BAGHDAD — Iraq’s government moved Monday night to control powerful Iran-backed militias in the country, placing them under the full command of the Iraqi armed forces.
In a decree, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said offices of militias that continue to operate independently within or outside Iraqi cities will be closed and any armed faction working “openly or secretly” against the new guidelines will be considered illegitimate. He said the militias will be subject to the same regulations as the army.
The move comes amid U.S.-Iran tensions and follows several unclaimed attacks near U.S. forces or U.S. interests in Iraq.
The militias fall under the umbrella of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, a collection of mostly Shiite militias that fought the Islamic State group and were incorporated into the Iraqi armed forces in 2016. Together they number more than 140,000 fighters, and while they fall under the authority of Iraq’s prime minister, the PMF’s top brass are politically aligned with Iran.
Several powerful groups welcomed Abdul-Mahdi’s decree, but it was not immediately clear if they would fully abide by the order — and implementation could prove tricky.
Kataeb Hezbollah, one of the most powerful of the militias, was among those welcoming the order, saying its forces within Iraq would implement it. But it added that its men fighting outside Iraq would not abide by the new rules — an apparent reference to the group’s fighters taking part in the war in neighboring Syria alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Members of the group comprised the majority of protesters outside the Bahraini Embassy in the Iraqi capital that was stormed this week in anger over Bahrain’s hosting of a U.S.-backed conference to promote peace between Arabs and Israelis. An official with the group denied they stormed the embassy.
Populist Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also welcomed the move by Abdul-Mahdi, saying his faction known as the Peace Brigades, or Saraya al-Salam in Arabic, would implement it. In a tweet, he described the decision as an important “first step” toward building a state, but he also expressed concern that the decision would not be implemented properly.