THERE are reports from Iraq about PMU (Popular Mobilization Units). These reports claim that the PMU (militias somewhat affiliated with the Iraqi security) may be experiencing serious ideological and personal disagreements among its factions and there is the possibility of a split. It is a mix of ideological differences and rivalry for power. The units were formed after a call by Ayatollah al Sistani in 2014 immediately following the fall of Mosul to ISIS. The goal was to protect Baghdad and the area that remained outside ISIS. After the defeat of the Caliphate, the PMU remained well-armed and active, even after the Iraqi Army managed to recover and restructure.
THEY note that one faction of the PMU follows the highest Shi’a theologian in the world, Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, who has always opposed the idea of an Iranian style theocracy led by a Supreme Leader. Another faction is closer to an Iranian view. The reports claim that the former faction prefers to focus on internal Iraqi affairs, while the latter has a broader scope for its focus.
HISTORICALLY, Iraqi political groups and parties have always been riven with disputes and infighting between factions, based on divergent ideas and/or individual rivalry. They have often split along these lines. Even the Baath Party, which ruled Iraq with an iron fist for decades experienced such factionalism, several times. The Baath underwent several purges, each one bloodier than the preceding ones. This intense political rivalry also occurred early after 2003, when the mostly Shi’a opposition groups felt safe enough to come above ground and come home from exile.
So, if true, there is nothing new there in terms of usual Iraqi politics. But the implications for the American presence and the depth of Iranian ties can be important.
M Haider Ghuloum