|PM Mahdi tries to rein in the Hashd again (AFP)|
July 1, 2019 Prime Minister Adil Mahdi issued executive order No. 37 that the Hashd had to be more fully integrated as part of the Iraqi forces. It said that the Hashd were part of the security forces and had to follow its rules and the orders of the commander in chief. Individual names of brigades could no longer be used, and they could not be linked to any political parties. The individual units have until July 31 to comply. Those that don’t cannot carry weapons anymore.
The order came after Mahdi issued a statement on June 17 that armed groups cannot act independently of the state after six attacks that month aimed at bases and camps that housed American forces and oil personnel and an Iraqi petroleum field. At the end of June the Wall Street Journal also reported that a drone that hit a Saudi pipeline in May was launched from southern Iraq. The incidents were likely done by Iran backed groups as a response to the Trump administration’s confrontational stance with Tehran. Over the years Iran has always responded asymmetrically to U.S. policy. It was sending a message that it has assets in Iraq that can target Americans. These groups originate within the Hashd, which was why Mahdi made his declaration and executive order.
The Iraqi government has struggled with what to do with the Hashd now that the war against the Islamic State has ended. Premier Haidar al-Abadi made the Hashd part of the security forces and created a commission to oversee it in 2018. There was no real attempt to put it under government control however. Individual units answered to their commanders or political parties, various groups ran checkpoints across post-conflict areas extorting money along roads and highways, the larger organizations moved into business, and the commission was run by pro-Iran officials who favored those groups over others. Many units also participated in the 2018 elections and became a major force with the Fatah list despite it being illegal for the Iraqi forces to take part. These groups are simply following the model set by their predecessors the early militias and Iraq’s political parties to exploit their position for their own gain. Abadi’s order simply gave the Hashd official standing and access to government funding, while maintaining their independence. Mahdi’s move is just another attempt to reign the Hashd in, but will likely have little effect as well.
That point was shown by Asaib Ahl Al-Haq (AAH) leader Qais Khazali who praised Mahdi’s decision. Khazali said that this was a step to make the Hashd more professional and stable part of the Iraqi forces, and that attempts to dissolve or merge the Hashd into the army and police had failed. He also said this was a step for the Hashd to receive more support from the government. AAH is one of the older militias that joined the Hashd in 2014 when Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa for people to protect the country against the Islamic State. It has acted as an Iranian proxy by attacking American forces in Iraq and sending men to fight in Syria for the Assad regime, and is part of the Fatah Alliance in parliament. If a figure like Khazali backed the premier’s order and sees it as an opportunity it is unlikely to achieve Mahdi’s goals. For instance, Khazali did not say he was separating himself from his units or that Asaib would no longer be involved in the government. AAH has used the Hashd to enhance its position rather than to advance the state, and it and the other groups will continue to do so despite Mahdi’s stance.
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