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A New Iraqi Government and the Future of the Popular Mobilization Forces
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

Jun 10, 2020 10:30 AM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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Ali Alfoneh
Senior Fellow @AGSIW
Ali Alfoneh is a senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. He is the author of Iran Unveiled: How the Revolutionary Guards is Transforming Iran from Theocracy into Military Dictatorship. Alfoneh grew up in Tehran, but moved to Denmark with his family in 1988. He served as an elected member of the Herlev City Council from 1994-98 (Social Democrats). Alfoneh worked as a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute from 2007-13 and as a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies from 2013-16. Since 2016, he has worked as the main Iran analyst for The Arab Weekly, and he is a nonresident senior fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council. He holds a BA and an MA from the University of Copenhagen. Alfoneh’s current research on political succession in contemporary Iran is generously funded by the Smith Richardson Foundation.
Michael Knights
Senior Fellow @The Washington Institute
Michael Knights is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute, specializing in the military and security affairs of Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and the Gulf Arab states. He has traveled widely in Iraq, Yemen, and the Gulf states, and regularly briefs U.S. government policymakers, congressional committees, and U.S. military officers on regional security affairs. He has worked extensively with local military and security agencies on the ground in Iraq, the Gulf states, and Yemen. Knights has undertaken exhaustive research on lessons learned from U.S. military operations in the Gulf during and since 1990. He earned his PhD from the Department of War Studies, King's College London, and later worked as the head of analysis for a range of security and oil companies, directing information-collection teams in Iraq, Libya, and Yemen. He previously worked as a defense journalist for the Gulf States Newsletter and Jane's Intelligence Review.
Amb. Rend Al-Rahim
Co-Founder and President @Iraq Foundation
Amb. Rend Al-Rahim is co-founder and president of the Iraq Foundation. Al-Rahim travels to Iraq regularly to provide training to members of the Iraqi Parliament and civic leaders and to strengthen cooperation with multiple stakeholders. From November 2003 to March 2005 she joined the Iraqi diplomatic service, serving as Iraq’s chief of mission to the United States. In this capacity she represented Iraq before the government of the United States and the U.S. Congress, multinational organizations such as the World Bank, and the international media. Al-Rahim is the co-author, with Graham Fuller, of The Arab Shi’a: Forgotten Muslims, published in 1999 by St. Martin’s Press, in addition to articles and op-ed pieces in numerous publications. Al-Rahim currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Iraq Initiative at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. She holds a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of Cambridge and an M.A. from the University of the Sorbonne.