Top Iraqi-Shiite cleric wants all weapons of the Iranian backed militia under government control

Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) (al-Hashd al-Shaabi) fighters. Iraqi-Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani urged the Shiite armed groups to stay away from political participation and “requested that all weapons come under government’s control”
Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) (al-Hashd al-Shaabi) fighters. Iraqi-Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani urged the Iranian backed Shiite armed groups to stay away from political participation and requested that all  their weapons  should come under government’s control

BY  Iraqi-Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani announced his support of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and “requested that all weapons come under government’s control” in a statement earlier this month. He also urged Shiite armed groups to stay away from political participation. While it appears that Sistani scored a win for Prime Minister Haider al Abadi, the arbitrary restriction is not expected to rein in the Iranian-backed network’s formations and influence.

Sistani is recognized as the top Shiite religious authority in Iraq and his words shape government policy.

“The victory over Daesh [Islamic state] doesn’t mean the end of the battle with terrorism,” Sistani’s representative Sheikh Abdulmehdi al Karbalai proclaimed in Friday prayer, mentioning the existence of “sleeper cells lying in wait for opportunities to undermine the country’s security and stability.”

“It is necessary to make continued use of this important energy within the constitutional and legal frameworks that restrict arms to the state,” Sistani’s representative said.

He added that the PMF had earned a reputation that exceeded any political force in Iraq and using their popularity for political purposes would sully their “holy status.”

Hadi Al-Amiri ,  leader of the largest Shiite militia in Iraq , the Badr Force ( L) ,  is shown with Iran's Gen. Qassem Soleimani who heads up all the Shiite militias outside Iran, the Quds Force
Hadi Al-Amiri , leader of the largest Shiite militia in Iraq , the Badr Force ( L) , is shown with Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani who heads up all the Shiite militias outside Iran, the Quds Force

The PMF is a conglomeration of Iraqi militias formed following Sistani’s 2014 fatwa to drive the Islamic State from the country, and was enshrined into law last year. Iranian-linked figures dominate the PMF Commission: its operations chief and de facto leader is Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, a US-designated terrorist who is the deputy of Qods Force chief Qassem Soleimani in Iraq. Iranian-backed forces constitute the majority of the approximately 60 militias in the PMF, which has included formations loyal to Sistani.

Some earlier reports suggested that Sistani would disband the PMF. However, Sistani abstained from both overturning his religious edict and calling for the dissolution of the PMF. Sistani’s position is consistent with that of Abadi who issued a statement “welcoming the Shiite cleric’s call against exploiting PMF volunteers and fighters politically.”

They both face a difficult dilemma: disbanding 60,000 – 100,000 militiamen without replacing the numbers leaves a security vacuum, as well as putting tens of thousands of fighters out of jobs. The Iranian-backed network exploits precisely that vacuum for its advantage.

Iran has warned against disbanding the Shiite-dominated PMF. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who once – called the PMF a “blessed phenomenon,” seeks to keep Shiite militias powerful in Iraq possibly to use them as proxies to counter Western pressure. The Iran-backed Shiite militia forces is one of “the biggest challenges” in Iraq, as previously signaled out by Iraqi Sunni Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi.

Iranian-backed figures are working around the latest restriction. Prominent groups including Badr Organization and Asaib Ahl al-Haq announced that their armed forces would remain in the PMF, “obey” the chain of command, and “cut” ties with political wings. These Iranian-backed groups are reportedly in talks form a coalition for the May 2018 parliamentary elections.

For his part, Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr, who had asked the Mr. Abadi to prevent the paramilitary forces from participating in elections scheduled for May, urged his fighters within the Peace Brigades to hand state-issued weapons back to the government, but said his forces would continue to protect a holy Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad.

The Badr Organization itself is case and point of how Iranian-backed militias can undermine the state from within it. Following the US invasion of Iraq, Badr was invited into the Federal Police, and, over the years, has grown to dominate it and the Interior Ministry, which controls the police. These forces have often operated outside the law, for instance running death squads against Sunni civilians. The PMF has legalized extremist groups that answer to Tehran such as Kataib Hezbollah, a US-designated terrorist organization, and Harakat al Hezbollah al-Nujaba, whose leader has said he would overthrow the government in Baghdad if ordered to do so by Khamenei. Iranian-backed militias have previously killed and maimed hundred of coalition troops during the Iraq War and continue to threaten American forces. Their deployments to Syria at the Islamic Republic’s request to preserve Bashar al Assad against a Sunni uprising have fanned the flames of sectarian violence. Sunni and Sunni extremists feed into and benefit from this vicious cycle.

