Who's afraid of Iraq's Hashd?
This is an introduction to a commentary that was originally published on War on the Rocks on September 10, 2019.
Iraq’s successful military campaign against the self-proclaimed Islamic State between 2014 and 2017 was made possible in part by people’s mobilization, known as al-Hashd al-Sha’abi or Popular Mobilization Forces. This entity was made up of largely Shi’a but also Sunni, Christian, and Yazidi armed groups.
"As these forces rolled back the Islamic State, they also sought to become more influential in the political and economic sphere."
But as these forces rolled back the Islamic State, they also sought to become more influential in the political and economic sphere, challenging the authority of the Iraqi government, particularly those Hashd groups tied to Iran. After much debate, earlier this summer, Faleh al-Fayyadh — the head of the Popular Mobilization Forces — reported to Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi that all Hashd economic offices throughout Iraq had been closed. It was a direct response to the prime minister’s decree that ordered full integration of the Hashd into the state’s security apparatus. The decree was nudged along by Friday sermons of representatives of Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani — who views the growing influence of a number of Hashd groups on Iraqi governance as problematic — as well as by American diplomatic pressure to restrain Hashd groups tied to Iran as tensions with Iran itself escalate.
"It is critical to remember that these groups also retain a measure of autonomy."
Nevertheless, the Hashd remains a long way from being meaningfully integrated into Iraq’s security architecture. Our detailed studies of seven Hashd groups show that the organization has become increasingly dominated by its Shi’a core that is tied to Iran, especially the Badr Corps, Asaib ahl al-Haq and Kataib Hizballah. The strength of the link with Iran varies by group and is based on personal, political, religious, and/or material motives. However, as Douglas Ollivant and Erica Gaston discussed in these pages earlier this year, it is critical to remember that these groups also retain a measure of autonomy. Since its inception in 2014, the Hashd has also gained more and more agency as an institution.
Read the full commentary.