Iraqi PM Integrates Terrorist-Led Militias Into Army, Boosting Iran’s Influence in Country

Aug 02
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The Tower
Monday, 1 August 20186

Iraq’s prime minister officially incorporated the Iran-backed, terrorist-led Popular Mobilization Front (PMF) into his nation’s armed forces, cementing Tehran’s influence in the country, the Long War Journal reported on Thursday.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi decided to incorporate the PMF as an “independent military formation” within the Iraqi army in February, according to an official government document called Office Order 91, which was just made public.

The PMF was established two years ago after Iraqi clerics called on citizens to take up arms in support of the Iraqi military and police forces, which had been overwhelmed by the Islamic State. Established militias, including many that are backed by Iran and previously fought against U.S. and British forces in Iraq, answered the call and became the core group within the PMF.

According to Office Order 91, the PMF will report directly to the “general commander of the armed forces,” which is the Iraqi prime minister. Despite being incorporated into Iraq’s military forces, Office Order 91 specifies that the PMF will retain its “staff, brigades, and members.” For example, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis kept his status as operations leader for the PMF, now with government approval. Muhandis was listed as a specially designated global terrorist by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2009.

Even though the PMF claim to be non-sectarian, “its brigades have been accused of razing Sunni towns and have even threatened Christians in Baghdad,” the Journal noted. Human Rights Watch called on Iraq’s government on Sunday to ban PMF groups with records of “summary killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and the destruction of homes” from the government’s operations in Mosul.

Despite these concerns, al-Abadi effectively cemented the PMF as a parallel military organization similar to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), with which it has extensive ties. While not all militias within the PMF answer to Iran, top PMF commanders have publicly spoken of their admiration for Iran’s supreme leader and the chief of the IRGC’s elite Qods Force, and “the network backed by IRGC has the most sizable, experienced, strongest, organized, trained, and funded militias,” the Journal wrote. “The experiences of the IRGC in Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon serve as precedents for how this Iraqi network can expand its influence.”

Office Order 91 will thus “[institutionalize] Tehran’s influence in the country,” the Journal observed.

In I Saw the U.S. Hand Iraq Over to the Iranians. Is the Whole Region Next?, which was published in the February 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine, Michael Pregent described how Iran gained a foothold in Iraq.

Iranian-backed Shia militias changed the demographics of Baghdad by targeting and killing charismatic Sunni leaders throughout the city. Sunni men of military age were rounded up and executed, with one left alive to tell the story to other Sunnis. These extra-judicial killings were often conducted by uniformed security forces with vehicles from the ministries of health and transportation. These ministries were headed by members of the Badr Corps, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and the OMS—all militant Shia groups.

In effect, American fear of a Ba’athist return to power allowed Iran to become the guarantor that Baghdad would remain in Shia hands—or, more accurately, Shia who were friendly toward Iran.

There was little we could do to stop this process. I was part of several efforts to curb sectarian violence and Iranian influence in Iraq. At one point, I was tasked with identifying sectarian Shia figures in the government’s security and intelligence apparatus. We developed a list of the top 50 sectarian actors in Iraq and soon realized that removing them from their positions would essentially require the overthrow of the Iraqi government.

Over the past two months, Secretary of State John Kerry has embraced a new role as the personal lobbyist of the Iranian government. Tehran expressed displeasure with the speed at which investors are entering the Iranian market since international sanctions were lifted last January. Fearing that this will prompt the Islamic Republic to abandon last summer’s nuclear deal, Secretary Kerry met with banks and businesses to assuage their concerns about partnering with Iran.

Many experts have noted that investing in Iran comes with a high risk of financial crime, including money laundering and terrorist financing. Indeed, Secretary Kerry seems to be persuading businesses to take substantial financial risk for the Obama Administration’s political agenda. Iran actively works to undermine US security goals in the region, further adding to the irony of doing business with the Islamic Republic.

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However, perhaps most concerning are the implications of Secretary Kerry’s actions for the future of the Iranian people. Left to play by the rules of international free trade, Tehran may have incentives to reform its oppressive and dysfunctional regime in order to attract foreign business. This would drastically improve the quality of life for Iranian citizens.

As it is, many characteristics of the Iranian domestic economy and government are problematic for investors and Iranian citizens alike. In 2015, Iran was ranked 130 of 168 countries for corruption according to Transparency International. Unemployment is high (almost 12%), as is inflation (7.4%), which was 16% as recently as June 2015.

Key institutions that facilitate prosperity remain weak. For instance, the Heritage Foundation gave Iran a 10 on a 1-100 scale measuring the security of property rights, a key facilitator of economic development. According to the organization, this score means that “private property is rarely protected, and almost all property belongs to the state.”

The World Bank Group ranked Iran just under the fifth percentile for regulatory quality, 35th percentile for control of corruption, 14th percentile for the rule of law, and 17th on political stability and absence of violence. Civil liberties are very weak. The country is ranked just 169 of 176 for overall economic freedom and 118 of 189 for the ease of doing business. Finally, Iran is the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism and is known for laundering money to terrorist networks in the region.

These statistics paint a bleak picture both for international investors and Iranian citizens. If the Islamic Republic wants to attract foreign business, it needs to become more appealing to business. Foreign investment and trade can serve as a free market incentive for the country to tackle corruption, crack down on money laundering, facilitate open markets, ensure individual rights, and uphold a just legal code.

Iranians deserve a government that upholds their individual rights. A recent editorial in the New York Times pleaded with the public not to let Iran’s progress in scaling back its nuclear weapons program go to waste. However, at this point, the ball is in Iran’s court. If Iran wants to profit, it must play by the rules that dictate free trade. It will have to make internal improvements and work to attract business. Giving Iran special trade preference will cost American investors, as well as 77 million Iranians who deserve a better society.

Opening Iran to the global market can be a win-win situation for the citizens of Iran and businesses around the world. However, this will only occur if private investors are primarily concerned with the profitability and economic opportunity of working with Iranian counterparts. Bending to the political agenda of the Obama administration will obscure the potential benefits on both ends.

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