Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is Commander in Chief of the Iraqi Armed Forces, issued a decree on March 8th that would grant all Hashdt al-Shaabi or PMF (Popular Mobilization Forces) militia members the same benefits as members of the Iraqi armed forces. Also, they would receive the same pay as military members under the Ministry of Defense. It continued to declare that PMF members would be subject to laws regarding Iraq’s military and be allowed to attend military colleges and institutions alongside Iraq military members. Currently the Hashdt al-Shaabi forces are capable of mobilizing and controlling 60,000 to 140,000 members at any given time.
The PMF is comprised of multiple Shia militias that are primarily employed by Iraq and supported by Iran through arms and funding. They were instrumental in the takeover of Kirkuk this past October where the Kurdish Peshmerga were forced to retreat effectively losing the city and it’s inherent oil reserves. It was originally formed to combat the Islamic State in June of 2014 but has since been employed by Iraqi government as a general purpose proxy force while simultaneously continuing the anti-ISIS mission. The PMF while adequately effective in its role, for the most part is a rag tag collection of poorly trained fighters and devote Shiite Muslims who view the “Sunni” ISIS forces as a sworn enemy.
Iraq’s parliament approved the law to turn the PMF into a separate and legal military branch back in November but is finally landing on the desks of Iraqi lawmakers. The bill was originally boycotted by the Sunni minority members of parliament but saw an overwhelming amount of support from the Shia blocs; not to anyone’s surprise. The objections were based on the belief that no militant force should exist outside of the standing Iraqi army and police force. The bill has been dubbed the, “Law of Command of Hashid al-Shaabi and other Armed Groups,” and the Ministry of Finance would provide monthly payments to the PMF fighters.
Iraq is clearly bolstering its military forces now that the Islamic State threat has been contained, Recently Iraq purchased a large order of Russian T-90 main battle tanks as well as M1 Abrams prior to that. They have expressed interest in acquiring S-400 anti-air missile defense systems, from Russia, as well in the future. How far this will go will be determined by international communities tolerance for a modernized Iraq, something that has not been seen since the heyday of Saddam Hussein and his regime.