As more Iraqi territory has been freed the government has run into a growing problem, how to secure it all. Most of the local police fled when the Islamic State conquered northern and western Iraq in 2014. Baghdad never rebuilt most of these forces due to a lack of planning and money. That led to ad hoc solutions, one of which was the tribal and local Hashd. These units are small and disparate, and usually linked to tribes, politicians and parties seeking political and economic power. In Anbar and Ninewa these forces have run into increasing problems, undermining security in the process.
In Anbar province there are various tribal Hashd forces in each major town and city. In total, they employ around 25,000 men at arms. These tribal forces are not officially part of the Hashd. Many of their leaders have talked about becoming part of the ISF, but that hasn’t happened. In Haditha for example, there are two different units. Ramadi has several different ones mostly based upon the neighborhoods. In Fallujah, the Albu Issa tribe controls the security forces. Each one of these groups wants to get paid by the government, and receive pensions and weapons. Some want to get involved in reconstruction, and the money that comes along with it. Baghdad for example, has contacted an American security firm to control the main highway through Anbar. Different Hashd units wanted that job. A senior tribal Hashd member told Niqash that many of the forces are corrupt, while another complained they didn’t always take orders from the government. These various units are lightly armed so they can’t really fight the insurgency, but only do holding duties. They lack the training to carry out police work. Yet, in many areas they are the only security available. When so many different forces are put together with no real plan, no command and control, led by sheikhs and politicians this is the inevitable result. Ninewa is facing a very similar situation.
There are around 30 different Hashd units in Ninewa. Some of these are run by politicians like ex-Governor Atheel Nujafi’s Ninewa Guards. Others are based upon political parties like the Ninewa Plains Protection Units connected to the Assyrian Democratic Movement. Others are tribal. The Ninewa government would rather have the police, but just as in Anbar, Baghdad didn’t make any plans for their reconstitution, and is only just now talking about re-instating some while trying to create a brand new force that could take years. That has left most of the province and Mosul to these local forces. Again, there is no coordination between them, and many are in open competition with each other. There are various stories of them taking part in crimes as well. Ninewa councilman Hassan al-Sabawi blamed Hashd units for robberies, kidnappings and killing people in Mosul. Outside the city, tribal Hashd have been accused of extra-judicial killings of captured Islamic State suspects. In the Qaraqosh district, the Ninewa Plains Protection Unit arrested six members of the Babylon Brigades on charges of stealing artifacts. They were turned over to the local police. The Babylon Brigades then stormed the Ninewa Plains headquarters, took their weapons and vehicles, and freed their six brethren. Prime Minister Haidar Abadi then ordered the Brigade to leave the area. The Babylon unit denied this story, but it was reported in several media outlets. These 30 different groups do not work with each other, which could easily be exploited by the insurgency. Many have political aspirations to rule their towns and districts. A Ninewa councilman and a Hashd commander each called the situation “chaotic” because of its ad hoc nature.
The Iraqi government went on the offensive against the Islamic State without making any political or security plans for the future. That has led to this hodgepodge of tribal and local Hashd units in Anbar and Ninewa. Obviously, some type of holding force was necessary after IS was expelled, but since then there has been no strategy for what to do with them. No overarching system has been put in place to bring the various units under any type of unified command or even get them to cooperate with each other or the Iraqi forces in many cases. The revenge killings that took place in Ninewa after the liberation of Mosul may also undermine security in the long run. The political and economic desires of the leaders of these groups also means they want to turn their armed forces into power and money. That has led to low level criminality, and could lead to corruption if they get reconstruction contracts. Needless to say Baghdad’s failure to think long-term has led to this situation, and there appears no attempt to resolve it either.
Al-Ayash, Kamal, “Patchwork Of Loyalties: Anbar’s Tribal Militias Grow Larger, But Powerless And Divided,” Niqash, 8/15/17
Iraq Newspaper, “Iraqi Newspaper Reporter: Fierce Battles Between Armed Christian Factions In The Ninewa Plain,” 7/15/17
- “Iraqi Newspaper Reporter In Mosul: The Expulsion Of The Babylon Brigades From Mosul Over Stealing Antiquities,” 7/16/17
Al Mada, “Abadi intends to re-structure the popular crowd and amend its law to end the rebellion of some factions,” 7/8/17
- “Fear of reprisals drives the families of Mosul to tell about their children,” 8/15/17
- “Mosul after two weeks of liberation: We warn of the dangers of Daash in the desert of Anbar,” 7/27/17
- “Ninewa is perplexed by 30 tribal groups holding liberated lands,” 7/21/17
Salloum, Saad, “Armed disputes reveal Iraqi Christians’ discord,” Al Monitor, 8/15/17