A commander of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.) - also known as Hashd al-Shaabi - has said that the paramilitary forces will not agree to the presence of American forces or foreign private security firms in post-Islamic State Iraq, particularly in regions near the Syrian border. “The central government has almost agreed to Blackwater controlling the borders. But Blackwater doesn’t have the authority and resources to control the borders or fight Daesh [Islamic State]. And we do not consent to surrendering our territory to forces with which we have no close relations or agreements,” the commander said in an interview with Tasnim News Agency, an Iranian outlet affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.). The commander also emphasized that Hashd al-Shaabi has no desire to work with American troops advising the Iraqi army. “We in the Hashd al-Shaabi have no need for American advisory or non-advisory assistance. They have no presence [among P.M.F forces in border areas]. We never need American forces because Daesh [Islamic State] is an American creation. Daesh fights with American ideology. Daesh is the end product of American thoughts and designs. When we fight Daesh, we in reality fight the Americans.”
The commander also ruled out seeking help from Iraq’s neighbors except Iran. “Thank God, we do not need any allies and we do not trust any neighbors but the Islamic Republic of Iran. The reason is that this country [Iran] has proven its goodwill and sincerity. They are present by our side and its advisors help us by providing the right advice. They have come to aid us with weapons and planning.”
Asked whether P.M.F. forces will deploy to Syria after defeating the Islamic State in Iraq, the commander noted that Hashd forces follow the instructions of Shiite marja’iyyas – sources of emulation – and will fight in any Islamic country the marja’iyyas ask or order them to. He further accused the U.S. military of “plotting discord” in Iraq. Tasnim News Agency did not provide the name of the commander for “security reasons.”
Comment: With the Islamic State no longer a significant threat to the Iraqi government or Iran’s interests in the Arab country, the I.R.G.C. and its Iraqi proxies have recently intensified propaganda against the U.S. military, which poses security risks to U.S. military advisers that are still helping the Iraqi security forces in the fight against terrorists in the country. I.R.G.C.-affiliated media outlets regularly run news stories or interviews with P.M.F. leaders accusing the American military of aiding the Islamic State both in Iraq and Syria.
Recently, Iranian leaders have increased pressure on the Baghdad government to ensure American troops leave the country after the Mosul battle is over. When Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Tehran last month, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei told him that Iran opposed the presence of American forces in Iraq and urged Iraqi leader not to rely on Washington. “Do not trust the Americans under any circumstances because they are waiting for an opportunity to do harm,” Khamenei said in a meeting with Abadi. Likewise, as today’s interview in the I.R.G.C. outlet indicates, P.M.F. units close to Iran also increasingly engage in anti-American propaganda and are pressuring Baghdad to “expel” American troops from the country.
Last week, Ammar al-Hakim, the head of Iraq’s Shiite ruling coalition, also said during a visit to Tehran that the Baghdad government will reduce the number of American military advisors and their role after the liberation of Mosul. “We emphasize that we oppose the presence of their military forces the same way we opposed foreign military bases on the Iraqi soil,” Hakim said in an interview with Fars News Agency, another I.R.G.C. mouthpiece. “Even at the peak of the battle against Daesh [Islamic State] and urgent need for foreign assistance, the Iraqis indeed did not seek the burden of the presence of foreign militaries and did not accept a single foreign soldier. Today, it is a matter of pride for the Iraqis that they liberated Iraq by relying on themselves.”