Political dispute is rising in Baghdad over the fate of the Popular Mobilization Force (PMF), including armed Shiite militias formed under a fatwa issued by Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in the summer of 2014 to take on the threat of ISIS.
Sunni political groups are accusing the Shiite militias of seeking violence and widespread sectarian vengeance in Iraq, similar to the scenes of 2005, 2006 and 2007, especially in Baghdad and Diyala Province.
Sunni politicians in their remarks have warned that Shiite militias might eventually begin assassinating Iraqi Sunni leaders and Shiite political figures opposing the PMF. The Sunni politicians said a number of moderate Shiite alliance figures who have clear nationalist stances might become assassination targets, especially those who advised Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to be firm against the Shiite PMF or dissolve them if needed.
The recent abduction of three Americans in the Addora neighborhood of southern Baghdad is a dangerous turn of events in the role of various despotic elements inside the armed Shiite groups fighting under the PMF framework. This abduction may come with a political message for the U.S. and international coalition, some have mentioned.
Dispatching U.S. Special Forces to areas of Iraq and American bombers mistakenly bombing the PMF near the city of Fallujah located west of Baghdad have led to deteriorating relations between the Americans and the PMF, which has already been full of tension.
The U.S. may decide to target the Shiite groups if the three Americans remain hostage in the hands of the groups or factions active under the PMF flag. U.S. diplomats have discussed with al-Abadi the dangers of rising Shiite militia influence, especially their direct relations with Iran bypassing the Iraqi government.
The American perspective presented to al-Abadi included a clear reference to Iran’s role in strengthening Shiite militias’ influence at the Iraqi government’s expense. The Americans also presented intelligence to al-Abadi showing there are parties in Iran that are behind the events taking place in the town of Meqdadiya in Diyala Province located northeast of Baghdad.
On planning to abduct or murdering the three American military personnel by the Shiite militias, if such claims are proven the PMF – like ISIS – may become a target for international coalition airstrikes. Therefore, the al-Abadi government should not relieve this matter without a firm and decisive resolve.
For a number of reasons there are doubts over al-Abadi’s power to take a firm position vis-à-vis the Shiite militias. The most important matter is that a number of Shiite alliance officials directing the Iraqi government consider these militias as a red line. Furthermore, it appears that al-Abadi’s influence inside his coalition (State of Law coalition) and party (Dawa Party) is weaker in comparison to his archrival, former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
On the other hand, Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammad Ali Taheri in Iran has said in his recent speech in Tehran that the PMF in Iraq and Syria are our red line and no one can even think about crossing these red lines.
Considering the situation in Iraq and the paradox between the Shiite militias and al-Abadi, one cannot expect a clear image of the status quo in Iraq. If the Americans fail to dispatch ground forces to Iraq the status quo will deteriorate day by day. It appears Washington has come to realize this issue very well and the entrance of the 101st Airborne Division to Iraq is in line with such a perspective.