13 July 2020
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Iraq’s New Prime Minister Needs to Take Control of His Security Forces

Tuesday, 16 June 2020 21:32
Members of the Popular Mobilization Units advance toward the town of Tal Afar, Iraq, on Aug. 22, 2017 Members of the Popular Mobilization Units advance toward the town of Tal Afar, Iraq, on Aug. 22, 2017

Iraq’s new prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, faces numerous political and economic challenges coming into office, but his main task will be reining in the country’s plethora of security forces—some of which compete against each other.

Kadhimi’s background in activism and intelligence makes him well-placed to confront Baghdad’s challenges. His first actions in office have included releasing protesters from jail and reinstating Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi as counterterrorism commander. Saadi’s dismissal by then-Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi in September 2019 fed a widespread feeling of resentment that led to anti-government protests in October. Kadhimi’s decision to appoint a leader who was key to the fight against the Islamic State and to release prisoners who have suffered abuses at the hands of security forces over the past several months is a sign of his seriousness in mending the country’s deep divisions.

It’s a good start, but Kadhimi will need to exert his authority over Iraq’s security forces in order to truly stabilize the country. Iraq is burdened by the presence of several different paramilitary units due, in part, to the weakness of its regular army. The Iraqi army was dismantled and then rebuilt after the 2003 U.S. invasion, part of a process of removing the legacy of Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime that sent many of its most experienced officers packing. The army had to be rebuilt again after it collapsed in the face of the Islamic State’s onslaught in 2014.

The U.S.-led coalition has helped train 225,000 members of the security forces since 2014, including army and air force units. The Iraqi army now has around 150,000 personnel across 55 brigades.

Among the largest armed organizations in the country is the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), which commands approximately 150,000 personnel and has a $2 billion budget. Initially raised as a group of disparate militias, some of which were politically close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the PMU was made an official arm of the state in March 2018. Despite efforts to consolidate its member groups into a single body, the PMU still contains around 100 brigades, many of which maintain affiliations with political, religious, or tribal groups that complicate their relationship with the Iraqi state. Some units have been implicated in rocket attacks on U.S. coalition forces, and four PMU brigades linked to senior Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani recently expressed their desire to split from the organization to become part of the Iraqi defense ministry.

In northern Iraq, the Kurdistan autonomous region has its own security forces known as Peshmerga, which also number around 150,000 soldiers. The organization nominally falls under the control of the regional government’s Ministry of Peshmerga, but dozens of its brigades are more closely affiliated with two larger divisions that are linked to Kurdistan’s two dominant political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Iraq also has a large militarized police force, called the Federal Police, which played a key role in the fight against the Islamic State and is under the auspices of the interior ministry. Within the ministry’s ecosystem of tens of thousands of personnel is the Emergency Response Division, which played a role not only in the 2017 battle of Mosul, in which the Islamic State was pushed out of the city, but also in clashes with protesters in which activists were killed.

Source: FP

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