Following the signing of the nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran due to severe pressures imposed on Tehran from international sanctions, and after Iran was forced to succumb to all the conditions set by the negotiating countries – according to its own officials “drink from the chalice of poison” – we are witnessing this process have its own international effects on Iran’s export of fundamentalism especially to countries of the Middle East such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen. In this piece we will provide some background and updates on the status of Iraqi militia forces linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force.
It has been over two months that militia groups in Iraq are left disillusioned and literally in limbo. Problems in the frontlines, and the atmosphere outside of the battlefronts have left no motivation for these militia groups to continue their activities. In various fronts it has been a few months since they have not received any pay and their food, water and other basic needs are very poor.
A growing number of militia members are fleeing and abandoning the warfronts and seeking refuge in European countries. This even includes senior militia commanders leaving their units behind and fleeing to Europe. The question raised amongst these militia forces is why should their ranks and files remain in the battlefronts and suffer casualties, while there is no intention to stage any assault? Going for leave and never returning to the battlefronts has become very common. Most militia troops have fled the warfronts against ISIS in al-Anbar Province and those remaining are very hesitant and in doubt, and each day more and more are seen fleeing in groups. Even new recruits returning from training in Iran and Lebanon are no longer willing to remain in their groups and flee to their homes. Below are a few examples of this trend:
- In late September around 700 members of the Asaeb al-Haq fled Iraq heading for European countries. Most of these forces were from the provinces of Diyala and Waset. In their remarks it is obvious that there was no hope or motivation left for them to continue the fighting in Iraq, and Iran can no longer support them as they did so in the past.
- A number of members of the Ashoura battalions, being the military arm of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, fled from Iraq during the recent wave of migrants pouring into Europe, with commanders and brigadier commander bodyguards – that are considered very experienced security personnel – were seen fleeing Iraq. Various members of the Ashoura battalions who have fled to Europe were amongst those sent to Lebanon to undergo a three-month training course, and they were promised posts as national security officers amongst various militia groups, and of course, high salaries. This was a method used by the Quds Force to provide hollow promises aimed at deceiving its members. Abu Montazer al-Hosseini, in charge of all Ashourra battalions, was one element who played an active role in promising lucrative contracts to new militia recruits.
- The Quds Force, concerned of members of the Popular Mobilization Force and other militia groups in Iraq deserting the frontlines, has called on all militia commanders to hold new training courses, increase supplies, provide financial bonuses and more basic necessities in the front lines to prevent further desertion. However, militia members are fleeing in such numbers and literally in all fronts that these measures have not been able to create any significant change in the status quo, and now even senior militia commanders are seen fleeing the frontlines on a daily basis.
- Another factor that has been increasing this desertion trend is reports of senior militia commanders plundering and stealing large portions of the salaries and basic supplies belonging to PMF and other militia members. This has created mistrust and lack of faith amongst the lower files of troops, and is literally crumbling all the structure of the PMF and other militia groups as their members see their commanders stealing what belongs to them.
- Recently the Badr forces, being one of the main militia groups loyal to Iran and with a long history of repressive measures against the Iraqi people, has been stealing goods in southern Iraqi provinces. This includes items such as rice, cooking oil, sugar and … that were initially gathered and sent for the troops in the warfronts. However, Badr commanders are stealing these items and selling them in the market.
- Commanders of Ashoura battalions stealing their troops’ salaries has also become a serious dilemma for their files. For example, in one area of Anbar Province of the 200 troops that went for leave last week only 110 returned. Currently, each member of these battalions has 15 days of leave and 15 days in the frontlines. A battalion with 400 troops has seen nearly 70 of its members deserting. In all rounds these battalions must provide 170 men in the front lines, yet they are only able to send 130. In another similar battalion there has been 70 individuals who fled their posts and those remaining numbered at only 100. This shows that with the war dragging on the conditions on the ground for these militia groups – who initially intended to kill their enemies and plunder their belongings – are no longer tolerable and they are attempting to flee the scene through any means and at any price.