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Iraq PM plans to rein in Iranian-backed militias
January 05, 2018
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BAGHDAD: Under pressure from allies in the West, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi is staking his career on reining in the militias that helped him defeat Daesh.

The task will not be easy. The paramilitaries, or Popular Mobilisation Forces, are mostly trained and backed by Iran, so Abadi risks angering his most powerful regional backer.

Iraq’s Shi’ite majority also see the PMF’s 150,000 fighters as their saviours. Several militia commanders plan to run against Abadi in parliamentary elections in May and some have warned they will resist attempts to dismantle them.

Abadi’s plan envisages taking back the militias’ heavy weapons and cutting their strength by half, according to military and intelligence sources. The army is already taking an inventory of PMF weaponry, such as the armoured vehicles and tanks the government gave them to fight Daesh.

Next, Abadi will order his military and police commanders to take back those heavy weapons under the pretext of repairing them. The defence ministry will then remove over-age or physically unfit fighters, two military sources said.

“The plan will be implemented with extreme caution and precision in order to prevent a negative backlash from the PMF commanders,” said an army colonel who was briefed on it by his commander. “We can’t keep a second army within one state; this is the key objective of the plan.”

The plan will be closely followed by Iran and the United States. The groups are one of Iran’s many levers of influence in Iraq, while for Washington they are a reminder of Tehran’s growing reach in the Middle East.

Lawmakers close to Abadi and one of his political advisers say he is coming under “tremendous pressure” from the West and Sunni regional allies to dissolve the PMF now that Daesh, is no longer a major threat.

“Abadi is getting messages from allies in the war against Daesh encouraging him to dismantle the PMF as a condition to keeping their support flowing in future,” the adviser said on condition of anonymity.

In a phone call last month, French President Emmanuel Macron encouraged Abadi to dismantle the PMF, said the adviser, who was briefed on the call.

With Daesh crushed in Iraq, Abadi will find it harder to avoid clamping down on the militia, according to a lawmaker from his Dawa Party.


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