“America should only be here for embassy, any military presence and we will target them,” Saif Ali, a 37-year-old member of the PMF’s Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba told Fox News.
Several groups and individuals are sanctioned by the United States treasury for their attacks on US and international coalition troops after the 2003 invasion of Iraq to oust the Baathist regime. Some have openly admitted plans to build a ‘Shiite crescent’ from Tehran to Beirut.
“I fought the Americans after 2003, and the British in southern Iraq, and I am happy about that. I don’t hate the American people, only hate the US military, and I have killed many of them,” added Ali.
While the PMF’s are primarily comprised of Shiite paramilitias, they have also paid Iraqis from other groups like the disenfranchised Christian and Yezidi minorities to join their ranks.
Rayan al-Kildani is the leader of the Babylon Brigades based out of Nineveh province. He told Fox that although he has relatives in the United States and has visited, he threatened to attack US intelligence personnel who he met after the Mosul liberation.
“Our stand is clear,” Mohand al-Eqqaby asserted. “America was not there at the beginning of this ISIS crisis when we needed them most. We are strong now, and as long as we are fighting, Iraq does not need Americans on our land.”
Locals, especially, Kurdish and Arab Sunni leaders have tried to warn the West of the growing influence of the Iran-backed PMFs, mainly comprised of the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitaries.
The US-led Coalition to Defeat ISIS was not able to provide air support to the Hashd during the ISIS war. Their fighters were accused of recruiting minors to fight, forced displacements, and summary executions by watchdogs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
With Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi having declared a victory over ISIS in early December while calling Hashd al-Shaabi “the pride of the nation,” the PMFs are at a crossroads in Iraq where they can disband, make a grab for power, or further integrate into the traditional Iraqi Security Forces.
They were formed from more than 60 groups who came together mid-2014 following a fatwa from Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani to drive out ISIS militants who were quickly gaining control of the country.
Most of the groups began as political organizations which date back decades. It is against Iraqi law to hold political office and hold a military position. With elections upcoming in May, top Shiite clergy have spoken out about the groups.
Iraq’s firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr advocated for not allowing Hashd al-Shaabi’s name to be used in the elections and preventing its leaders from running in the elections while in still their post in a December 11 speech.
Sadr also called for the dismantling of “some unorganized forces within the Hashd al-Shaabi and … punishing some others in order to protect the position, name, and dignity of jihad, jihadists, and the blood of the martyrs.”
Top cleric Sistani has called on the Shiite forces to come under the command of the official Iraqi military, adding that the state must have exclusive authority over all armed forces.
Sistani, however, stopped short of calling for the Shiite forces to be dismantled.
“It is necessary to continue to use the service of this section [the Hashd al-Shaabi] within the legal framework that exclusively puts the arm under the command of the state,” Sistani said in a statement that was read by his representative on December 15.
Tom Hardie-Forsyth, who has extensive experience of Kurdistan and UK security interests, wrote a damning letter on December 14 to his government calling Britain “thoroughly blindsided by Iran,” referring to the Shiite militia in Iraq.
The letter disputed foreign office assertions that Baghdad’s seizure of disputed territory caused “limited clashes and loss of life,” and also challenges the Iraqi Embassy’s assertion of totally false allegations about the presence of non-Iraqi forces or irregular militias or groups backed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
The United States has mostly been silent on the role of the PMFs in Iraq.
“That’s a question for the government of Iraq,” said the spokesperson for the international anti-ISIS coalition, US Army Col. Ryan Dillon on December 20 ” I mean, they are the ones who have constitutionally, you know — you know, said that, you know, the PMF are a subset of the Iraqi Security Forces.
“So it’ll be completely up to them on what happens to the PMF as they transition, whether that be, you know, blended into the other elements of the Iraqi Security Forces. But that’s clearly a government of Iraq for them to answer.”