Popular Mobilization Force / Hashd al-Shaabi (Iraq)

Country: Iraq
Details of Formation: Prime Minister al-Maliki created the Popular Mobilization Force (PMF) in response to the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State in June 2014. He called, supported by a fatwa (religious edict) of the supreme Shi’a religious cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, for volunteers to join existing and new Shia militias, which were grouped into the newly founded PMF umbrella PGM.
Details of Termination: The PMF was still active and pro-government in 2017 (Carnegie 2017).
Purpose: The main purpose of the PMF is to fight the Islamic State (Amnesty International). They were successful in fulfilling this purpose. The PGM was founded in the context of the failure of the regular Iraqi security apparatus. The PMF is considered more efficient and more reliable than the regular army. Maliki also used the PMF against political opposition. One of the reasons why Prime Minister Abadi accepted the PGM was that the army was no longer able to protect holy sites, while the PMF could.
Organisation: According to media reports, the PMF is headed by National Security Advisor, Falah Fayyad. It is administered by the Popular Mobilization Commission (PMC) which is a government body (Amnesty International 2017). The Commission is directly attached to the Prime Minister’s office. However, real power over the Commission lies with the Ministry of Interior, which is managed by the Badr Organization. The Commission is led by Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis and Hadi al-Ameri, both members of the pro-Khamenei faction. They are in control of the funds and indirectly of the number of volunteers in the PMF; Prime Minister Abadi has de facto no control over the funds. Abadi had to accept the status quo of the PMF because the army remained weak and the PMF enjoyed a very large public support. By becoming part of the PMF, militias gained legitimacy and could operate in public with full state funding (Carnegie 2017).
Weapons and Training: The PMF receives weapons from the government, according to a decision of the Council of Ministers on 30 September 2014. The Iraqi state directly supplied or funded the supply of weapons. ´The PGM also obtained weapons by individual purchase, or directly from Iran. The PMF is equipped with small arms and light and heavy weaponry. This includes Kalashnikov rifles, bolt-action rifles, precision rifles, heavy machine guns, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, recoilless weapons, RPG-7 projectiles, artillery guns, battle tanks, anti-tank weapons and 107mm caliber rockets (Amnesty International 2017). According to a news source, the USA provided material and equipment to selected PMF elements. Some PMF groups are better equipped than the Iraqi army.
Size: There are no official statistics on the size of the PMF. However, it is estimated that 40 to 50 militias participate in the umbrella PGM (Amnesty International 2017). In 2014, group size was somewhat over 60,000 members, with some sources estimating a membership of up to 140,000 (Carnegie 2017). In 2016, there were, according to different sources, between 110,000 to 142,000 fighters in the PMF (Amnesty International 2017, Carnegie 2017). There are more volunteers than the PGM has capacity to accept, so many recruits remain inactive and are not officially listed as active fighters. The roughly subgroups vary in size from a few hundreds to tens of thousands of members each (Carnegie 2017).
Reason for Membership: Many fighters were motivated by the fatwa issued by Sistani as they wanted to fulfill what they perceived to be their religious duty. The fatwa had transformed the PMF into a sacred institution and it enjoyed almost complete support within the Shia population. A large proportion of the (Shia) population then volunteered for membership. Other reasons for membership were that conscription was easier and faster than for regular forces, and that the PMF seemed to be the more efficient and less corrupt fighting force, having better equipment than the military. Shia Turkmen joined the PMF in a quest for increasing their autonomy relative to the Kurds and to counter those having joined the IS (Carnegie 2017). The PMF recruited child soldiers (Amnesty International 2017); it is not clear whether they used coercion to that end.
Treatment of Civilians: The PMF committed war crimes and other violations of human rights, mainly against Sunni Arabs. These included extrajudicial executions. Sunni men and boys were regularly subjected to torture and ill-treatment at installations controlled by the PMF. This includes cases of beating with cables and metal rods. They deliberately destroyed civilian homes and other property. They made thousands of men and boys forcibly disappear. The PMF actively recruited children and used them in their force, including as fighters on the frontline. The PMF have so far enjoyed total impunity in their actions (Amnesty International 2017). Maliki also actively used the PMF to attack civilian protesters (Carnegie 2017).
Other Information: The PMF is also known as Popular Mobilization Units or Hashd Shaabi. The PMF is an umbrella PGM that includes other PGMs such as the Badr Brigades, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq or the Peace Brigades (Amnesty International 2017). The Peace Brigades sometimes claim to be part of the PMF, and sometimes not. There are three distinct factions in the PMF: Those pledging allegiances to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and to Muqtada al-Sadr. The umbrella PGM contains many diverse groups, and most Iraqis can relate to one of them. The volunteers include Iraqi Christians, Sunni Arabs and Shia Turkmen. The PGM is very popular among the population (Carnegie 2017).
References: Amnesty International. 2017. “Iraq: Turning a Blind Eye: The Arming of the Popular Mobilization Units.” AI Index: MDE 14/5386/2017.

Carnegie Middle East Center. 2017. “The Popular Mobilization Forces and Iraq’s Future.” April 28. https://carnegie-mec.org/2017/04/28/popular-mobilization-forces-and-iraq-s-future-pub-68810

Information was taken from news sources listed in the PGMD