The Iraqi parliament voted to fully legalize the Shiite militia groups aligned under the banner of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and bring them under government control.
The legislation, passed by 327 to 208, places the 100,000 men of the PMU under the personal command of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
He welcomed the legislation, adding the force will “will represent and defend all Iraqis, wherever they are.”
The new law defines them as “an auxiliary and supporting force for the Iraqi security forces.” Previously they were semi-independent bodies under the control of the “PMU Commission” which was technically answerable to the Prime Minister.
Sunni politicians opposed the passage of the bill which they said strengthened Shiite “dictatorship.” Osama al-Nujaifi, one of Iraq’s three vice-presidents and a Sunni, warned the move risked weakening the government by empowering a sectarian fighting force.
“The majority does not have the right to determine the fate of everyone else.” he said. “There should be genuine political inclusion. This law must be revised.”
The abuses by Shiite militias were documented by Amnesty International in its report Absolute Impunity: Militia Rule in Iraq.
Many of the militia groups now in the PMU were formed fighting against the United States in the insurgency which followed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. They were grouped together after Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani declared a jihad against the Islamic State and called on able-bodied Shiite men to take up arms and fight. Iran has supported various militia groups within the PMU with “intelligence, advisors, logistics, and weapons” via the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Lebanese Hezbollah.
Currently the groups are fighting against the Islamic State in the campaign to recapture Iraq’s second city of Mosul.
For more information about Iran’s support of Shiite militia groups, see Clarion Project’s Fact Sheet: Iranian Regional Hegemony.