Iraqi Shia leader Sistani moves to break Iran’s grip over militia movement

Brigades loyal to Najaf cleric split

from Popular Mobilisation Forces

after efforts to wrest control

from Iran-backed commanders fail

Source : Sudad Al Salhy, Baghdad

Originally published by Middle East Eye

A schism is deepening

within the ranks of Iraq’s paramilitia groups

, between those loyal

to the country’s top

Shiite religious authority

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

and those tied to Iran

Baghdad

Published date: 1 May 2020 1

By Robert Edwards-and Lawk Ghafuri

Photo of Ayatollah Sistani at protest in Al Nasiriyah Iraq. Photo credit:AFP

Hashd al-Shaabi: A house divided

The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), known in Arabic as

Hashd al-Shaabi,

was created in 2014 when Sistani issued

a fatwa (a religious call to action)

urging young Iraqis

to take up arms against

the Islamic State group

(ISIS).

ince the territorial defeat of ISIS

in Iraq in late 2017

, the role of the Hashd

has increasingly

been called into question

, with demands to withdraw

units garrisoned

in northern areas

and to fully integrate them into

the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).

Others have fought to maintain

the Hashd’s autonomy

from the ISF

and its commander-in-chief,

the Iraqi prime minister,

allowing it to continue carrying out

Iranian military objectives

inside Iraq.

Hashd units close to Iran are widely

accused of abducting and

killing protesters during

Iraq’s recent wave

of anti-government unrest.

They are also believed responsible

for a spate of deadly rocket attacks

targeting US

and coalition personnel stationed

at bases across Iraq.

Sistani-affiliated units,

meanwhile,

are not known

to have fired on protesters

, have a generally better

human rights record

in areas they occupy

, and are not implicated

in the targeting of foreign troops

and infrastructure.

The wound opened

between those wishing

to integrate Iraq’s

many armed factions

into

a single unified military

apparatus

and those

who envisage

an Iraqi variant

of Iran’s powerful

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp

(IRGC) is quickly turning septic.

The catalyst for

this deepening animosity

was the US assassination of

Hashd commander

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis,

alongside IRGC general

Qasem Soleimani

in a drone strike

near Baghdad airpor

t in January

. The deaths sparked

bitter disagreements

over the

leadership succession

and the organization’s goals.

The divergence was further

exposed

by the recent decision

of four Hashd units

in Iraq’s holy shrine

city of

Najaf

to move under

the direct command

of the chief of armed forces

– the Iraqi prime minister.

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