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Iraqi PM Issues Decree Curbing Powers of Iran-Allied Militias

Prepared by Hassan Ammar – Edit Lilian Wajdi

Reuters

BAGHDAD, 1 July 2019 (Reuters) – On Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi issued a decree heavily curbing the powers of majority Iran-backed Shi’ite militia groups, forcing them to integrate further into the country’s formal armed forces.

This decree came two weeks after the first of several attacks on Iraqi bases hosting US troops and on a site used by a US energy company, for which to date no one claimed responsibility. Local officials blamed the militant Shiite factions for one of the attacks. There was no comment from Iran.

At a time of heightened tension between Washington and Tehran, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Iraqi leaders during a surprise visit to Baghdad in May that if they could not rein in the Iranian-backed factions, the United States would respond strongly.

According to the decree of the Prime Minister, ‘on the basis of public interest and of the powers granted to us by the Constitution … the following has been decided: All the forces of AlHashid AlShabi shall act as an integral part of the [official Iraqi] armed forces and all Iraqi laws shall apply to them as they do to the armed forces’.

Those factions, which helped Iraq and the US-led coalition forces defeat Daesh under the umbrella known as the Alhashid AlShabbi Forces, have significant influence in Iraqi politics.

An election alliance composed of armed faction leaders and other fighters dissolved in the 2018 parliamentary elections. These armed groups joined Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and as an alliance, they were able to make Adel Abdul Mahdi prime minister.

Adel Abdul Mahdi does not belong to any political party and has no personal allies in parliament.

Sadr hastened to announce his support for Abdul Mahdi’s decree and broke publicly with the armed militia supporting him which had urged Alhashid AlShabbi to join the armed forces. Sadr describes himself as a nationalist opposed to the influence of Washington and Iran.

“The Prime Minister’s statement regarding the integration of majority Iranian forces into the Iraqi military is important and the first step towards building a strong state,” Sadr stated.

Qais al-Khazali, a senior commander of an armed faction supported by Iran, also welcomed the decision by the Iraqi prime minister.

Tension has been mounting for months between Washington and its Gulf Arab allies on the one hand and Tehran and its proxies in the region on the other, but Iran’s Iraqi allies have openly opposed the prospect of war.

All armed forces in Iraq are controlled by the prime minister and are constrained by Iraqi law; this decree compels the factions that make up Alhshid AlShabbi to choose between political integration and the prospect of military action against them.

According to the decree, those who choose to integrate into the ranks of the army have to give up membership in the named militias they have been part of prior to this point and cut off any association with political parties and armed groups. Those who choose to remain politically affiliated will not be allowed to carry weapons. The decree provided for the closure of all military headquarters, offices and checkpoints of all those armed factions not integrated into the official Iraqi military.

According to Baghdad-based security analyst, Hashim al-Hashemi, who advises the Iraqi government, the deadline for integration given by Abdul Mahdi is the key difference between his decree and the similar one of his predecessor, Haider al-Abadi.

Al-Hashemi said that officially belonging to the Iraqi security forces means that any attack on these Iranian majority armed militias will be understood to be an attack on Iraq.

The factions have until 31 July to abide by these new rules and those who have not complied will be considered outlaws and prosecuted as such.