On Iraq War Anniversary, Anti-U.S. Iranian Militias in Iraq Grow Powerful

Fighters from the Badr Brigades Shiite militia clash with Islamic State militant group at the front line, on the outskirts of Fallujah, Anbar province, Iraq, Monday, June 1, 2015. Three Islamic State suicide bombers targeted a police base in the Tharthar area north of Ramadi, some 30 miles (48 kilometers) …
AP Photo/Hadi Mizban

The 15th anniversary of the Iraq War finds Iran-allied Shiite militias with American blood on their hands operating as a powerful Baghdad-sanctioned component of the Iraqi military, enjoying the same rights as other members of the country’s armed forces, including salaries.

Early this month, Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a decree formalizing the inclusion of the Shiite fighters in Iraq’s security forces.

Abadi’s decision has fueled the strength and influence of the umbrella organization of mostly Shiite militias loyal to Iran known as al-Hashd al-Shaabi, Arabic for Popular Mobilization Forces/Units (PMF/PMU).

At least one PMF faction, the Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), is responsible for attacking U.S. troops after they invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003.

The Institute for the Study of War reported at the end of 2012 that AAH claimed responsibility for more than 6,000 attacks on U.S. troops between 2006 and 2011.

Moreover, the Military Times reported in 2015:

Data released by U.S. Central Command [CENTCOM] shows that 196 U.S troop fatalities from the tail end of 2005 through 2011 were directly attributed to “explosively formed penetrators,” or EFPs, a distinctly deadly type of bomb used by the Iranian-backed Shiite militias during the Iraq War following the 2003 U.S. invasion.

The data also shows that 861 American troops were wounded over that timeframe by Iranian-made EFPs, and that the EFP attacks peaked in the spring of 2008.

There was a brief pause in America’s military involvement in Iraq after U.S. troops left in 2011 until the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) forced the United States to return in 2014.

Since then, AAH and other PMF factions have repeatedly vowed to target U.S. troops.

Nevertheless, Abadi has decided to officially make the Iran-allied force a formal unit of the Iraqi military, following their contribution to the defeat of ISIS.

Referring to Abadi’s mandate dealing with the Iran-backed fighters, Reuters reported on March 8:

According to the decree, members of the Shi’ite militias, an assortment of militia groups known collectively as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), which are mostly backed and trained by Iran, will be granted many of the same rights as members the military.

Paramilitary members will be given equivalent salaries to those members of the military under the Ministry of Defense’s control, the decree said. They will also be subject to the laws of military service and will gain access to military institutes and colleges.

The decree had been expected for some time and comes two months ahead of a high-stakes general election. The PMF commands popular support among Iraq’s majority Shi’ite population and is expected to sway voters.

Some of the Shiite militiamen who are now part of the PMF fought against U.S. troops after the 2003 invasion.

The decree threatens the U.S. troops currently in Iraq. There are reportedly about 5,000 American service members in Iraq.

Abadi’s decision is likely to intensify Iran’s already firm grip over Shiite-controlled Baghdad.

Reuters reports that there are more than 60,000 PMF fighters in Iraq, adding, “Iran has a clear hand in coordinating the PMF leadership, which frequently meets and consults with Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).”

Back in October, former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that is was time for the PMF “to go home” as the fight against Islamic State was coming to a close.

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