The Baghdad-sanctioned umbrella organization of mostly Iran-allied Shiite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) “deserve a share of the credit for their sacrifices” during the successful operation to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), indicated the U.S. commander leading the coalition fight in Iraq and Syria.
In announcing the liberation of Mosul, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend declared, “ISIS has lost its capital in Iraq and the largest population they held anywhere in the world.”
“Iraqi militia forces, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, and the [U.S.-led] global coalition also deserve a share of the credit for their sacrifices to achieve this hard-won victory,” added the top U.S. general, noting, “The global Coalition fighting ISIS congratulates Prime Minister al-Abadi and the Iraqi Security Forces on their historic victory against a brutal and evil enemy.”
Although the general did not explicitly name the PMF in his remarks, the U.S.-led coalition’s public affairs office told Breitbart News the commander was indeed referring to the Shiite force.
“The Coalition acknowledge[s] the contributions of all of these militias to the ongoing efforts to defeat ISIS in Iraq. The Iraqi Council of Representatives approved the Popular Mobilization Forces law on Nov. 26, 2016, codifying the PMF as a component of the Iraqi Security Forces under the Prime Minister’s command,” the U.S.-led coalition declared in a statement to Breitbart News.
“The PMF are serving in coordination with the government of Iraq’s plan and have liberated significant ISIS territory to the west of Mosul helped isolating it as well as Tal Afar so ISIS fighters could not escape,” continued the statement. “Although the Coalition has not provided direct support to the PMF, we do support the government of Iraq’s plan to liberate Northern Iraq and we coordinate and align our efforts with this Iraqi plan.”
In November 2016, the Iraqi parliament passed a law legalizing the PMF as a component of the Iraqi military, though answering directly to Iraq’s Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.
Fighting alongside U.S.-backed Iraqi security forces, the PMF, also known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and Hashd al-Shaabi, participated in the offensive to retake Mosul since it began in October of last year.
In January, Gen. Townsend praised the PMF for their contribution to the Mosul operation.
The general told the Daily Beast, “Before I got here, I read all kinds of things about the PMF, and I got here and I haven’t observed that behavior. We’re not having allegations of bad behavior or misconduct,” and that includes absolutely no threats to American service members.
Iran-allied militias have a history of killing American troops following the 2003 invasion.
David Eubank, a former U.S. Special Forces operative turned aid worker, argues that the United States should not tar all PMF fighters with the same brush.
Eubank, a devout Christian who saved a toddler and a man back in June from among a group of corpses in Mosul while ISIS jihadists shot at him, told Breitbart News, “I think we should work with selected PMU’s who agree to work with us. I worked with four different ones [PMU units] and all of them liked Americans. With Iraqi Army help, we can vet them and have a good partnership.”
Eubank also heads a volunteer services organization dubbed the Free Burma Rangers. He further explained:
Some are closely tied to Iran and are anti American but the four different PMU units we have met and worked with in Mosul and areas north and west of Mosul have been very friendly to us and work well with the Iraqi Army. They not only are a force multiplier in taking the fight to ISIS, they have been one of the main providers of humanitarian assistance to displaced people in and around Mosul.
The PMU is predominantly made up of Shiite fighters, but it also includes Sunni tribesmen, Kurdish fighters, and even some Christians.
Some PMU units were formed to fight the U.S. military after the 2003 invasion, and many others came together in response to a fatwa (Islamic ruling) issued by Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, calling on Iraqis to take up arms against ISIS in 2014.
Although the U.S.-led coalition told Breitbart News it has “not provided direct support to the PMF,” the Pentagon has said the American military only assists Shiite militia units whose leaders have been vetted for links to the government of Iran and terrorist groups, as mandated by law.
Echoing a U.S. defense official who spoke to Breitbart News on condition of anonymity, American Col. John Dorrian, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, told the Los Angeles Times, “We only train forces we can vet.”
“After the Iraqi parliament passed the law legalizing the [PMU] militias, U.S. and coalition special forces began training 500 of the new recruits, many of them Sunni, at multiple sites outside Mosul on Dec. 4,” the Times reportedly learned from the Colonel.
Various news reports and the human rights group Amnesty International have accused the U.S. military of backing and providing weapons to the Iran-allied PMU.
Amnesty has accused the group of war crimes and human rights violations.
Experts such as Dr. Michael Knights from The Washington Institute for Near East Policy believe the estimated 100,000 to 120,000 PMU fighters in Iraq will pose a threat to the U.S. military presence in the country now that Mosul has been liberated from ISIS.