The Shiite “Popular Mobilization Forces” being set aside from all ground assaults in Iraq and refusing to pay or decreasing their paychecks by the central government have resulted in an increasing number of defections in these units. Former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s expiration date has passed after 8 years sitting on the throne in Iraq and playing into Iran’s interests.
After al-Abadi’s government came to power, Iran’s political, military and economic influence in this country has been decreasing day by day. Although Iran has invested heavily on the PMF, these units have been set aside from all ground operations after the plots of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force failed in Iraq, the U.S. decided to expand its military activities in its war against Daesh (the Arabic acronym for the self-proclaimed Islamic State), and the PMF resorting to numerous murders and crimes in Sunni areas under the pretext of the war against Daesh. On the other hand, the mullahs’ regime in Iran has more than ever before been stuck in the quagmire known as Syria. While enjoying air support from Russia, Tehran is in desperate need of Shiite Iraqi militias more than ever before as ground infantry in this war. Sending a large number of Shiite militias from Iraq and PMF forces is in contrast to Iran’s policy in how to use these units in Iraq. Decreasing their paychecks and setting them aside from all operations plunged the PMF into recession, and Iran viewed this as a recipe for disaster. Therefore, Iran decided to once again activate its PMF units linked to Shiite militia groups in Baghdad and other areas.
The issue of the stoppage of PMF operations and its consequences was analyzed in mid-January in a meeting between Quds Force commanders in Tehran. A senior Quds Force commander said currently the PMF are defecting and trying to find work for themselves in their previous jobs. The fact that Shiite militias and PMF units in Iraq are inactive is the equivalent of a military suicide and literally throwing away all of the Islamic republic’s assets. Therefore, these Shiite militia units must once be activated in Iraq in any possible.
In late January the Quds Force ordered Shiite militia and PMF commanders to deploy their units to areas around the city of Kirkuk for ground assaults. These forces are dispatched to these areas around Kirkuk under the pretext of supporting Shiite locals. However, the objective sought by the Iranian regime is to always have in hand a military force ready to act as a leverage of pressure against al-Abadi.
From January 29th to the 31st nearly 4,500 PMF members and Shiite militias linked to the Quds Force, mostly members of Badr and Asaeb groups, were stationed in areas around Kirkuk such as Bashir, Taze Khormatu, Daqouq, Toopkhane, Tavuq and Leilan. The number of these forces are increasing and the Quds Force, in cooperation with a number of Kurdish groups, have sent light and heavy weapons for these Shiite militias through the Kurdish borders.
Considering the government’s plans to liberate areas, mostly by using state military force and Sunni tribes, and plans being discussed on how to overtake Mosul, the Iranian regime intends to once again reactivate the Shiite militias and PMF forces. Tehran is seeking the upper hand in all military affairs inside Iraq.
Financial problems riddling the PMF is one of their main issues in this period. Due to the economic crisis Iraq is facing, the government has decreased their PMF’s salaries and is unable to pay their overdue paychecks. The PMF’s financial problems were raised in a meeting between Danaie’far and Falih Fayyadh in an early January meeting. However, with no specific agreement reached on how to solve this matter.
With the PMF’s financial problems continue, and the Iraqi government condemning Iran in the Cairo and Jeddah sessions, Tehran has adopted a policy of disrupting order in Baghdad and other areas. The Quds Force has called on its Shiite militias and PMF to resort to theft, murders, kidnappings and extortion to provide for their needs. Iran sought three objectives in such a policy: one, using the PMF as a leverage of pressure against al-Abadi and to show Iran plays a leading role in determining the security situation in Iraq. Second, resolving the financial ordeals of the PMF and Shiite militias. Third, changing the population fabric in Baghdad and Diyala.
The policy of disrupting peace and order in Baghdad, targeting the Sunnis, Kurds and Christian minorities, are a result of the Iranian regime’s own analysis. During the past month many Kurds, Sunnis and Christians living in Baghdad have been targets of theft, murder and kidnappings. In justifying this policy the mullahs’ associated to the Iran have described all Sunnis as “tikfiris”. Therefore, making their lives and property free for anyone to take, and they must not live alongside Shiites. In justifying the theft and plundering of all the property of Kurds in Baghdad these mullahs have told Shiite militias these belongings were gathered by the Kurds from the previous regime in Iraq prior to 2003, and that they have been taken from Shiite citizens who used to live in Baghdad. Recently the PMF and Shiite militias are threatening and taking over assets and property belonging to Christian families, placing them under pressure to leave Baghdad as soon as possible. Most of the Christians have already left their homes due to the violence in these areas. Now, the property in their homes are being plundered by Shiite militias and PMF, mostly in Baghdad’s Mansour, Betavin, Arasat and Karade areas.
As the sun sets, Shiite militias and PMF forces have freedom of movement and action in their areas of operation. They place ambushes near the homes of rich families, kidnaping their target, and only releasing them after receiving huge ransoms. In many areas if the abducted individual is a Kurd or Sunni they are murdered even after the Shiite militias receive their ransom money. This is the source of income from the Shiite militias and PMF.
Iran’s policy is maintaining the PMF. In his visit to Tehran, former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki pledged to support the PMF in all fields possible. Maliki has in coordination with the Iranian embassy in Baghdad conducted numerous meetings with journalists and TV stations, asking them to emphasize the role played by the PMF in their media outlets or publications. One of Maliki’s inner circle in the Dawa Party said he intends to launch a satellite TV channel for the PMF.