Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, has said that a “new foreign plot” is underway to dismantle Tehran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.) in neighboring Iraq, the Iranian media reported. In a meeting with Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament Hammam Hamoudi in Tehran today, Shamkhani alleged that a “Western country” and Israel have joined hands to disarm the P.M.F. now that the fight against ISIS is coming to an end. “A significant part of regional crises is created by instruction and planning of America and the Zionist regime in order to preserve the security of child-killer rulers in Tel Aviv and sell more military weapons,” Shamkhani told Hammam. “But the people of Iraq have proven that security cannot be purchased; and instead of trusting foreign powers, they have relied on themselves and as a result the popular mobilization has taken shape,” he added. “The vigilance of Iraqi officials, particularly members of the country’s parliament, will not allow this plot by foreigners to succeed and undermine the internal solidarity and security in this country. They will confront these seditions with determination.”

Comment: Shamkhani did not identify the “Western country” by name, but he was most likely referring to France. On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron stressed that all Iraqi militias, including Iranian-sponsored groups, should be dissolved. “It is essential that there is a gradual demilitarization, in particular of the [Tehran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces] that established itself in the last few years in Iraq, and that all militias be gradually dismantled," Macron said in a joint press conference with Iraqi Kurdish leaders.

With the battle against ISIS nearly over, Tehran has increasingly been pressuring Iraqi leaders not to disband the P.M.F. Many powerful units within the P.M.F. are closely aligned with Iran and are more answerable to Tehran than Baghdad. Thus, Tehran sees the P.M.F. as a useful tool to keep its influence over Iraqi security and politics in the future. When Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Iraq in June and October, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei requested two things from the Iraqi leader: not to dismantle the P.M.F. and to expel American troops after the fight against ISIS is over.

The PMF consists of militia forces largely from Shiite but also other Iraqi ethnic and religious groups. While some P.M.F. units are Iraqi nationalists and follow Iraq’s top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, many prominent groups within P.M.F. have close ties with Qassem Suleimani, the head of the IRGC’s elite Quds Force. What makes Sunnis in Iraq and the region particularly worried is that, despite P.M.F.’s diversity, it is the Iran-backed militia units within the P.M.F. – such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the Badr Organization – which hold significant influence over Iraqi politics and security. Iranian-backed Iraqi militia groups, some of which are now part of the P.M.F., have in the past engaged in attacks against American troops and committed abuses against fellow Iraqis.