ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a decree on Thursday formalizing the inclusion of the Iranian-backed Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militias into the country’s security forces, awarding them the same privileges as the army.
According to the decree, Hashd al-Shaabi fighters, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), heavily financed and trained by Iran, will be granted many of the same rights as those in the Iraqi army.
Militia members would also receive comparable salaries to those in the country’s military operating under the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, the decree clarified. They will also be bound by the rules and laws of military service in Iraq, and will now be accepted in military institutes and colleges.
The move comes two months ahead of the parliamentary elections but has long been anticipated. Shia militias enjoy significant support and influence among Iraq’s Shia majority population, and it is expected they will sway voters.
In response to Abadi’s decree, Kurds expressed their concerns on social media networks, criticizing the Iraqi Premier for pursuing sectarian policies. One of their main criticism revolved around the fact that Kurdish Peshmerga Forces, who played a key role in defeating the Islamic State in Iraq, have had their salaries cut by Baghdad for years.
The Hashd al-Shaabi was formed after top Iraqi cleric Ali al-Sistani in late 2014 issued a fatwa to protect Shia shrines from IS attacks in central and southern Iraq. The PMF is comprised of over 50 militia groups, mostly backed by Iran.
Iraq declared final victory over IS in Dec. 2017. The PMF, with over 60,000 fighters, are still deployed in many of the Sunni populated areas which witnessed fierce fighting during the three-year war to eliminate the jihadist group.
The Iraqi Parliament in 2016 passed a law to bring the Hashd al-Shaabi into the state’s apparatus, with the militias reporting directly to the Iraqi Prime Minister - who currently is also Shia.
Iran plays an important role in coordinating the leadership of the militias as PMF leaders often meet and consult with Qassem Soleimani, the Commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
In Oct. 2017, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said it is time for the Iranian-backed militias “to go home” as the fight against the IS was drawing to an end in Iraq. The comment was not well received by supporters of the PMF.
Editing by Nadia Riva