Pro-Iran Hashd units selected Muhammadawi to be new Hashd leader without consulting with other groups (Al Alam)
Pro-Iran groups appointed Abdul Aziz al-Muhammadawi aka Abu Fadak from Kataib Hezbollah as the new chief of staff of the Hashd. Reportedly he needs to be confirmed by either retired Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi or Mohammed Allawi after his cabinet is voted upon. This move highlighted the growing divisions within the Hashd after the death of Abu Muhandis who helped unify those loyal to Tehran and worked to marginalize the others.
In February, Abdul Aziz Muhammadawi was selected to replace Abu Muhandis. Muhammadawi was the secretary general of Kataib Hezbollah the same group Muhandis came from. He took part in the war against the Islamic State, as well as attacks upon the on-going anti-government protests and the demonstration outside the American embassy in Baghdad. A special committee of pro-Iran Hashd leaders from Kataib Hezbollah, Badr, Jund al-Imam Brigades, Sayid al-Shuhada Brigades, and Asaib Ahl Al-Haq picked Muhammadawi. This brought immediate protests from four Hashd units loyal to Najaf, the Al-Abbas Combat Division, Ali Akbar Brigade, Imam Ali Division, and the Ansar Marjaiya Brigade. They said they were not informed of the committee, and had no say in its choice. It doesn’t appear Moqtada al-Sadr was involved as well because he was vying to name Muhandis’ successor as well. There have been several reports that those tied to Tehran have been facing growing divisions over who would take the place of Muhandis. He and Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force Commander General Qasim Suleimani were dominant personalities on the Iraqi scene, organizing the different factions and keeping them in line with Iran’s policies. Getting the various groups behind Muhammadawi must have taken a lot of lobbying. It will be seen whether he can be as effective as Muhandis.
Another issue is that this decision showed that the pro-Iran groups were determined to hold onto the Hashd Commission to the detriment of the pro-Najaf forces. Middle East Eye for instance, reported that Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was pushing parties loyal to the religious establishment to play a larger role in the Commission and gain top positions. A Sistani representative and the leaders of the Al-Abbas Combat Division, the Imam Ali Division, the Ansar al-Marjaiya Brigade, and the Ali Akbar Brigade had a meeting with the Hashd Commission head Falah Fayad and demanded high ranking offices. Their exclusion from the choice of Muhammadawi showed that they still don’t have a say, and are still being marginalized by Tehran’s allies. Can they exert enough influence to be named to other spots in the Hashd hierarchy? The situation within the Hashd are still in flux so there is still opportunity there. This could become a major competition between Najaf and Tehran depending upon how much Sistani decides to get involved.
Al Aalem, “Has the Iranian decision at Qom meeting between Sadr and the factions collapsed?” 1/28/20
Ahmed, Hassan Ali, “Iran struggles to regain control of post-Soleimani PMU,” Al Monitor, 2/23/20
Al Hurra, “Iraq … Differences within the popular crowd after the appointment of Khalifa al-Muhandis,” 2/22/20
Middle East Monitor, “Iraq’s PMF appoints new deputy head as successor to Al-Muhandis,” 2/21/20
Mosimann, Ysmine, “Hashd al-Shaabi appoints successor to slain deputy commander al-Muhandis,” Rudaw, 2/22/20
Al-Salhy, Suadad, “Iran and Najaf struggle for control over Hashd al-Shaabi after Muhandis’s killing,” Middle East Eye, 2/16/20
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