Iran-backed militias, widely blamed for the recent rocket attacks on foreign diplomatic and military sites in Iraq, were largely able to carry out such attacks by exploiting their status as members of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), officials said.
The militias responsible for launching Katyusha rockets at Baghdad's Green Zone used PMF identity cards and vehicles with PMF markings to evade detection by Iraqi forces, they said.
Officials called for a comprehensive review of the PMF by drawing a distinction between those who participated in the fight against the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) for Iraq's interest and those who are using the PMF as a cover for their Iran-sponsored agenda.
The PMF was founded on the basis of a fatwa issued in June 2014 by Iraq's top Shia authority, Ali al-Sistani, to confront the ISIS threat.
But Iraqi militias aligned with Iran operating as part of the PMF later took advantage of their participation in the war on ISIS to strengthen their influence and authority in Iraq.
According to a senior Ministry of Interior official, investigations conducted by the ministry's National Intelligence Service have confirmed that two recent attacks on the Green Zone and the Basmaya base were carried out by armed men who passed through security checkpoints unhindered.
The armed men were carrying PMF ID cards and traveling in vehicles bearing the PMF logo, he told Diyaruna.
"This is exactly what stands in the way of identifying and arresting these groups and preventing the recurrence of such attacks," he said.
Outlawing armed groups
Iran-backed militias like Kataib Hizbullah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Harakat al-Nujaba, Saraya al-Khurasani and others, "have become the second face of terrorism in Iraq", Future Iraqi Constitutional Party chair Entifadh Qanbar told Diyaruna.
They pose a great risk "because they use an official or governmental cover to implement agendas that are ultimately Iranian, not Iraqi", he said.
The "Katyusha cells", as they are now known in Iraq, are operating under the PMF's cover, which enables them to enter sensitive areas such as the Green Zone, government headquarters and even military bases, and target them, Qanbar said.
Therefore, it has become imperative to return to Article 9 of Iraq's Constitution, which outlaws the existence of armed groups other than Iraqi military and police forces, he added.
"What is aggravating is that they receive salaries from the Iraqi state and yet they bomb the state's facilities," he said.
The PMF's current status "poses a threat to the Iraqi state and national security", he said, adding that it must be reviewed in order for Iraq to become a "functioning state".
Last July, the government had ordered the integration of all armed groups into the Iraqi army, including members of the PMF, requiring them to sever all ties to political figures or to their former militias. But those factions continued to openly reject government decisions.
Iraqi Civil Current member Hossam al-Saffar said the government now faces a security challenge that is greater than the one posed by ISIS, "because the enemy here is disguised and is pursuing a policy that undermines the state and law and order".
"Over a period of two months, we have witnessed assassinations, kidnappings, bombardment with rockets, IED bombings and threatening statements, all in Baghdad," he told Diyaruna.
These actions were conducted by militias using state resources, including vehicles, weapons and ID cards in service of Iran's agenda in Iraq, he said.
"The government and political parties must admit to the existence of a disease within the PMF that must be treated," said al-Saffar.
The reason those behind the rocket attacks, assassinations and kidnappings have not been held accountable yet is "because they claim to be part of the security apparatus, when they are not", he said.
Previous governments have left a heavy burden for the current government to bear, Iraqi affair expert retired Col. Ahmed Abbas al-Taie told Diyaruna.
All political forces must support the government in finding a way to stabilise the situation as the PMF "is now harbouring militias that work for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)", he said.
These militias are involved in crimes such as kidnappings, assassinations and threatening civilian protestors, he said, "not to mention their involvement in financial corruption and sectarian violence".
The majority of the Iraqi people today "are in favour of finding a solution to this issue, otherwise it will grow like a tumor that will be hard to excise", said al-Taie.