Sistani’s endorsement to separate arms from politics will only help pave the way for the elections putting into consideration that he said that his fatwa is still effective because “its objective is still valid.” Thus, the recent move of the PMF leaders in putting their fighters and weapons under the Iraqi government’s control seems a preparation for the 2018 elections, while they will maintain the influence of their networks even if they are incorporated into the state’s security bodies. Without a sustained effort – such as removing Muhandis from his senior post in the PMF – Sistani’s fatwa is not expected to significantly hamper the Iranian-backed forces, which act as a Trojan horse in the Iraqi state.

Romany Shaker, an Arabic-language research analyst at Foundation

Long War Journal

  • Arzna

    Great idea Mr Sistani . Your counterpart in Lebanon Higher Shiite Council deputy head Sheikh Abdel Amir Qabalan called in 2013 on Hezbollah to disarm. “We call on the Lebanese state to strip all the people of arms and not give [weapons] licenses and be strict and harsh because the land is protected by the good work and not by a rifle, a pistol or bombing,” he said in his sermon on the second day of Eid al-Adha in 2013.

    “We call on everyone to return to their conscience and their religion and to the right path,” he pleaded.
    But Hezbollah refuses to disarm and I don’t think Iran will allow it to disarm.

  • Rascal

    How do Grand Ayatollahs settle disputes? Sistani and Khamenei are religious equals, maybe they should meet and discuss how IRGC troops and militias should stand down in Iraq.
    Actually I am surprise Khamenei has not assassinated him yet, eliminating the competition. Sistani appears to have a significant following.

    • Danny Farah

      They don’t because one is peaceful and kaka mania is Lucifer who is using religion to control the masses.

      • Niemals

        Religion always controls the masses, especially the undecided ones.
        In the USA, liberals say that parents who smoke in front of their children are committing ‘child abuse’. Drenched in their own blood

        Take a look at what real child abuse – both mentally and physically – looks like.
        Young boys beat themselves with blades on the streets of Baghdad to ‘mourn the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson’ Blood ritual during the Day of Ashura (Nabatieh, Lebanon).
        The city of Nabatieh is one of the few places where this particular ritual is still performed.
        It is even frowned upon by Hezbollah(!), who encourage people to donate blood at a local hospital instead – they need it for the syrian mission….

        Someone once told me;
        The god of most Christians is Mary…
        The god of most Protestants is everything but Yeshua,..
        Only a “few” real Christians are worshipping the Jewish God, Yeshua…
        85% of the churches have become anti-Semitic and have broken their branches off of the Jewish olive tree and are now cursed (Genesis 12:3)…
        They are the Christians who will be left behind.

        • Hannibal

          Someone told you bullcrap…

          • Hind Abyad

            I’m getting sick of YaLibnan disruptive trolls.

          • Hannibal

            Honestly, this aNiemals character is the biggest troll of them all. He pretends that he is not a zionist but his words say plenty.
            “Only a “few” real Christians are worshipping the Jewish God, Yeshua… ” he says.
            Yeshua is not even a god to the Jews.
            He must be like some stupid rich brat confused jew teenager with a keyboard.

          • Hind Abyad

            Phhwahaha.. ”the Jewish God, Yeshua” ?
            He’s an old granny needs attention.
            Teenagers have other things on their minds.;-)

            “Couldn’t tell if Abyss comment was among the spray-painted posts…..” Abyss is Abyad so not to get “Hold on”.

          • Y K

            “I’m getting sick…”

            Any chance whatever you got is lethal? 🙂

          • Niemals

            You can definitely get sick of all the anti-Semitic posts that the social network have
            The Berlin-based creator of the viral Yolocaust website spray-painted the German headquarters of Twitter with anti-Semitic posts that the social network failed to delete when he reported them.

            Couldn’t tell if Abyss comment was among the spray-painted posts…..

          • Hind Abyad

            Shut up troll..invading YaLibnan to show the collective moral standards Zionist live by?

          • Y K

            A brain-eating virus invaded your brain long ago, and now it’s starving.

  • Hannibal

    Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is all about nation building and he is absolutely right!