Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a decree on Thursday which formalizes the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militia, also known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), as a force under the command of the country’s security forces.
Rudaw, a Kurdish news site, reported that the directive will grant to Hashd al-Shaabi many of the same privileges as to members of the Iraqi military. The paramilitary group will receive salaries equivalent to Iraq’s security forces and gain access to military colleges and institutions.
The Hashd al-Shaabi was formed upon a call by Iraq’s grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the summer of 2014 when ISIS captured large parts of the country. It is an umbrella organization of more than 40 militias of mostly Shia fighters, some of which have pledged spiritual allegiance to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
They have been party to a litany of war crimes documented by human rights organizations and yet continue to attract Iranian funding. The militias are accused of carrying out systematic human rights violations in Sunni territories that fell under their control. Survivors who spoke to Reuters accused the PMU of having “detained, tortured and abused” Sunni civilians during the Iraqi government’s effort to recapture the city of Fallujah in June 2016.
The United States Department of State noted in last year’s annual report on global terror, that, under the guise of fighting ISIS, Kata’ib Hezbollah is advancing Iran’s interests in Iraq, further adding that the militia has been accused of “human rights abuses against primarily Sunni civilians.” The formal inclusion of Kata’ib Hezbollah as an organ of the Iraqi state could “represent an obstacle that could undermine shared counterterrorism objective,” the report warned.
The close ties between Iran and the PMU, which the Associated Press called “just as brutal” as ISIS in 2014, have been extensively documented. The militias are headed by Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, who U.S. officials have accused of bombing the American and French embassies in Kuwait in 1983. Al-Mohandis, a deputy of IRGC-Qods Force chief Soleimani, was designated by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2009, along with Kata’ib Hezbollah, one of the main Hashd al-Shaabi militias, for targeting American and coalition forces in Iraq.
In November 2016, Iraq’s parliament passed a law allowing the PMU to keep their command structure in place. The Abadi decree appears to be the next step in formalizing the PMU as members of Iraq’s military.
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