Today its consists of a loose but wide-spanning network of militia clusters — an exclusive fraternity — blessed by Iraq’s highest ranking clerics, and Tehran’s ruling religious authority. The multiplication of militia units though not unprecedented, has consequently reached a new extremity.
The year 2003 marks the phase in which militias were first mobilized. Years later many bands were resurrected and rebranded ‘Iraq’s Popular Mobilization forces’ (PMF), in direct response to the Islamic State group’s unlawful conquest of northwestern planes in June 2014.
The same forces presently roam the state of Iraq within a legal and political capacity, a Shia Islamic fighting corps, locally referred to as A’Hashd A Shaabi.
The question asked yet unanswered now that A’Hashd has fulfilled its mandate of defeating the Islamic State group, is whether the umbrella force remains relevant.
Ahead of Sistani’s sermon tomorrow in which it will be decided whether the fatwa that spawned A’Hashd will be revoked, FRB-I sources have revealed terrifying revelations regarding A’Hashd’s militia strategy.
Our sources in Baghdad confirm that the umbrella institution will be reduced to a military and political wing. Those belonging to the political category are to disband and surrender their weapons to the state, while the military wing will pledge allegiance to Iraq and steer clear of politics. Both calls however have been rejected by the biggest A’Hashd names in the last two weeks.
The division unsurprisingly, follows Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini organizing principle he used to establish the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Forces (IRG) in May 1979.
“I insist that the armed forces obey the laws regarding the prevention of the military forces from entering into politics, and stay away from political parties, groups and [political] fronts”.
The claim that A’Hashd’s military branch can serve as a apolitical is baseless but not entirely irrelevant to their game plan. The strategy shields A’Hashd commanders stepping forward for the position of prime minister from criticism. In spite of the concession Abadi has made as the commander-in-chief of A’Hashd forces, he may find himself knocked off his perch sooner than expected.
In the face of competition the A’Hashd camp represents, Iraq’s secular camp of candidates will struggle to secure more than 18 seats, and would need a minimum of 165 seats ( just over half of Iraq’s 328 parliamentary seats) to form the government.
The letter that codified A’Hashd’s existence signed by Abadi lays bare the militia strategy many will learn about in coming days. Point (2) of the document, otherwise known as Office Order 91, is of specific interest, stating that the A'Hashd stands apart from the ISF whilst simultaneously being an extension.
America’s cards are few and far between, and its only option is to double its bets on the Kurdish Barzani-run Democratic Party.
Despite outward embellishments of national attachments and love of 'al Watan', Tehran’s hand in manoeuvering and governing Iraq’s Hash’d is no longer invisible. Abadi’s formal recognition of the group’s official status translates into tacit approval of Iran’s influence, if not its institutionalization. Iran, ever since the removal of the former Iraqi government by means of an illegal occupation, proceeded to claw its way into Iraq’s political sphere.
Iran’s patrons today form a long line cutting through various ministries of state from Parliament to the interior ministry.
Many including the United Nations have congratulated the PMF for having liberated areas north of Baghdad held by IS, but have warned the state against allowing commanders to run as electoral candidates.
Despite warnings, no state-driven act was issued to deprive militias, recognised as part of the national security apparatus, of the right to participate.
Making matters worse are writers and self-named Iraq pundits flushing away terms such as ‘warlord’ and ‘militia commander’ to replace them with hollow terms like ‘moderate’ and ‘brigades’. Some international states have made similar calls, but the group’s local and cross-border endorsement from Baghdad and Tehran leaves little to be argued with.
For now however, new splits within A’Hashd is turning heads as a dividing line organises the group into two distinct camps; units loyal to Tehran and units loyal to Baghdad.
This permanent state of fission explains many of the tricks shaping Iraq’s political trade. By dividing larger political blocs into smaller units, chances of maintaining the status quo are higher. Uniforms and titles will change but outside of plain sight, militia's commanders will continue to pull the strings of private militias while speaking the language of democracy and diplomacy before cameras.
An explanation of why is simple says FRB-I analyst Mustafa Kamil, “for it creates the impression that there is variety and democracy”, twin elements Iraq’s elections have lacked even before 2003.
The order to carve the militia confederation into a political and military branch (to permanize their influence) will be issued before Sistani’s sermon on Friday. Abadi and America are running low on options and any attempt to curtail A’Hashd’s penultimate transformation may not work at this late stage. This will be exploited by Hash’d candidates, to expel US forces and prevent Abadi from winning a second term.
In the words of former C.I.A analyst Kenneth Pollack “the elections will be crucial as both bellwether and determinant of Iraq's future course”.