Iraq’s government warns PMF against challenging the state

Kadhimi is clearly trying to exploit the public’s support for expanding the state’s authority and curbing the spread of militias’ weapons, following the arrest of a prominent leader with the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), Qassem Musleh, for his involvement in terrorist and criminal acts.
Tuesday 01/06/2021
An Iraqi Army soldier stands guard the entrance to the International Zone on May 30, 2021 in Baghdad. (Iraq)
An Iraqi Army soldier stands guard the entrance to the International Zone on May 30, 2021 in Baghdad. (Iraq)

BAGHDAD – An official source from the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said that the leadership of the armed forces was serious in warning the militias against repeating a show of defiance against the state.

The source added to The Arab Weekly that “the statements of the Minister of Defence Jumaa Inad echoed the position of the Iraqi prime minister.” Other political sources said that the statements made by Inad against the Iranian militias came after Kadhimi encouraged military commanders to strongly condemn the spread of weapons in the country.

Armed militias last Wednesday stormed the Green Zone, brandishing weapons in a new show of force. On Saturday, the Iraqi minister of defence announced that the army would respond to any further armed display carried out by the militias.

Iraqi military and parliamentary sources also revealed that the Iraqi government is currently studying possible scenarios to respond to armed rallies, if they are repeated in Baghdad.

Kadhimi is clearly trying to exploit the public’s support for expanding the state’s authority and curbing the spread of militias’ weapons, following the arrest of a prominent leader with the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), Qassem Musleh, for his involvement in terrorist and criminal acts.

So far, pressure from Iran’s allies on Kadhimi to release Musleh, who is accused of leading assassination groups against activists who oppose Iran’s influence over the Iraqi state, has failed.

After Musleh’s arrest, the three executive, legislative and judicial authorities in Iraq seemed united, with all expressing clear positions and emphasising the need to extend the authority of the state, bolster the rule of law and curb the spread of weapons.

An Iraqi parliamentarian considered that Kadhimi had succeeded in this round of the showdown with militias. The parliamentarian, who spoke on condition of anonymity, argued the premier managed to end two things: the government’s inability to confront armed rallies and the PMF’s ability to control the political game.

“Kadhimi benefited from the folly that was on display on the night of terror that the militias created to prove that such militias should not be viewed as supportive to the government or any project for establishing a national state. On the contrary, the militias are clearly working to destroy the foundations of the state in order to perpetuate chaos,” the parliamentarian told The Arab Weekly.

Observers believe the PMF’s leadership has avoided escalation, which will encourage Kadhimi’s government to proceed with investigation procedures and allow the judiciary to carry out its duty to the fullest when it comes to Musleh’s case.

Unlike previous governments, Kadhimi’s cabinet, regardless of political affiliations, appeared united in the face of the show of force carried out by the militias.

Iraqi political analyst Saleh al-Hamdani said the statement of the Iraqi defense minister gives a clear indication that there is a Western-backed government move towards restructuring the PMF.

“The role of the PMF in fighting ISIS was significant, but it was exaggerated by the media of the armed factions on a regular basis, angering the officers of the armed forces who saw their roles belittled. Therefore, the minister’s statements echo the viewpoint of Iraqi soldiers and officers, serving with the army, the police and the counter-terrorism agency,” Hamdani said.

He expected that Iraq would turn the page on the PMF, with the number of it fighters eventually being cut down or merged with state forces. The PMF, he said, has been part of the West’s and Saudi Arabia’s negotiations with Iran. However, with pressure from Kadhimi’s government, the PMF could eventually be subjected to the law in a manne that contains the sway of armed factions.

The Iraqi defence minister had considered the recent militias’ moves in response to Musleh’s arrest as a major security breach and an attack on the state.

“The weapons owned by the Popular Mobilisation Forces do not pose any threat to the army forces,” said Inad, pointing out that “the army, which is capable of fighting a country, can stand up to irregular forces that possess simple weapons.

“Whoever engages in arm-wrestling and wields force must know their true size,” he warned, stressing that the prime minister had told him that he did not want bloodshed.

After the arrest of Musleh, forces from the crowd surrounded, for some time, on Wednesday, the house of Kadhimi and other sites in the Green Zone in the centre of the capital, Baghdad.

Commenting on the PMF’s role in the battles against ISIS, the defence minister said, “Whoever believes the army forces were unable to fight ISIS without the PMF are wrong.”

“Yes, the PMF has accelerated the liberation operations. If the army was on its own, then victory over ISIS would have been achieved within five or six years.”

The PMF is a grouping of militias, most of which are loyal to Iran and are run by Shia parties, despite the fact that it is an institution affiliated with the Iraqi armed forces and is directly linked to the prime minister.