Thousands of members of the Iraqi People’s Mobilization Force (PMF) participated in the demonstration of tanks and rocket launchers, the largest military demonstration since the establishment of an umbrella organization composed mainly of Muslim Shia paramilitary groups.
Saturday’s event at a military base in Diyala Governorate in eastern Iraq marked the seventh anniversary of the PMF. The organization called for the armed forces to help defeat the Islamic State (Islamic State) in 2014. Established after armed. group.
At that time, ISIL occupied a third of Iraq’s territory, and PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi, played a key role in helping the US-backed Iraqi army defeat it in 2017.
The parade was held at the Ashraf camp and saw Russian-made tanks, ships and locally-made rocket launchers descend from a wide avenue. Iranian-made weapons, including drones, were also displayed at events broadcast on Iraq’s national television and attended by the country’s official commander-in-chief, Prime Minister Mustafa Kadimi.
al-Kadhimi said, “I respect the sacrifices made by you and the Iraqi armed forces in the fight against ISIL” and warned against any “sedition” within the PMF, but did not elaborate.
The establishment of PMF created a state-approved umbrella organization composed mainly of Muslim Shia militias backed by Iran.
Some experts believe that Iran’s pressure prompted the Iraqi government to incorporate PMF into the national security agency in 2016, which provided combatants with heavy weapons and important financial resources. In 2019 alone, the Iraqi national budget allocated US$2.16 billion for PMF.
In recent years, as the most powerful faction allied with Iran in the PMF, they have expanded their military, political and economic power and attacked the base of 2,500 US troops stationed in Iraq.
They have allies in parliament and government, and control a number of state institutions, including security agencies.
These factions are also accused of killing protesters who took to the streets at the end of 2019 to demand the replacement of the Iraqi ruling elite. These groups denied participating in the killings of radicals.
Interim Prime Minister Kadimi, who is friendly to the United States, tried to suppress the powerful factions backed by Iran, but with little success, because these militants are actually part of the country itself.
In May, the government arrested the leader of a PMF organization in Anbar Province and released him shortly afterwards without being charged.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan reported in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, calling the military parade “very controversial.”
“The prime minister does not want them to hold a march in Baghdad, they want to hold a march in Baghdad (in the international zone, called the green zone) because he thinks it will be Iran’s demonstration of power in Iraq,” Khan said.
Also participating in the parade were PMF troops and Yazidi militia, wearing white ceremonial uniforms, as well as Christian and Muslim Sunni groups.
The marchers also held a large poster of Abu Mahdi Mohandis, the top leader killed in a U.S. drone attack outside Baghdad Airport last year. The attack also killed Iran’s supreme commander, General Qassem Soleimani of the Holy City Brigade of the Revolutionary Guard. His killing almost pushed Iran and the United States into full-scale conflict.
However, although the PMF often waved the image of Soleimani and Mohandis on the paramilitary flags on both sides of the streets in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, the image of the Iranian general did not appear in the parade—it may be possible It is to show solidarity across sects of warriors.