019, the PMF attacked Iraqi civilians who were demonstrating against corruption, unemployment, and deteriorating economic conditions, and most importantly against Iranian interference. The attack was with the support of the Revolutionary Guard, which has been a controlling force in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime and his execution.

What is now known as the Popular Mobilization Forces is in fact a group of sectarian militias with over 200,000 members, imposed on the Iraqi army and constituting a major part of it, despite its loyalty to Iran and the fact that the Iraqi Ministry of Defense has no control over it. Its commander, Faleh al-Fayyad, who is accused of committing serious violations, does not answer to the Iraqi government, but to the Iranians who have the real say in this Arab country, and to their Iraqi followers who are managed and controlled by sectarian factors, not national loyalty.
Of course, by this we do not mean the Arab Shiites, who have remained an effective national and Arab force throughout Arab history, both recent and ancient: the Ottoman period, the Safavid era before, and also during the British colonial period, until the present day.

Iraq has come under de facto Iranian occupation since right after the eight-year Iraq-Iran war, specifically since the American invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003. The party responsible for today's situation in the region is the US, which as a colonial force in Iraq, should have protected the country rather than open its eastern borders to Iranian expansionist ambitions.

The bitter truth is that there is an Iranian occupation of Iraq, all of Iraq, for the PMF is nothing more than an Iranian sectarian army, despite its official affiliation with the Iraqi army. It was under the command of the Quds Force led by Qassem Soleimani, who was replaced by Abd al-Aziz al-Muhammadawi after the Americans took Soleimani out. We must remember that the majority of Iraqi Shiites reject this hijacking by the Iranian regime, which perpetuates Persian and Safavid attitudes, of their country. They continuously express their desire for an independent Iraqi state that is Arab in its identity and alignment, an active member of the Arab League with an open-door policy to citizens of all Arab countries near and far.

The Iraqis, both Sunnis and Shiites, certainly want good neighborly relations with Iran, with which their country has a long history, both before and after the advent of the great Islamic era.

However, the prerequisite to peace is for Iran to put an end to its military, security, political, and sectarian interference in Iraq, that we see the end of the PMF and other occupying forces, and that it respects the will of the Iraqi people, respects the leadership and government, and also respects the political process and parties in Iraq. Otherwise, we can expect to see a much stronger rejection by Iraqis of this Iranian hegemony in the not-too-distant future, which Iranian leader Ali Khamenei is well aware of.

The problem here is that the decision-makers in Iran do not understand the language with which the majority of Iraqis, along with the Arabs, are addressing them. Iran sees a historic opportunity to penetrate the entire Arab region, as demonstrated by the occupation and intervention in Iraq. We see similar, although not overt, influence in Syria, in Lebanon, and also in Yemen and even North Africa, stemming from an Iranian-Turkish alliance driven by the expansionist aspirations of both states, resulting in the establishment of mini-sectarian states within some Arab countries.

It is well-known, except for those who choose to ignore it, that there is clear Iranian interference in Syria, and that were it not for this military, security and political intervention in this Arab country that still lives by the slogan "One Nation, Bearing an Eternal Message," and still raises the Pan-Arab flag, Baath flag with its four colors “White are our acts, black our battles, green our fields, and red our swords,” that Bashar al-Assad would now be six feet under in the cemetery of Dahdah, or languishing in one of the prisons that locked away the best leaders and men of Syria. The Golan Heights would have returned to its people and to its former glory prior to the 1967 war!

It is clear that Iran is adamant about interfering in Arab affairs until the end, and that it will not hesitate to use the sectarian factor to its advantage. Its record so far shows major interference in four Arab countries, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq.
We know that the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, announced from the southern suburb of Beirut that he is with the Iranian government, while Yemen might follow Iraq, and the Grand Ayatollah might spread his reach over this whole region.

The problem here is that Erdogan's Turkey is conspiring with Iran for control in the region, because it seeks to take even more than what it already took from Syria, and because it has its eye on the eastern Mediterranean, and because it has occupied Tripoli and seeks to occupy even more of Libya, and because the Houthis have sold out Yemen to Qassem Soleimani’s backers, and because the Arab world has never gone through such difficult times as it is today!

If there is anything to pin our hopes on, then it is the role of Saudi Arabia and the actions of King Salman bin Abdulaziz and the Crown Prince, rising like an arrow, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who carries the promise of the Eternal Message that the people of this Pan-Arab nation still cling to.

Accordingly, this very dangerous Iranian penetration, which is the tip of the Persian spear in the Arab side, must be stopped, just as those who have abandoned their Arab loyalty and their nation and sold themselves to the state of the Wali al-Faqih must be confronted. These Arabs who sell out their own people and countries must realize that they will pay dearly in the end.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al- Awsat.

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