Arabic | Kurdish

How Baghdad plans to rein in Iran

2019/07/14 | 11:08

(Iraq Now News)-

Suadad al-Salhy

Dismantling pro-Iranian armed

factions operating in Iraq under the umbrella of the Iranian Militia in Iraq

and Syria (IMIS) and integrating its fighters with independent volunteers

within the same body is at the heart of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s plan

to institutionalize the IMIS and limit Iran’s control over its fighters.The drive to “restructure and reorganize” the IMIS’ forces is

Abdul Mahdi’s response to pressure from the powerful Shiite cleric Ayatollah

Ali Al-Sistani, who sees these factions as a threat to the political process

and a tool to undermine the authority of the state.Sistani, global head of the Shiite community and the most

revered cleric in Iraq, has been the sponsor of the political process since the

2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein — and the only one who can end

it with one word.The IMIS was created by former Iraqi prime minister Nouri

Al-Maliki in July 2014 to provide a government umbrella for armed factions and

volunteers who fought ISIS alongside the government.

It comprises at least

150,000 fighters, mostly Shiites.Armed Shiite factions, including Iranian-backed groups such

as the Badr Organization, Kata’ib Hezbollah-Iraq and Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq — the

most powerful in terms of numbers and equipment — are the backbone of the

Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and have played a pivotal role in defeating


However, they have been accused of atrocities against Sunnis, and of

being tools to pressure the government for illegal financial and political gain.Under a law passed in 2016, the PMF’s duties are determined

by the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi armed forces, but the reality is that

most of the factions are not subject to the orders of the Iraqi government and

do not report to Iraqi military authorities.Restructuring these factions and integrating their fighters

with independent volunteers would dilute their power and prevent their

commanders from taking advantage of the IMIS’s financial and human resources, IMIS

commanders close to Sistani told Arab News.“We want the decisions of the IMIS to be Iraqi, and not to

use their forces to implement an Iranian agenda,” one said.“The IMIS must be

institutionalized and subordinated to the regular military organization’s


The PMF must not be stronger than the army under any circumstances.”The plan was prepared by a committee formed by Abdul Mahdi,

and led by Lt.


Abdul Amir Yarallah, commander of joint military


The other members are Abu Montadher Al-Husseini, commander of PMFs

operations,and Hamed Al-Shatri, deputy head of the National Security Service

and administrative assistant to the head of the IMIS.

There are three stages: A

decree outlining the proposals, approval of the organizational structure, and

the settlement of salaries.

The decree was issued on July 1, and salaries have

been agreed upon.“The first and third stages have been implemented because we

have been working on this since last year, and work is underway to implement

the second stage, which is the most difficult,” one of Abdul Mahdi’s security

advisers told Arab News.

“The signs so far are that all the  factions are

responding positively, but we don’t feel comfortable.

The real situation will

not be be clear until at least July 30.”Creating a new organizational structure begins with

dismantling the brigades of each armed faction.

“The core of the idea is to end

the factions by dismantling their brigades and forming new ones, each of which

will contain fighters from different factions along with independent fighters,

taking into account the sectarian and ethnic balance,” a leading commander

involved in the process told Arab News.“This is the most difficult step because the factions

associated with Iran are trying to circumvent it by accepting all the proposals

except those that require the dissolution of their brigades and the integration

of their fighters with others.“Everything depends on this step.

It will mean reducing the

risk of these factions by 80 percent, which is what Sistani wants.”Under the new salary settlement, which is already in

operation, each fighter receives his salary directly from government banks

using Q Cards, a form of electronic payment.

Before, unit commanders received

and distributed salaries, a system that reinforced their control of the fighters

and was open to widespread corruption.“We discovered thousands of spacemen (fake fighters) who were

either expelled, left or lost during the fighting, but their names were not

removed from the payroll so their commanders continued to receive their salaries,”

Abdul Mahdi’s adviser said.“We also found that most of the fighters were not getting

their full salaries because the faction leaders were using the cash to fund

their own fighters and activities outside the IMIS.”The plan will also curb the powers of some IMIS leaders and

remove others, with the aim of  limiting Iran’s influence.

At the top of

that list is Jamal Jaafar, also known as Abu Mahdi Al-Mohandes, or “the

Engineer,” deputy head of the IMIS but de facto commander of its forces.

Mohandes, 65, was sentenced to death in his absence by a court in Kuwait for

his role in deadly bombings there in 1983, he has been designated a terrorist

by the US, and he is close to Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of

the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.The organizational restructuring requires that Faleh

Al-Fayadh, current head of the IMIS, head of the National Security Service and

known as “Iran’s man in Iraq,” retain his roles in return for appointing

Al-Mohandes chief of staff and vice-chairman of the IMIS —  but stripped

of any financial or administrative authority.

In addition, Abu Zainab Al-Lami

will be moved from his role as the manager of IMIS security to be a deputy to

the Interior Minister, and Abu Montadher Al-Husseini becomes a secretary-general

for Abdul Mahdi.These moves resulted in a heated dispute between Al-Mohandes

and Fayyad, three prominent PMF commanders told Arab News.

However, Ayatollah

Al-Sistani’s insistence on “trimming the nails of Al-Mohandes” and reducing

Iran’s influence on the IMIS “forced everyone to accept the settlement.”“The Engineer represents the biggest challenges to Abdul

Mahdi’s plan because he works without laws or regulations, so he had to be

dealt with calmly, transferring the battle from outside the body to inside,

between the Engineer and Fayyad.“Limiting Al-Mohandes’s authority is great progress compared

to before, when all the authority was exclusively in his hands, although he was

not the head of the IMIS.”Abdul Mahdi’s adviser said: “All the indications are that

Al-Mohandes is a burnt card, and that Iran has offered him up as a scapegoat to

please Sistani.“Iran is in an unenviable position, and it is not in its

interest now to provoke Sistani or create any problem leading to a new front

that may end its influence in Iraq.”Most of the influential Shiite armed factions have publicly

announced their acceptance of the new structure, except Kata’ib Hezbollah; they

want the inclusion of Kurdish Peshmerga forces, armed groups linked to the

Kurdish leaders, and the Sunni tribes linked exclusively to US troops in Iraq.

The structure also requires the disclosure of the names of fighters and their

leaders, and their real addresses, which does sit well with Kata’ib Hezbollah’s

usual secrecy.However, a IMIS commander close to Soleimani said all factions

would be subject to the structure, including Kata’ib, and there would be

intensive meetings in the coming days to agree on the details.“There is great pressure on the prime minister from Sistani

and the Americans to rein in the factions and control them,” a prominent PMF

commander close to Soleimani told Arab News.“The regional and international challenges are great, and it

is not in the interests of Iran or Iraq that any Iranian-backed faction act

against the will of the Iraqi government.”

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