What future for Iraq’s PMU?

Number: 37

Mona Alami

The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units has recently completed its transformation from a loose coalition of militant group groups to a semi state actor, entrenched in Iraqi state institutions thanks to the large victory of a number of its leaders in the recent Iraqi elections under the label of the Fateh Coalition. The PMU emerged in 2014, when it conglomerated a number of substate armed groups under the banner of the Hashd al-Shaabi at the behest of then prime minister, Nouri Malikial-Maliki and after a call by the country’s highest Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, to fight the escalating terror of the so-called caliphate. The emergence of this new non-state armed actor in a country were sectarian rivalries are historically high and where power centers are traditionally weak triggered a large debate within the think tank world, with many experts labeling the PMU as an Iranian proxy. However, this report will show that while a segment of the PMU falls within Iran’s larger regional security program, a Hezbollization as a whole of the PMU will represent a challenge for Iran due to local Iraqi dynamics, the financial and ideological independence and new found pragmatism shown by influential Iraqi figures and the competition within the pro-Iran militant groups. Based on series of interviews with PMU commanders in Iraq and local and international experts, this report will look at the evolution of the PMU and the impact of its integration within the state apparatus.