Faced with mounting public disapproval and growing internal frictions, Iran-aligned militias in Iraq have reduced the number of offices they operate in the country's central and southern provinces, experts said.
Over the past few weeks, offices of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Badr Organisation, Kataib Hizbullah and Harakat al-Nujaba have been closed and signage has been removed, on order of top militia and Iranian leaders.
The militias have been moving their bases away from houses and buildings in populated residential neighbourhoods to other sites, they said.
This step comes in response to "recommendations" from Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Quds Force commander Esmail Qaani, military and strategy expert Hatem al-Falahi told Diyaruna.
The mass demonstrations in central and southern Iraq of recent months, which have included protests against Iran-backed militias, "have revealed they are not supported by the Iraqi street as they had claimed", he said.
Many Iraqis blame the militias for the country's economic upheaval and security crises, pointing out that they serve Iran's interests and its hegemonic plans.
Friction among militias
"The militias have realised they have no other choice but to close down their headquarters and offices in an effort to reduce the growing resentment towards them," al-Falahi said.
They are aware they have lost the support they once had, he said, as Iraqis have turned against militia leaders who sought to "enrich themselves through national resources and strengthen their influence in the government".
Dozens of militia headquarters and offices have been burned down in recent months, security expert Majid al-Qaisi told Diyaruna.
Some were torched by protestors angry over the influence Iran-aligned militias exert in Iraq and their violent repression of popular protests, he said.
"But many others were set on fire by rival militias, which indicates there are sharp divisions among these armed factions," he said.
The move to reduce the number of militia headquarters can be viewed as a pre-emptive measure to reduce friction and conflict and to maintain the structure of these factions and prevent cracks from appearing, al-Qaisi said.
He called on the Iraqi government to put an end to militias that threaten the state's "prestige and sovereignty" by strengthening the Iraqi army and security apparatus, as well as fighting corruption.
Pressure to dismantle militias
Simmering popular resentment of Iran-backed militias and the increasing friction among them have driven militia leaders to cut back their public presence, Iraqi strategy expert and political analyst Alaa al-Nashou told Diyaruna.
Additionally, militias now are anxious about their role "in light of the vision put forward by the new government to prevent outlawed armed activity", he said, pointing to recent arrests against members of Kataib Hizbullah in southern Baghdad.
In light of this heightened scrutiny, it seems clear that militia leaders intend to "manoeuvre and focus on secret operations", al-Nashou said.
They also seek to "protect their locations from being targeted by international coalition warplanes, in the event that these groups continue with their hostile acts and violation of Iraqi sovereignty", he said.
He stressed that confronting and dismantling the militias is not an easy task, as they have managed to build their influence and a vast network of economic interests over many years.
Containing this influence will be a sustained effort over a long period of time, he said, "which is possible, in light of public support for the government in its effort to establish the rule of law and prevent illegal arms possession".