How do Iraqis view the Popular Mobilization Units?

Politics Sep 10, 2022 5 min read

This question was submitted to us. Do you want your question to be answered too? Message us on instagram/twitter or through mail:

A church minister thanking a member of the PMU for liberating the land.

You could make a strong argument that the People’s Mobilization Units (PMU or Hashd al Sha’bi) are the most efficient force when it comes to protecting the sovereignty of Iraq. The PMU have proven that they accept nothing but a free Iraq that rules itself. This is something which is viewed by the US and their allies as a threat which is why they are seeking to dissolve it. The majority of Iraq that does seek a sovereign Iraq continues to stand with the Hashd and is not blinded by sectarian accusations. For all self-respected Iraqis, the Hashd are heroes who continue to stand up to the divisive forces that wish ill to Iraq.

In June 2014 the “self-proclaimed” Islamic State, heavily supplied with US and Gulf weapons, expanded from Syria to Iraq and took over Mosul province. ISIS looted Mosul’s bank, dismantled schools and government institutions and subjected civilians to abuse and massacres. During this time the US-led coalition expanded their campaign of airstrikes in a continuation of their “War on Terror” only to cause more civilian causalities, injuries and displacements. Given this extreme threatening situation and the defeat of the Iraqi Army in Mosul, Ayatollah al-Sistani demanded a religious call (fatwa) to arms to protect the homeland. The fatwa called on Iraqis “to defend the country, its people, the honor of its citizens, and its sacred places”. Counters were set up throughout the country for people to apply. Where the Iraqi army experienced difficulties to recruit members, thousands of courageous men stood in line to answer the religious call to freedom. More than 75 % of Iraqis aged 18 to 30 years, mainly from the Southern provinces, rushed to reclaim their freedom and the honor of their country. This finally resulted in the formation of the Hashd al-Sha’bi or PMU, an umbrella group managing units of armed groups with varying political and ideological leanings who are united under the same vision. Shia, Sunni, (Fayli) Kurd, Shabak, Turkmen and Christian Iraqis all are part of the PMU units. Following the defeat of the Iraqi Army in Mosul, the Hashd filled the gap to help secure Baghdad and the rest of Iraq. A spirit of hope was reinstalled by the Hashd that Iraq can be liberated from the shackles of imperialism. The Hashd operated effectively on the battlefield while refusing to cooperate with coalition forces. It cannot be denied that it achieved great successes against the “Islamic State” and their allies. By December 2017 the Hashd in coordination with the PKK and the Iraqi army recaptured the occupied region and cleared Iraq from the last remnants of IS. Today many streets throughout Iraq are filled with pictures of the respected Hashd martyres that gave their life to defend their homeland.  Out of respect the group is also called ‘al-Hashd al-Muqadas’ meaning the sacred forces.

The destruction of Mosul (Iraq) by ISIS occupation and Coalition airstrikes between 2014-2017.

The rise of the Hashd served as a psychological boost for all Iraqis who felt besieged and defenseless. The PMU has been an indispensable part of not only Iraq’s security infrastructure but also its socio-economic structure. During the annual Arba’een pilgrimage that welcomes up to 25 million pilgrims the PMU ensures their security and deploys field-hospitals in Karbala. The PMU, in coordination with health authorities, played a major role in tackling the Covid crisis. This included the creation of isolation facilities, managing burials of the deceased, deploying field hospitals, distributing food baskets and enforcing curfews in many parts of Iraq. The PMU also participated in reconstruction work: repairing roads and water pipes and tackling floods in coordination with local communities and municipal bodies. Iraq is today facing a multitude of problems including surging poverty and security threats. This leads to expanding areas of limited state interference and this is where the PMU plays a complementary role. After followers of the Sadrist movement attacked Iraqi security forces and the headquarters of Hashd units Muqtada al-Sadr thanked the PMU for not taking part in the violence and preventing a sectarian war. The PMU is in reality a game-changing factor for Iraq that refuses to enter into conflicts that sow chaos to the detriment of the Iraqi people because of their clear vision and strategy.

In 2016, the Iraqi Parliament adopted the Hashd law which reinforces their legitimacy as an approved state-actor. This amounted to converting what started as a passionate grass-roots movement to save Iraq into a structured organization. A couple of months after passing the law the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged “the Iranian-backed militias to go home” and the American newshour called the PMU “America’s newest problem in Iraq”. The US and Western media outlets label the PMU as “Iranian backed militias” in an attempt to distract the Iraqi population, instill hatred and manipulate the public debate. However the Iraqi fighters receive their paychecks and pensions from Baghdad, they answer to the Iraqi commander in Chief and are capable of manufacturing their own weapons and drones. The PMU consisting largely of Shias is no strange proportion as Iraq itself is also largely Shia. At the same time the PMU does have more Sunni and Christian members than the regular Iraqi army. When al-Zurfi who is friendly to US interests was running for Prime Minister in 2020, he called the PMU “legal forces”, it was said that this was done to appease people who oppose US presence in Iraq. This way the status of the PMU is being weaponized on a structural basis. Why should it be a complexity to believe that an indigenous Iraqi group triumphed against foreign-steered terrorists?

From time to time the US targets Iraqi fighters of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), and even killed their Commander in an airstrike in 2020. They do this with the knowledge that the PMU is working to prevent the infiltration of IS terrorists: the US’ apparent excuse for their military presence in the first place. Airstrikes on the PMU are conducted without the agreement of the Iraqi government. The same goes for “israeli” airplanes who are only allowed to target positions held by Iraqi military forces or the PMU with approval of America. Under the Iraqi constitution, mandated by a majority of votes in parliament, there is no legal right for the presence of the US military in the country. The US illegally continues to hold 12 military bases in Iraq and is not showing any willingness to leave. Instead, Washington rules over the Iraqi airspace as they wish, violating Iraq’s national sovereignty and international legislation.  Today the US is the major destabilizing factor in Iraq and actively opposes a sovereign Iraq in order to entrench and prolong its presence in the country. This is not only done by military intervention but also by stoking disagreement among Iraqis and waging (media) campaigns of hatred against the PMU because they are the ones that are hindering the presence of the US and their regional allies. The PMU has been one of the most important factors in the protection of Iraq against terrorism and they became an integral part of Iraq.

Great! You've successfully subscribed.
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.