A commander of the Iraqi paramilitary forces known as Hashd al-Shaabi has called for suspension of Asharq al-Awsat in Iraq, accusing the pan-Arab daily of propagating against the paramilitary forces. According Iran’s Fars News Agency, Karim al-Nouri, a commander of the Iranian-backed Badr Organization and a spokesman for Hashd al-Shaabi, was reacting to an article in the newspaper which warned about Hashd al-Shaabi turning into a Shiite-only organization in Iraq. The author of the article, Yousef Shamlan al-Essa, cautioned that some Iraqi Shiite leaders continue sectarian policies despite the fact that such an approach had devastating consequences for Iraq in the past. The Hashd al-Shaabi commander rejected the allegations and added that the Sunni community has extensive representation in the Iraqi politics.

Comment: The PMF consists of militia forces largely from Shiite but also other Iraqi ethnic and religious groups. While some PMF units are Iraqi nationalists and follow Iraq’s top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, many prominent groups within the alliance have close ties with Qassem Soleimani, the head of the IRGC’s elite Quds Force. These groups – such as the Badr Organization, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, and Harakat al-Nujaba – have engaged in violence against American troops and fellow Sunni Iraqis in the past.

What makes Sunnis particularly worried is that, despite PMF’s diversity, it is the Iran-backed militia units within the PMF that have emerged more powerful from the fight against ISIS. These groups have also launched a vicious propaganda campaign against US troops advising Iraqi forces in Mosul and across Iraq. The Iranian-supported groups within PMF have lately also formed a coalition to contest the upcoming parliamentary elections slated for May 12. They have made it clear that one of their priorities after the elections would be to expel American forces from Iraq, either through a vote in the parliament or violence if needed. 

The statement by the spokesman of the Badr Organization also reflects the broader concern in Tehran and among Iran's allies in Iraq that Saudi Arabia is increasingly using soft power tools to increase its influence in Iraq at the expense of their own interests.