A new report claims that Iraq's Al-Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces) is seen as a component that lacks legitimacy by the Iraqi people and a unit that might fan the flames of sectarianism in the country.
Entitled "A New Controversial Actor in Post-ISIS Iraq: Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi," and published by the Ankara-based think tank Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM) on May 25, the report examines and evaluates the importance of al-Hashd al-Shaabi in the political agenda of Iraq, along with the future of the units for the country's sectarian balance.
Al-Hashd al-Shaabi was established in 2014 following a fatwa by Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani for fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
Calling the role of Iran in the establishment of the forces as indispensable, the report stresses that Iranian influence foreshadows the legitimacy and the mission of these forces. The report says, "It is well-known that the Sunni Arabs regard al-Hashd al-Shaabi negatively, due to Iran's influence. Even though some Sunnis have joined al-Hashd al-Shaabi, most factions other than the Shiites consider Iran's influence in Iraq as an 'invasion,'" and adds that the positioning of Qasim Suleimani, commander of the Quds Army of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps in the operations, is evidence of Iranian influence over these forces.
The report also says that some militia groups within al-Hashd al-Shaabi, such as Liwa Assadullah Galip, were established in order to protect the sacred Shiite sites in Syria and fight for Bashar Assad.
Underlining the fact that Sunnis in Iraq are far from being represented in al-Hashd al-Shaabi, though some Sunni units take part, the study claims that Sunnis have even been forced to join these forces. It says that "It is questionable that these tribes act for all Sunnis and they have a representative quality. In addition, the lack of leadership hinders the ability of Sunnis to act in union. Therefore, it is hard for al-Hashd al-Shaabi to gain legitimacy among Sunnis, and for convincing the majority, if not the whole, of the Sunnis about this issue." The study asserts that even Shiites have shown their discontent over some of the behavior exhibited by the militias and raised complaints.
Pointing to the danger that al-Hashd al-Shaabi might try to be employed by the Iraqi government as soldiers or policemen within the state after the elimination of ISIS, the report says, "The re-emergence of the militia groups weakens the legitimacy of the Iraqi government. The fact that the government prefers militia groups for security, rather than security institutions such as police and military, will damage the institutional character of the state."
Recommending the lessening of Iran's influence on these forces to help it gain legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people, the report also says that "comprehensive and realistic policies are needed to address the Sunnis' general and local problems and that are related to the Sunnis' political integration, local rights and demands."