The Iraqi government imposed a curfew in the town of al-Dujail in Salaheddine governorate north of the capital Baghdad, deploying security forces after clashes erupted between armed tribal militants and forces of Asa’ib Ahl al- Haq, an Iraqi Shiite militia.
Salaheddine governor Ahmed al-Jabouri said that the Shiite militia enforced with a large number of its militant, entered the town, kidnapped and killed many resident.
This come as a report painted a terrifying picture of the future of Iraq where the 120,000-strong Popular Mobilization Units have become a powerful Iranian proxy.
A Financial Times report warned over the potentially “subversive force in a country that has endured appalling violence over the past 15 years — much of it at the hands of militias that exploited the state’s weakness to stoke sectarian tensions.
Some Iraqi and western officials fear the predominantly Shiite paramilitary groups could become a shadow force, modelled on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps or Hezbollah, the Lebanese movement that has political and military wings.
“It’s an Iranian creation led by people who follow Iran: Iran has the guards, Iraq has the PMU,” FT quotes an Iraqi general.
It added that some elements of the more pro-Iran militias in the PMU have dispatched forces to Syria to fight alongside the regime of Bashar al-Assad and have issued threats against US interests in Iraq.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the PMU’s deputy leader, was designated for sanctions by the US Treasury in 2009 “for threatening the peace and stability of Iraq and the government of Iraq”, and his Hizbollah Brigades militia is designated a terrorist organization. The Treasury said he was an adviser to Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, and as recently as October a state department spokesman described Mr Muhandis as a “terrorist”.
The PMU militias were born after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shia cleric, issued a call to arms in June 2014 following the humiliating collapse of the Iraqi security forces that the US had spent more than $20bn equipping in the face of Isis’s onslaught.
PMU leaders have resisted prime minister Haider al-Abadi’s efforts to integrate them into the armed forces. In November 2016, parliament passed a law making the PMU an independent force, which now has its own $1.6 billion budget and ostensibly answers to the prime minister’s office rather than the interior or defense ministries.
Yet when Abadi tried to obtain an independent audit of their numbers, PMU leaders pushed back, the report quotes one Iraqi politician.
Some Iraqis and analysts say PMU groups are also expanding their business interests and allegedly engaging in similar smuggling rackets that Isis once operated, from sheep to grain and oil.