As the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant surged into Iraq in the summer of 2014, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on Iraqis to volunteer to protect their country. From this initiative emerged the Popular Mobilization Forces, which were largely organized by pro-Iran and Iranian-supported militias.
Subsequent efforts to place these forces under the command of the Iraqi government failed, and many PMF units forged a command relationship with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the PMF deputy commander, and Qassim Soleimani, Iranian Quds Force commander. While the PMF initially gained widespread popular support among Shias for its role in defeating ISIL, the killing of Suleimani and Muhandis in January and the withdrawal of units associated with Sistani from the PMF in April opened new questions about the future of the PMF and its relationship with both the Iraqi government and Iran.
What does the loss of the PMF’s two most influential figures mean for the future leadership of these forces? Will the new Iraqi government be able to establish effective control over the PMF or will Iran continue its operational domination? Will growing popular discontent with the PMF lead to clashes with the Iraqi army and police?
Ali Alfoneh, Senior Fellow, AGSIW
Michael Knights, Senior Fellow, The Washington Institute
Amb. Rend Al-Rahim, Co-Founder and President, Iraq Foundation
Amb. Douglas A. Silliman, President, AGSIW