Iraq’s “Popular Mobilization Forces” (PMFs), or Hashd al-Sha’abi, were thrust onto the world stage this month, when the United States launched a series of strikes against Kata’ib Hezbollah, a militia group that operates under the Hashd al-Sha’abi umbrella organization, prompting a retaliatory storming of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.Soleimani Strike
Just days later, a further U.S. strike killed Iranian Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani, along with Kata’ib Hezbollah commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Iran responded with a barrage of missiles against U.S. forces in Iraq, while Shi’ite militia groups around the region issued threats against the United States and allies.
All of this has played out in the context of increasing protest movements and unrest in both Iraq and in Iran against their respective governments. But the boiling over of Iran’s shadow war with the United States has served to invigorate a counter-protest backlash in support of Iranian interests. Both countries are now increasingly volatile, and in Iraq, clashes between groups of protesters and with security forces are darkly reminiscent of the buildup to previous rounds of sectarian unrest. And another rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Jan. 26, this time resulting in injury, illustrates the persistent threat to the U.S. presence in Iraq as well.
Observers, policymakers, and Iraqis should rightly be wondering what might happen next. Regardless of how the situation unfolds, the Hashd al-Sha’abi militias are playing a key role in events on the ground and will greatly influence Iraq’s future. There is a real risk that Iran-backed militias are now driving Iraq back towards conflict. And the power of these problematic armed groups is greatly enhanced by their legal status as organs of the Iraqi state, a result of legislation passed in 2016. This legal status must be reviewed if Iraq is to maintain stability and avoid becoming an Iranian client state.
What is the Hashd al-Sha’abi?
In short, the Hashd al-Sha’abi is a coalition of Iraqi militia groups operating in Iraq and (more controversially) Syria. The militias formed in 2014 to counter the Islamic State (ISIS) after it routed the regular Iraqi army in northern Iraq. The militia groups quickly became a key pillar of the counter-ISIS forces, growing in popularity and political power, and today wielding significant political influence.
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Feb 10, 2020 5,261On 3rd of January a news spread in social media regarding Qasem Soleimani and AbuMahdi Mohandes who has died by a US drone strike near Baghdad Airport and this was the end of their lives. In social media, especially Iranian users, there was a chaotic situation, some called of “the general of...