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Hashd al-Shaabi / Hashd Shaabi
Popular Mobilisation Units /
People’s Mobilization Forces

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi defended his decree to formally incorporate pro-government fighters from the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) into the Arab country's security service, stressing that such a move would help establish security and stability. Speaking at a security and defense exhibition in Baghdad on 10 March 2018, Abadi stated that the integration of the volunteer forces, better known by the Arabic name Hashd al-Sha'abi, "preserves the identity of security forces." Abadi added that the move now meant that only members of state bodies could legally possess firearms.

According to the decree announced on 08 March 2018, Hashd al-Sha'abi fighters will be granted many of the same rights as members of the military. The decree added that Hashd al-Sha'abi fighters would be given equivalent salaries to those members of the military under the Ministry of Defense's control. They will also be subject to the laws of military service, and will gain access to military institutes and colleges.

The fighters have played a major role in the liberation of Daesh-held areas to the south, northeast and north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, ever since the terrorists launched an offensive in the country in June 2014. Iraq has repeatedly condemned allegations of sectarian nature against Hashd al-Sha'abi.

In December 2016, Baghdad warned Riyadh of the ramifications of meddling in Iraq's internal affairs, after Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Iraq could not realize unity with the presence of the Popular Mobilization Units. Saudi Arabia has repeatedly labeled the PMU, which incorporates volunteer forces from different Iraqi factions and tribes, as a Shia movement and called for the dismantling of the group.

The Iraqi government said 28 July 2016 that Hashd al-Shaabi forces, also known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), were to be placed on par with Iraq's army units and subject to military law. The statement from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi touched on the important role played by the group in seizing back territory from Daesh. The statement stipulates that "politics" would be banned within PMUs, which comprises various Iraqi sects, assisting army soldiers in battles against Takfiri terrorists.

"Members of the Hashd who are part of this body are to have no links to any political, party political or social framework," the statement said. A spokesperson for the Popular Mobilization Units said the change would put the forces on par with the elite Counter-Terrorism Forces. "We are now under command of the prime minister's office currently held by Haider al-Abadi," the spokesperson pointed out.

The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) is an Iran-sponsored umbrella military organization composed of approximately 40 militia groups which were predominantly Shia. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control of the security forces: the regular armed forces and domestic law enforcement bodies; the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a state-sponsored umbrella military organization composed of approximately 40 militia groups, which were predominantly Shia; and the Peshmerga--the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) principal military force. On 07 April 2015, the Council of Ministers announced that the PMF was an official body reporting to the prime minister, but the prime minister’s ability to command the PMF remained a source of disagreement and debate.

The term Hashd al-Shaabi [about 6,150 results] / Hashd Shaabi [about 50 results] “popular mobilisation units / People’s Mobilization Forces” was first used to denote groups mobilized to fight the Islamic State (IS) in the summer of 2014. It soon became the catchall phrase for Iraqi Shi’a paramilitary forces. By a more granular account, it was created by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s predecessor Nouri al-Maliki.

Iran provided Iraqi forces and militia volunteers with weapons and ammunition from the early days of the war with ISIS. Iranian troops often worked with Iraqi forces. Although paid by Iraq's Interior Ministry, they were in an Iranian chain of command. Iran took the first steps toward remaking the region in its own image by creating popular militias in Iraq (the so-called Popular Mobilization Forces)and Syria (the National Defense Forces), drawing largely on local Shi’ite communities and Shi’ite foreign fighters of Afghan and Pakistani origin.

These forces maintained a semi-official relationship with Iraqi military and security institutions, which at best had limited control over the Shi’a militias. By early 2015, public criticism of the popular mobilization forces is on the rise. This, many argue, is exactly the type of reaction ISIL wished to provoke.

As the Shiite government in Baghdad struggled to fight the Sunni extremist group ISIS, many Shiite Iraqis looked to Iran, a Shiite theocracy, as their main ally. More Iraqi Shiites came to trust the powerful Iranian-backed militias that had taken charge since the Iraqi army deserted en masse in the summer of 2014. Dozens of paramilitary groups were united under a secretive branch of the Iraqi government called the Popular Mobilization Committee, or Hashd Shaabi.

The Popular Mobilization Committee was headed by Jamal Jaafar Mohammad, better known by his nom de guerre Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, a former Badr commander. Mohandis is the right-hand man of Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force. The semi-official PMF took the lead role in many of Iraq’s security operations. From its position at the nexus between Tehran, the Iraqi government, and the militias, it was increasingly influential in determining the country’s future.

Most of the groups followed a call to arms by Iraq’s leading Shiite sheikh Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. But Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, was also a key factor in the decision to fight.

Muhammad Raza Husseini, commanding Hashd Shaabi militia in a fight against IS, was killed in Saladin province during clashes between a Shia militia group and Islamic State (IS) militants. Similar incidents haf previously occurred. There were reports that Iran had deployed hundreds of officers and military officers to Iraq to support the Iraqi army against the IS onslaught.

Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan region, said 17 February 2015 during his visit to Kirkuk that Shiite militias are not needed in the campaign against Islamic State (IS) militants in the region. Barzani and Vice President Kosrat Rasul Ali met with Peshmerga commanders of the fight against IS in the Kirkuk areas as well as provincial government officials.

Barzani said in the meeting, “We do not need Hashdi Shabi, and if we were in need, we would tell them,” referring to the People’s Mobilization Forces. His comments followed recent remarks made by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that the People's Mobilization Forces represent all Iraqis and that anyone who protects the principles of the country is a member of the force.

By early March 2015 the Shiite militia formally known as the People's Mobilization Forces appears to be strengthening its foothold in the Yezidi town of Shingal by recruiting Yezidis and paying them money, an official told Rudaw. The encroachment of the Shiite militia in the area goes against official Kurdish policy against the move.

