Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Dec. 15 that his government had begun implementing its policy to bring all weapons in the country under state control, following his statement days earlier declaring the "end of the war" against ISIS, according to Al Monitor.
Abadi's announcement came just hours after the speech that Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai — spokesman of Iraq's Supreme Shia leader Ali al-Sistani — gave on the same day, in which he called for the need to integrate "volunteers" — in reference to terrorists of the Iranian Militias in Iraq and Syria (IMIS) — “into the constitutional and legal framework that limits [the possession of] weapons to the state” so that the IMIS terrorists "are not exploited for political objectives.”
Abadi welcomed Sistani’s call to “not use IMIS terrorists politically,” adding, “The government is working to organize the IMIS in accordance with the state’s legal framework.”
IMIS militias pretend to disengage from their internal organization and hand over their terrorists and weapons to the prime minister as commander in chief of the armed forces.
This development raises several questions: Why are IMIS militias putting their entire power under the control of the Iraqi government? Does this mean an end to illegal militias? Does this indicate the end of Iranian influence on some militias that declared allegiance to Iranian Mullah's regime leader Khamenei?
It seems the opposite is true since the political wings of IMIS factions are preparing to participate in upcoming elections expected in May. So the recent action of IMIS leaders in handing over their militias to the Iraqi government seems a preparation for the election, while they will keep their influence among their militias even if they have formally come under control of the Iraqi government.
Hassan Salem, the head of the Sadikun parliamentary bloc, affiliated with Asaib Ahl al-Haq, said Dec. 6 that his bloc intends to join forces with a larger alliance that would also include the IMIS-affiliated Mujahedeen bloc.
Some military commanders began to resign from IMIS in order to prepare for elections within the future alliance. The first was IMIS spokesman Ahmed al-Asadi, who resigned Nov. 28, saying, “PMU will remain an Iraqi security institution that has nothing to do with the elections, and those who want to run should first resign.”
Meanwhile, Iraqi Vice President and former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that it was his idea for the IMIS to form a single list for the elections. He also noted that the State of Law Coalition, which he heads, will ally with the IMIS bloc after the elections for the purpose of forming the largest bloc and thus lead the Iraqi government.
It has become very clear that Abadi and Sistani do not want the factions to maintain their independence but rather want to integrate them into the security system to avoid the possibility of their being exploited in future political projects. This has previously been confirmed by both Abadi and Sistani on several occasions, in addition to this being reiterated in the victory statement issued following the defeat of ISIS.
This raised concerns among IMIS leaders about a confrontation with Abadi and Sistani, which could lead to the loss of their social balance and eliminate them from the political scene — especially since the IMIS was originally founded based on a fatwa from Sistani.
Sistani said earlier this year that his aforementioned fatwa is still in force because “its objective is still valid.” This means he can invalidate this fatwa after ISIS is eliminated in Iraq, and thus the religious legitimacy of IMIS and all its militias will be nullified.
Abadi also succeeded last year in passing the IMIS law, which clearly states that IMIS terrorists must be fully subject to the Iraqi government and that IMIS leaders and members should be prevented from participating in the elections.
However, the recent initiative of some factions to dissociate themselves from their political wings and put their troops under the leadership of the prime minister does not mean that this will necessarily happen in real terms. There are networks of influence and loyal relations within these factions for their political wings and sometimes for Khamenei directly.
Some factions, such as Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, which the US Congress considered adding to its list of terrorist organizations a few weeks ago, strongly criticized the initiative of its counterparts, retaining its independence from the Iraqi government. In addition, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba still has forces fighting in Syria to this day.
The main IMIS militias have indeed taken positive steps to comply with the Iraqi law, integrate their forces into the official security system and refrain from participating in the elections so long as they are still part of IMIS. Yet it is still challenging for Abadi to implement the plan for integrating these forces and turn their political loyalties into national ones. This would be the first and biggest challenge for Abadi in 2018 if he is to serve once again as prime minister of Iraq.
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