Iran-Backed Militias Un-Endorse PM Abadi for Re-Election

This file handout picture released by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's office on July 9, 2016 shows him with army generals and members of the counter-terrorism forces in the capital Baghdad

The Iran-backed, mostly Shiite militias he legalized last year revoked their electoral support for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, two days after officially endorsing him.

Iraqis are scheduled to go to the polls in May, where Abadi will face off against his predecessor, the disgraced Nouri al-Maliki.

Abadi announced the creation of a “Nasr” (“Victory”) coalition heading into May’s election on Sunday including the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF/PMU). Some of the most notorious militias that form parts of the PMF, including the terrorist organization Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (“League of the Righteous”), announced their support for Abadi that day.

The Nasr coalition is necessary because Maliki and Abadi are members of the same Shiite Islamic Dawa party. While Abadi, as Prime Minister, is technically “chairman” of the party, Maliki is its leader and will use the party to promote his own candidacy. Rather that host a primary election, the Dawa Party announced that no candidate will use its name and both men will run on separate tickets.

On Wednesday, the PMF officially announced they would leave the Nasr coalition “out of objection to the inclusion of other groups.” The Kurdish outlet Rudaw notes that this was the reason given by “one Hashd official” but “contradicted by the head of the coalition.”

“Due to some unwanted people joining the coalition of Nasr, we decided as the coalition of Fatih [PMF] to withdraw from the coalition,” spokesman Karim Nuri told Rudaw.

Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the coalition and head of the Basr militia, part of the PMF denied the claim and cited “technical reasons” for revoking their endorsement, instead. The Kurdish outlet Bas News suggests that Amiri make be seeking a coalition with Maliki, while Kurdistan 24 warns that Amiri, whose PMF have declared the United States an enemy, may want the post for himself.

While the loss of the PMF is significantly damaging to Abadi’s political aspirations, his attempt to leverage PMF support to his benefit did alienate another major player in Iraqi politics, the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Sadr has rejected Iranian incursions into Iraqi politics and sought closer ties to Saudi Arabia. In response to Abadi’s PMF coalition, Sadr issued a statement saying he was “baffled” and expressing “condolences to my struggling and patient nation due to the despicable political agreements that pave the road for corrupted individuals to come back.”

The Saudi news outlet al-Arabiya reported on Wednesday that Abadi is apparently seeking to restore ties to Sadr in light of the collapse of his coalition. Asharq al-Awsat quoted an official in Sadr’s camp saying, however, that any coalition between the two “remains difficult.”

Al-Arabiya also claims that reports suggest that Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force chief, General Qasem Soleimani, had a hand in disintegrating the coalition. While Soleimani has reportedly been spotted aiding the PMF, al-Arabiya does not corroborate its claims that he was involved in the politics of the coalition.

When Abadi announced that the PMF would support him on Sunday, the union seemed logical, as Abadi had legalized the PMF, turned them into an official wing of the Iraqi military, and set them loose on the Islamic State in Mosul. Once the PMF had concluded their operations against ISIS in the nation’s second-largest city, they invaded Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) territory in Kirkuk with Abadi’s blessing. The PMF have since caused a major internal migration crisis as the city’s Kurds were forced to flee.

Late last year, Rudaw published a video appearing to show a PMF fighting hanging a photo of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a government building in Kirkuk.

Other than Abadi, Amiri, the head of the PMF, would be the most favorable national leader for Iran, Kurdistan 24 contends. The outlet contends that Abadi’s collapse could help another politician, the pro-Kurdish former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

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