Is Kadhimi seeking Abadi’s help to ease tensions with PMF?

In order to maintain calm and ease tensions ahead of elections, the Iraqi premier now seems intent on building better ties with figures who are close to pro-Iran Shia parties and militias.
Tuesday 08/06/2021
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi with former Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, June, 5,2021. (twitter)
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi with former Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, June, 5,2021. (twitter)

BAGHDAD – Iraqi political sources told The Arab Weekly Monday that a meeting between Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and former Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi signalled a push by the Iraqi premier to restore ties with the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).

Kadhimi’s relationship with the PMF militias has recently been marked by unprecedented tensions after government forces arrested militia commander Qassim Mahmoud Musleh on terrorism charges.

The same sources noted the meeting came after Abadi presented his initiative on the PMF, which included, in addition to a number of proposals, a call to organise the militias’ relationship with the state, in recognition of their role that cannot be put into question.

Kadhimi’s meeting with Abadi is viewed as an indication of the prime minister’s willingness to deal with the initiative, although the majority of political parties in the country had already neglected this proposal and avoided commenting on it because, according to them, its content is a foregone conclusion.

The presence of the PMF is now a fait accompli that is hardly in need of recognition by anyone, especially after the integration of the militias within state institutions, allowing them to benefit from state funds and a legal umbrella.

Government sources said that the prime minister discussed with Abadi, who also heads the parliamentary Victory coalition, “the latest developments in the country.” The two sides also discussed “the government’s plans to confront the challenges facing Iraq and preparations to provide a safe environment for early elections.”

In the run-up to voting scheduled for this October, Kadhimi is trying to maintain calm and preserve security. However, economic, social, security and political challenges, including the pressure by Shia parties and militias on the premier, have made Kadhimi’s task very difficult.

Iraq’s premier does not have a partisan cover and is accused by pro-Iran Shia parties and militias of “working” and colluding with the United States. In order to maintain calm and ease tensions, he now seems intent on building better ties with figures who are close to pro-Iran Shia parties and militias.

Therefore, Kadhimi’s rapprochement with individuals like Abadi, who is counted as the leader of a moderate faction within the highly influential Islamic Dawa Party in Iraq, provides the premier with a form of support and protection.

Despite Abadi’s disagreements with party leader Nuri al-Maliki, his relations remain good with senior PMF leaders and leaders of the most prominent militias, such as Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr militia and Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Sadrist movement and founder of Saraya al-Salam militia.

In the wake of the militias’ violent reaction to Musleh’s arrest, Abadi presented his initiative which he dubbed National Mobilisation.

In its preamble, the initiative reads, “With the increasing friction and the approaching elections and in compliance with national responsibility, Haider al-Abadi announces the National Mobilisation initiative for the Popular Mobilisation Forces and calls on the government and political forces to discuss and adopt the document to resolve the existing problems and agree on the rules for dealing with this file, and to prevent any escalation that could threaten the stability and security of the state and the interests of its people.”

The initiative praised the PMF as an “honourable national force that contributed and still contributes to the battles of liberation and salvation from terrorism. It is a combat force that has been legitimised by decisions of the parliament and the government.”

Abadi also considered that “the survival of the PMF is a necessity, as it is a strategic force for the nation and the state. Therefore, attempts to dissolve the PMF must be countered.”

Abadi himself had suffered during his leadership of the Iraqi government between 2014 and 2018 from the PMF’s meddling with political and military decisions. In the end, he was forced to accept the militias and help them infiltrate state institutions, especially security and military institutions. It does not seem that the current prime minister is about to deviate from this approach, after he realised the limitations of his capabilities in confronting the militias.