Under Iranian guidance, Iraq’s Shiite militias are evolving into a permanent force resembling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. That sectarian force would operate in tandem with Iraq’s regular military.

Some Popular Mobilization Forces are reportedly better equipped than the Iraqi army [IA], which likely has a detrimental effect on recruitment and retention in the IA. The US agreed to provide material and equipment, through the GoI, to the IA and selected elements of the Popular Mobilization Forces (militias). Unless the US advisors can determine what supplies and equipment are on hand in Iraqi warehouses, the US cannot eliminate the possibility that various factions of the Popular Mobilization Forces that the US has not agreed to support are being armed/supplied with material that the IA needs from those warehouses.

According to the report of the UN secretary-general on children and armed conflict in Iraq, released in November 2015, while there was no instruction for children to join fighting, children continued to be associated with PMF and militias in all conflict areas. UN observers reported children wearing military uniforms and carrying weapons, as well as parading alongside adult members of armed groups. The report stated that on June 7, the Ministry of Youth and Sports sent a letter to its directorates in all governorates encouraging the use of youth clubs for military training of youth.

On 28 July 2015, the Associated Press reported its staff witnessed dozens of camps around the country with hundreds of students training to join the PMF and fight Da’esh. A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office responded that there were isolated incidents of underage fighters joining combat on their own but that the government did not condone children going to war. Observers noted there was no official encouragement for children to join militias, which occurred infrequently and generally due to family or peer encouragement.

There were also reports of local councils forcing displaced persons to volunteer for the PMF. According to religious freedom NGO Masarat, on April 21, the Wasit Provincial Council issued a statement forcing displaced persons between the ages of 18 and 50 to enlist. Shabak IDPs living in Wasit told Masarat that local police confiscated their identity documents and told them they had to enlist in security forces or leave the province. Ultimately, after intervention from human rights activists, a member of parliament, religious authorities, and members of the Wasit provincial council, the decision to forcibly enlist Shabak IDPs was revoked, and local police returned their identity documents.

International human rights organizations criticized the increasingly sectarian nature of Shia PMF activity and the lack of sufficient government oversight. The prime minister repeatedly called for the elimination of independent militias and ordered all such groups to fall under ISF authority. Shia religious leaders also called for Shia volunteers to fight under the command of the security forces and condemned violence against civilians, including destruction of personal property.

In many cases Shia PMF operated independently and without oversight or direction from the government. According to AI, on 26 January 2015 Shia PMF and government security forces singled out and killed at least 56 and possibly more than 70 Sunni men in Barwana, a village west of Muqdadiya in Diyala Governorate. Witnesses told AI that Badr Brigades members, wearing green and red bandanas and armbands, went house to house and asked the men to come outside with their identification documents. Witnesses also said that among the perpetrators were members of the Ministry of Interior’s Special Weapons and Tactics force, as well as the Muqdadiya police force. Witnesses heard gunfire and then found the bodies of the men shot and some of their fingers amputated. Witnesses said they found their family members shot and blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs. On January 28, the prime minister ordered an investigation into these killings. On March 20, the Commission of Inquiry submitted its report to the parliament. AI reported that as of April, the authorities had not contacted any of the victims’ families or informed them of any steps investigators took.

On 23 January 2015, after reclaiming Diyala from Da’esh control, Shia PMF allegedly looted and destroyed eight houses in Saadian and destroyed four mosques in Muqdadiya, Diyala Governorate. A February 15 HRW report, Iraq: Militias Escalate Abuses, Possibly War Crimes, claimed that since June 2014, at least 3,000 persons had fled their homes in Muqdadiya and that some were kidnapped and summarily executed. According to HRW the attacks appeared to be part of a campaign involving the Badr Brigade to displace residents from Sunni and mixed-sect areas and prevent them from returning.

President Obama welcomed Haider Al-Abadi, Prime Minister of the Republic of Iraq, and the accompanying delegation to Washington from April 13-16, 2015. The Prime Minister praised the performance of the Iraqi Security Forces, including the volunteer fighters in the Popular Mobilization Forces, the Peshmerga forces, and local tribal fighters. Prime Minister Al-Abadi thanked the President and the American people for the critical support provided to Iraq. The Prime Minister underscored the integral role that local populations are playing in liberating their own areas and, accordingly, stressed the importance of enrolling additional tribal fighters in the fight against ISIL as part of the Popular Mobilization Forces.

On 22 September 2015, some factions of the Popular Mobilization Units, namely the Hezbollah Brigades, the Badr Organization and the League of the Righteous, issued a joint press release warning that a return of US troops to Iraq would be viewed “as renewed occupation of Iraq by the United States.” They further called on the Iraqi government “not to seek help from US forces.” Hezbollah Brigades spokesman Jaafar al-Husseini told Al-Monitor, “US soldiers are not welcome in Iraq, either as consultants or as members of the international coalition, because to us such troops are hostile and must be opposed.”

Ethnic-based fighting escalated in ethnically mixed governorates in post-Da’esh clearing operations. Following an 22 October 2015 car bombing and an exchange of fire on November 12 in Tuz Khurmatu, in Salah ad Din Governorate, Peshmerga forces and Asayish (Kurdistan internal security) clashed with Popular Mobilization Forces reportedly composed of Shia Turkmen, Badr Brigades, the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, and Kita’ib Hizballah. The two sides supported by armed local residents from their respective communities reportedly committed punitive actions including razing homes, burning villages, looting, and engaging in mass arrests. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Shia Turkmen fighters from the PMF detained and tortured between 150 and 175 Sunni Arabs from Tuz Khurmatu, killed between eight and 34 of those abducted, kept approximately 50 in captivity at year’s end, and released the rest.

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