Iraq’s paramilitary groups need two more months to integrate with the country’s security forces, a senior official said Tuesday, underscoring the challenges of bringing them under government control amid concerns they pose a threat to American interests.
The request for more time came on the eve of a deadline set by Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi for the militias to shut down their offices and begin moving into designated barracks outside the cities. They include factions with close ties to Iran, which the US blames for harassing its personnel in Iraq with rocket fire.
“We started this process [of integration] but we need to create a suitable environment for it,” said Falih al-Fayyadh who is in charge of the IMIS Commission under which the militias are arrayed. “This is why we asked the prime minister for two more months.”
Fayyadh outlined the steps taken so far to implement the decree, such as eliminating some offices and entities linked to IMIS. Instructions have also been issued to close down economic offices, he said during a press conference on Tuesday.
The decree, issued earlier this month, was billed by Abd al-Mahdi’s government as a step toward strengthening the state by bringing all armed factions operating within its territory under control. Any groups failing to comply, it said, would be considered outlaws and “dealt with accordingly”.
But many politicians are skeptical about the government’s ability to rein in groups that amassed political and economic power after participating in the war against ISIS.
Political analyst Ayad Anbar said the measures taken so far suggested a strategy of accommodation rather than a real attempt to rein in the militias. Most factions have welcomed the decree, seeing it as a way to increase their legitimacy and protect the gains they made following the war against ISIS.
Fayyadh played down the resistance of some groups toward the decree.
Having helped win the war, many of the militias formed political parties and won seats in a parliamentary election. Under former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the militias became a formal part of Iraq’s security forces, entitled to a share of the country’s $111 billion budget. But some factions have continued to operate largely independently of the government.
According to Abd al-Mahdi’s decree, the militias would remain a separate entity under the IMIS Commission as opposed to being dissolved within the army or police.
“It won’t be easy,” said Hadi al-Ameri, who represents a swath of those groups. “We are not satisfied with the decree, but we will implement it.”
In an interview earlier this week, Ameri said it wasn’t fair that the decree wasn’t also applied to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, which are officially part of the Iraqi security apparatus but are divided along partisan lines. “It should be applied to them, not only to us,” he said.