Iraq News - Local News - Baghdadpost

Baghdad's crackdown on Iran-allied militias faces resistance

imis

At checkpoints leading into the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the flags of Brigade 30, a paramilitary force, still fly nearly two months after the Baghdad government ordered all militias to leave.


Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi's decree gave Iran-backed paramilitary groups, which have wielded increasing power in Iraq, a month to fully integrate with the armed forces, leave checkpoints and sever ties with political groups.


Brigade 30's refusal to abandon its positions on the eastern edge of Mosul -- instead it cut off roads and whipped up angry protests -- underlines Baghdad's struggle to assert its authority and raises the risk of further instability in a region marked by US-Iranian rivalry.


Washington warned this year it would take action against Iran-backed militias if Baghdad failed to control them, and imposed sanctions on groups and their leaders, including Brigade 30's Commander Waad Qaddo. It blamed paramilitaries for attacks on bases hosting US forces in May.


Tension ramped up in the past month when alleged Israeli air strikes hit weapons depots and bases of paramilitary factions in western and centralIraq. Israel has hinted it was involved but has not explicitly said so. The Israeli military declined to comment.


Paramilitaries in turn accuse the United States of helping Israel attack their positions, and have threatened to retaliate.


The Pentagon denies involvement. No evidence has been provided for the mutual allegations.


Rivalry between Iraq's two biggest allies, Tehran and Washington, has put the region on edge this year. Oil tankers in the Gulf have been attacked and Israel has bombed Iranian allies in Syria.


If Iraq cannot rein in its paramilitary groups, which have more than 100,000 members, there could be further violence, Iraqi officials and analysts say.


In parts of Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad, flags of some factions still fly at checkpoints and paramilitaries man roadblocks in neighboring Anbar province.


The armed groups dominate local security in some towns and cities across the country, especially territory formerly occupied by ISIS militants. Their allies, meanwhile, occupy parliamentary seats, exercising new political strength that has deepened their influence on the government.

 

"Abd al-Mahdi failed ... to make a small group leave its positions near Mosul. It raises the question, what could he do against more powerful Iran-backed groups?" said Baghdad-based security analyst Jasim al-Bahadli.


The prime minister's office did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. In an interview with local journalists broadcast on Aug. 9, Abd al-Mahdi said the integration was complicated and would take more time.

PARAMILITARY POWER


Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria (IMIS) - Iraq's umbrella grouping of mostly Shiite Muslim paramilitaries backed by Iran - played a key role defeating IS and formally became part of the armed forces last year, reporting to the prime minister.


In Baghdad, its influence is growing through new senior military appointments, security sources and analysts say.


A commander from one IMIS group was appointed inspector-general of the defence ministry this month.


The retirement in May of the military's Mosul commander - a US ally since the fight against ISIS - has made it easier to resist government efforts to bring paramilitaries in line, sources with knowledge of the appointments said.


Abd al-Mahdi set a July 31 deadline for IMIS factions to integrate with the armed forces, including handing over roadblocks.


IMIS chief Falih al-Fayyadh said last month most factions were already complying. A IMIS spokesman declined to comment for this story. The US Department of Defence did not respond to a request for comment.

LEVERAGE


Analysts say Brigade 30, like other groups that took territory in northern Iraq as they fought ISIS, is reluctant to give up power.


The faction, controlled by Iraq's Shiite Shabak minority, is one of a number of paramilitary groups in Iraq's northern Nineveh province believed to control parts of the local economy. The IMIS has denied its members are involved in trade.


"Brigade 30 have gained quite a bit of leverage in Mosul ... they feel like they made some good gains during the fight and are now being told to give up major checkpoints," said Renad Mansour, a research fellow at Chatham House.


Commander Waad Qaddo's office declined to comment. Washington placed him on a sanctions list in July over alleged human rights abuses and corruption.


In response to Abd al-Mahdi's decree, Qaddo's group bulldozed dirt barriers onto a highway leading into Iraq's second-largest city in early August. Supporters blocked roads and burned tires as the army stood by.


Demonstrating the group's political heft, the IMIS's top leadership negotiated joint checkpoint control between Brigade 30, the army and local officials.


Supporters said abandoning checkpoints could leave the Shabak open to the same abuse and killings minorities suffered at the hands of the Sunni extremist ISIS in Sunni Arab majority Mosul.


"We'll stay in the area to protect our people," pro-IMIS lawmaker Qusay al-Shabaki said.


Mosul lawmakers and security sources say the episode showed how easily one faction could oppose the government, even as the IMIS says it is obeying the prime minister.


"Nineveh is under the pressure of the IMIS. It's the main power in the province now - the army has become a secondary force," MP Shirwan Dubardani said.

Read
Comments