Iranian-backed Shia militias inside Iraq, once viewed by many Iraqis as saviors who helped the country defeat the Islamic State, are destabilizing Iraq’s infant and fragile government and creating additional tension between Baghdad and Washington.
There was a brief sigh of relief when an Iraqi government was finally formed in September. It took five months of wrangling after a national election in May. But the militias, more commonly known as Hashd al-Shaabi, or Population Mobilization Forces (PMUs), Iran’s major weapon in Iraq, are shattering this tenuous national unity and becoming a divisive force in a country that just last month seemed optimistically moving toward reconciliation.
A stalemate has emerged over Iraq’s next interior minister, who will presumably be responsible for the militias. Iranian loyalists who control the militias insist that their candidate, Faleh al-Fayyad, now the official head of the PMUs, become the next interior minister. Less-partisan Iraqi leaders disagree. Approximately sixty militias are under the PMUs, which were established in 2014 to fight the Islamic State. Many are loyal to Tehran.
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