Thousands of members of Iraq’s People’s Mobilization Forces (PMF) have marched in a parade with tanks and rocket launchers, in the largest demonstration of military power since the founding of the umbrella organization of mostly Muslim Shiite paramilitary groups. .
Saturday’s event at a military base in eastern Iraq’s Diyala province marked the seventh anniversary of the PMF’s formation, established following a 2014 call to arms by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to help defeat the ISIL (ISIS) armed group.
At the time, ISIL had a third of Iraqi territory and the PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi, was critical of helping the U.S.-backed Iraqi army defeat it in 2017.
The parade, held at the Ashraf camp, saw Russian-made tanks, locally made ships and rocket launchers go down a wide track. Iranian-made weapons, including drones, were also on display during the event, which aired on Iraqi state television and was attended by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, officially the country’s commander-in-chief.
“I appreciate your sacrifices and the sacrifices of the Iraqi armed forces” in the fight against ISIL, al-Kadhimi said, warning against any “sedition” within the PMF, but without detailing it.
The establishment of the PMF created a state-sanctioned umbrella organization of Muslim Shiite militias, with the support of Iran.
Some experts argue that it was Iranian pressure that prompted the Iraqi government to incorporate the PMF into the state security apparatus in 2016, a measure that provided the fighters with heavy weapons and significant financial resources. In 2019 alone, the PMF received $ 2.16 million from the Iraqi state budget.
In recent years, factions aligned with Iran, which are the most powerful in the PMF, have expanded their military, political, and economic power and attacked the bases that house the remaining 2,500 U.S. forces in Iraq.
They have allies in parliament and government and control some state bodies, including security institutions.
These factions are also accused of killing protesters who took to the streets in late 2019 demanding the elimination of Iraq’s ruling elite. Groups deny involvement in activist killings.
Al-Kadhimi, the interim prime minister who is a friend of the United States, has tried to repress powerful factions backed by Iran, but without much success, as the fighters are effectively part of the state itself.
In May, the government arrested the leader of a PMF group in Anbar province, before releasing him shortly afterwards without charge.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, an informant for the Iraqi capital Baghdad, described the parade as “incredibly controversial.”
“The prime minister did not want them in Baghdad, which is where they wanted to hold this parade (in the international zone, known as the Green Zone) because he thought it would be a sign of Iranian power within Iraq itself,” Khan said.
PMF units with Yazidi militiamen, who paraded in their ceremonial white robes, as well as Sunni Christian and Muslim groups also took part in the parade.
Protesters also held large posters of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, one of the leading leaders killed in a US drone strike last year in front of Baghdad airport. The strike also killed Iran’s top commander, General Qassem Soleimani, of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard, whose assassination was about to push Iran and the United States into full conflict.
However, although FAQs often mark the image of Soleimani along with that of al-Muhandis on paramilitary banners lining the streets of Baghdad and other places in Iraq, images of the Iranian general were absent from the parade, probably an attempt to project the transverse unit. of the combatants.