The leader of a prominent Iranian-backed unit within Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.) said today that his group will hand over its heavy and medium weapons to the Iraqi security forces, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported. Qais al-Khazali, the head of the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, called on the Iraqi government to value P.M.F. forces as an asset and treat them fairly. The A.A.H. commander, who has close ties with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, said the group will pursue its political ambitions separate from its military affairs. Iraqi Interior Minister Qasim al-Araji, a senior member of the Badr Organization who also has close relations with Tehran, welcomed Khazali’s announcement. Hadi al-Amiri, the secretary general of the Badr Organization, has called on his forces to remain within the P.M.F. and refrain from politics.

Khazali’s announcement came after influential Iraqi cleric and politician Muqtada al-Sadr also urged all Shiite militias, including his own Saraya al-Salam forces, to hand their arms to the Iraqi government.

Comment: With the war against ISIS in Iraq officially over, leaders of Iranian-backed P.M.F. units are gearing up for parliamentary elections slated for May 15 next year. Three weeks ago, several Iranian-backed P.M.F. groups led by the Badr Organization formed a new political bloc, tentatively called the "The Mujahideen Alliance." The alliance consists of pro-Iranian and anti-American groups Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Harakat al-Nujaba, Kata’ib Hezbollah, Kata’ib Jund al-Imam, Kata’ib al-Tiar al-Rasali. It will also try to incorporate Sunni tribal groups from western Iraq. Karim al-Nouri, a commander and spokesman of the Badr Organization, said the details of the new Mujahideen Alliance, made up of eight P.M.F. groups, are currently unclear, but insisted that "there will certainly be no alliance with the State of Law coalition.” Ahmed al-Asadi, who recently resigned as P.M.F. spokesman, will serve as the spokesperson for the new political alliance. Asadi’s Kata'ib Jund al-Imam is part of the coalition. 

The Iraqi newspaper, Al-Jarida wrote that the Mujahideen Alliance is an Iranian effort to impose its will on Iraq as the war against ISIS is coming to an end. It added that the Badr Organization, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, and Harakat al-Nujaba "constitute the nucleus of the Mujahideen Alliance.”

Earlier today, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, asked P.M.F. forces to choose between politics and military roles. He did not call for the disbandment of the paramilitary forces, but emphasized that all weapons should be under the control of the government. In 2014, it was Sistani’s religious edict that resulted in P.M.F.’s creation to fight ISIS.