Iran-Backed Iraqi Paramilitary Forces Form New Alliance to Contest Parliamentary Elections

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | Aug 4, 2017
Iran-Backed Iraqi Paramilitary Forces Form New Alliance to Contest Parliamentary Elections

Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.) groups have agreed to form an alliance – dubbed as the Coalition of the Loyalists – under the leadership of the Badr Organization to participate in the country’s next parliamentary elections, Fars News Agency, an Iranian outlet affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) reports. P.M.F. units such as Kata'ib Hezbollah, Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuada, Kata'ib Jund al-Imam, and Asaib Ahl al-Haq will be part of the new alliance. The Badr Organization and the other four P.M.F. groups mentioned in the report have close ties with Iran and the I.R.G.C. Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani. The new alliance is reportedly in talks with other Iraqi political parties to seek their support and broaden the coalition. Iraq’s next parliamentary elections are slated for early next year. Hadi al-Amiri, the head of the Badr Organization, has in the past indicated an interest in challenging Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in the next elections.

Comment: With the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq reaching its final chapter, Iran has stepped up efforts to ensure its militia proxies will continue to play a prominent role in Iraq’s security and politics in the long term. To achieve this, Tehran this year appointed Quds Force official Iraj Masjedi as its new ambassador to Baghdad. With decades of experience in Iraq’s security and political affairs, Masjedi has actively been trying to shape up post-Islamic State Iraqi politics. And the future role of Iran-linked P.M.F. units in the security and political spheres is a top agenda item for Masjedi.

Three months ago,  Asharq al-Awsat reported that the Quds Force was setting up new offices in Mosul under the guise of P.M.F. and with the help of Iran’s ally and former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Sheikh Muzahim al-Hawyeet, spokesman for a Sunni tribal coalition in Nineveh Province, told the pan-Arab daily that the aim of the new Quds Force offices is to cultivate relationships with Sunni tribes in Mosul and across Nineveh Province. Hawyeet further claimed that tens of I.R.G.C. offices have been set up in Mosul – some of which, he said, function as headquarters for local political parties while others house weapons and are used for military purposes and as detention centers. He also linked the issue with the upcoming elections in Iraq. “They [Iran and its Iraqi allies] are trying to get the largest number of parliamentary seats representing Mosul as well as to get the majority of seats in the city council.”

Muhammad al-Hattab, a commander of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.), had also hinted that the paramilitary forces might enter politics and participate in elections after the Islamic State is defeated. “The Population Mobilization [Forces] was created based on a fatwa [religious decree] by Iraq’s supreme religious authority [Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani]… But if the Iraqi nation thinks that the Popular Mobilization [Forces] are qualified to lead this country through ballot boxes in the elections, there is not obstacle,” he told Fars News Agency, an outlet affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) in May. Hattab accused the United States, Israel and regional countries of “plotting” to marginalize the P.M.F.