Iraq News

Iraqi government issues decree to rein in PMF militias

By Fares al-Omran

A still from a video published online on June 26th, 2017 shows members of Iran-backed militia Saraya al-Khorasani during a parade in Baghdad.

A still from a video published online on June 26th, 2017 shows members of Iran-backed militia Saraya al-Khorasani during a parade in Baghdad.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Monday (July 1st) issued a decree ordering the integration of all armed groups into the Iraqi army, in a move that has garnered support from Iraqis.

Per the decree, members of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) are to be subjected to the same regulations imposed on regular army personnel and will fully operate as part of the Iraqi armed forces.

They will adhere exclusively to the orders of the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and organise their ranks, titles and camps according to official military standards, the decree said.

PMF members are also required to sever all ties to political figures or to their former militias.

Abdul Mahdi ordered that all PMF affiliate offices be shut down as well as any economic offices, checkpoints or entities belonging to these groups.

Closing these offices is a highly significant move as they "drain the [Iraqi] economy and state funds", security analyst Fadel Abu Ragheef told Diyaruna.

PMF militias aligned with Iran are accused of conducting unlicensed economic activities that involve collecting protection money, imposing fees on shopkeepers and small businesses, and blackmailing investors to take a cut of their proceeds, he said.

Through these activities, armed militias operating under the PMF sought to gain access to funding and increase their influence, he said.

These militias include Kataib Hizbullah, Harakat al-Nujaba, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the Badr Organisation.

Regulating weapon carrying

The other clauses in the decree "are all focused on prohibiting armed displays and activities, banning the uninhibited carrying of weapons and restricting them to security forces", said Abu Ragheef.

"Any armed faction must choose between joining the official security apparatus or turning to political activity," he added.

If an armed group chooses political work, "it will be subject to the legal rules that govern the formation of [political] parties and its members will be prevented from carrying arms without a permit", he said.

The decree comes after a series of attacks last month against diplomatic missions and international interests in Iraq that were blamed on "Iraqi armed groups" linked to Iran.

The decree is the result of a series of consultations between government officials and PMF leaders over the course of four months, Abu Ragheef noted.

Omar Qais, a resident of Baghdad, told Diyaruna he supports the "strict and bold orders" that were laid out in the decree.

"I hope the decisions will not remain ink on paper, but will be implemented on the ground," he said.

Adnan Khudair, also from Baghdad, told Diyaruna that the decree reflects popular demands to enforce the authority of the state and the rule of law, and to regulate weapon carrying in Iraq.

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We hope they will apply this rather than leave slogans and decisions on the table without implementation. We need to build a state of institutions, not a state of gangs and militias who carry weapons under names that tarnish the reputation of a country that taught the world how to read and write.