ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A senior leader of the Hashd al-Shaabi, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), recently criticized the Iraqi army’s capabilities and called for its replacement by Shia militia groups, drawing ire from the Defense Ministry and the Iraqi Parliament.
Yusuf al-Nasseri, deputy leader of the pro-Iran Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba militia, delivered his comments during a recent interview with Iraq’s al-Itijah television channel, which sparked widespread controversy and reactions from parties, ministers, and parliament.
“I call for the rebuilding of the security services again, and I call for the dissolution of the Iraqi army and for the [PMF] to be considered the primary army,” Nasseri said.
“We do not need an army to recruit a soldier, with a $1,000 in salaries, so that when an attack takes place, they toss their uniforms and weapons before running away,” the militia leader argued, referring to the fall of Mosul at the hands of the Islamic State in 2014, where the Iraqi army abandoned the city.
Nasseri described Iraq’s army as “a mercenary army.”
“This is an army that is not genuine.”
On Wednesday, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense responded to what it said was “a strange statement,” and asked Nasseri to withdraw his comments and apologize.
“The Joint Operations Command reserves its legal right to take appropriate action against those who attempt to offend the Iraqi army and Iraqi security forces,” the ministry’s statement added.
Alla al-Rubaie, an Iraqi lawmaker, called on the Iraqi Ministry of Defense to file a lawsuit against those who insult the Iraqi army.
Rubaie labeled Nasseri’s comments as “an insult to the people of Iraq as a whole,” not only to a particular party.
He warned that the repetition of such comments would affect the relationship with the country’s security forces and eventually “affect the political situation.”
The PMF, an umbrella of dozens of Shia militia groups, to which Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba belongs, also released a statement, noting that any insults directed at security forces, especially the Iraqi army, was “unacceptable.”
The PMF also stated that Nasseri’s comments are his alone and not representative of the militia group.
Earlier in March, the US State Department designated Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba as a terrorist organization, and called it an “Iranian proxy group.”
Nujaba is “funded by, but not under the control of the Iraqi government,” the US State Department explained. It has “openly pledged its loyalties to Iran and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.”
Nujaba claims to have some 10,000 fighters. It was first formed in 2013, under Iranian auspices, to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad in the early years of the Syrian civil war. In 2014, when the so-called Islamic State overran one-third of Iraq, Nujaba militiamen were also enlisted in the newly formed PMF to fight the Islamic State.
Some analysts and regional experts have expressed concerns regarding the amount of power and influence these militias hold over the country and its political class.
Editing by Nadia Riva