On the First of July, the Prime Minister of Iraq issued an official decree that, at the end of the month, all of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF’s) would be fully integrated into the national armed forces.
Most ordinary citizens cheered. Iraq is still full of violent conflict and often it’s hard to tell exactly who is fighting whom and why. Often it seems the bullets and bigger shells don’t care, so it’s little wonder that integrating all of Iraq’s armed groups under government command is a popular idea.
Even most of the leaders of the PMFs, the autonomous armed militias, have voiced approval of a deal they say, only this Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi could have pulled off. His predecessor Haider al-Abadi has issued a similar decree four years ago and nothing happened.
Now Mahdi says any PMF which has not signed onto the program will be disarmed and treated as outlaws, and here’s why the militiamen think he’ll do it – he was elected Prime Minister as the candidate of the Popular Mobilization Forces and his concept of “integration” may not include subordination, in effect, giving the PMF fighters government badges, but not bringing them under real government control.
In fact, some analysts are suggesting, the integration of the PMFs, most of them Shi’ite, many of them more or less controlled by Iran, really means bringing the government under PMF control.
In the city of Mosul, the Sunni majority views both the Baghdad government and the resident PMFs as Shi’ite outsiders, and while they resent the government’s laws and decrees, they hate the orders they get every day from the PMF fighters at checkpoints, and recent complaints say, in Sunni neighborhoods and at Sunni religious sites.
The head of the Mosul Sunni Endowment – the branch of the faith that handles real estate and revenues – describes a kind of ethnic cleansing with Shi’ite families being forced from their homes by Sunnis, and Shi’ite religious buildings and the valuable commercial properties attached to them being seized by PMF gunmen in the name of the Shi’ite Endowment.
This seems to be part of a process that started with the expulsion of the Sunni extremist Islamic State from Mosul in 2017 and has played out in parallel social, religious, economic and paramilitary civil wars across this historic city and many other cities and towns across Iraq.
Isadora Gotts is a researcher focused on political economy issues in Iraq. She currently works for SREO Consulting. She joined IRIS (The American University in Iraq-Sulimani) as a fellow in July 2018, where she focused on the role of armed groups in local economic dynamics and how they may affect economic recovery in Ninewa. Prior to joining IRIS, she was a researcher at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Beirut, Lebanon. There she primarily worked on the impact of hybrid actors on the reconstruction and development process. She holds an MA in International Development from Sciences Po Paris and has been living in the region for 2 years.