Follow-Up and Correctives on Hashd al-Sha’bi Article

By Sylvain Mercadier and Elijah Magnier

After the publication of my article “The militias in Iraq, from popular mobilization to political interference”, Al Rai chief international correspondent and analyst Elijah Magnier commented on the article and provided some additional observations that either supplement or contradict some information presented in it. The following are points provided by Mr. Magnier, with some responses of mine, as well.

1) Organizations such as the Abbas Division and the Ali al-Akhbar Brigade were directly funded and equipped by Sistani himself and not by the Iraqi Army. Now they will merge with the Interior Ministry.

2) A common mistake: Badr, Nujaba’, Asaeb, Hezbollah Iraq… all fought under Hashd flag but never disintegrated within (considered part of Iraq security forces). These kept their own parties and organizations and will detach themselves when ISIS is defeated.

3) The Peace Brigade (Saraya al-Salam) Sadrist movement is not part of Hashd and is based (north of Baghdad) in Samaraa only (Baghdad and south of Iraq).

4) All PMU do not exceed 40-50k.

Mr. Magnier and myself have had an exchange to clarify these questions, which constitute either nuances or discrepancies with data provided by available studies. It is worth mentioning that Mr. Magnier has more than 30 years of experience as a war zone correspondent and in political analysis and risk assessment. Furthermore, he enjoys a close relationship with numerous high-ranked Iraqi Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish personalities and spent over ten years in Iraq.

As I said, there are divergent or conflicting evidence in some of the sources I used in my research and what Mr. Magnier stated.

1) The MERI report that I relied upon specifically claims that Abbas Division and Ali al-Akhbar Brigade are funded by the Iraqi army. Mr. Magnier, who is in regular contact with the Marja’iya (highest religious authority in Iraq), including with Sayed Ahmad al-Safi, the representative of the Marja’iya (the Shiite religious establishment of Iraq) at al-Abbas Shrine in Karbala, was able to confirm to us that the Marja’iya had directly funded and armed the two militias affiliated with Ayatollah Sistani and that the Iraqi army did not play a role in equipping them.

2) In our exchange, Mr. Magnier stressed that the few of the pro-Iranian militias have joined the Hashd al-Sha’bi in 2014 with the aim of fighting the Islamic State (IS) group, but that large portions of these militias (that were all formed prior to the Hashd al-Sha’bi) have kept most of their men outside of the Hashd today. It seems that most of the soldiers that joined the Hashd were instructed to do so by their leadership, but were also attracted by the better salaries and social security that was proposed to them as well as the need for the leadership of these militias to gain legitimacy in their military actions in Iraq. But the independence of these militias remains untouched today and they have indeed refused to merge with the PMU.

3) In my and Araz’s research, we found evidence that conflicts with some of Mr. Magnier’s opinions. Several sources (MERI report, March 2017, p. 21; and more recently a RISE foundation report, Dec. 2017, p.15) claim that Saraya al-Salam (previously known as Jaish al-Mahdi) is part of the Hashd al-Sha’bi and has men operating in Mosul. Mr. Magnier is adamant that these claims are not accurate. He has obtained on-the-ground evidence that Saraya al-Salam’s field of operation does not extend further than Samarra, Baghdad (al-Sadr city), and the south of Iraq (all southern cities including Najaf, Karbala, Diwaniyeh, Amara, Basra, etc.) where it is engaged in securing the holy shrines of Shia Islam. However, Saraya al-Salam, under the leadership of Muqtada al-Sadr and those who have declared loyalty to the Sadr family, exist in every single city of Iraq. The bulk of the force is based in Samarra.

4) The PMU receive on a yearly basis a budget from the Prime Minister for 45,000 fighters, no more. The Prime Minister’s office confirmed this to me. The previous budget established by the former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was above the real estimate when no real organization was put in place in the first months of the creation of the PMU. The euphoric panic of the IS advance made the Iraqi government less careful about the real figures of the PMU. When Abadi took over, the numbers were significantly reduced to 45,000. Furthermore, the numbers today are even less than 40,000 due to over 6,000-7,000 killed among the PMU and many more wounded. Finally, families of Iraqi martyrs and wounded fighters are paid by another department.

Comments (5)

Robin Morritt said:

The MERI report “… analyses the negative role the PMF may play …”

The RISE Foundation report “is based on more than 165 interviews”.

MERI is based in Irbil, RISE also somewhere in the Kurdish Region of Iraq.

My advice is to tell these people to go home and get a proper job like working in a care home. They are just making matters worse.

When the Iraqi army was routed by Islamic State, and the International Coalition hid in fear, Ali Sistani called up the Hash’d Al Shaabi to stop IS in its tracks – which they did.

MERI is not there to do anything to help Iraqis. Quite the opposite. There is a desire in Western capitals to tarnish the heroism and self sacrifice of tens of thousands of Iraqis who turned out to save their country from an unimaginably horrible fate. MERI are doing what they are paid to do, in this case by creatively writing a hatchet piece about future imaginary wrongs of the PMU.

Ergo, they should go home and find something useful to do. But they won’t, because it doesn’t pay so well and they don’t get showered with honours.

And while I’m at it, we aren’t just giving these people a veil of legitimacy by elevating their opinions to the same level as Elijah, who knows a thousand times more than they will ever know; we also shadow ban Elijah on Twitter. How’s that for utter hypocrisy?

February 16th, 2018, 4:54 pm


ALAN said:

Behold we,people of Afrin, as you see have not broken down! and turned as a teeth of comb. and our heroism is proved once again
Putin demonstrated himself as an enemy of the Kurds to the whole world
and if this Kremlin idiot thinks again to test the patience of the Pentagon, then his end will come

February 24th, 2018, 5:29 am


Ghufran said:

Not just Putin but also Trump who realized that placing all eggs in the Kurds basket is dangerous when there is Turkish fox waiting in anger.

February 26th, 2018, 10:38 pm


Bala subramani.C said:

Please stop the fight and save the siriya children please stop the child war please ssss

March 1st, 2018, 4:02 pm


ALAN said:

Where is my last comment here about Trump money laundering through Turkey?
Removing the comment is a cowardly action
Yes, I am a Kurd from Afrin. Yes, the laundering of Mr. Trump’s money through Turkey is the reason for the complicity of the American administration in favor of Turkey against the Kurds. and now donald Trump just surrendered to al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria for no good reason at all. meanwhile Turkey is providing US weapons and support to the al-Qaeda forces in Afrin. Turkey has admitted it is taking territory in Syria. That’s the “war of aggression” a well recognized war crime. 1,800 Jihadists arrived in Turkey; from Afghanistan-Pakistan-Caucasus area gather in Turkey and accompanied by the MIT (Turkish secret service) to the border to fight against the Kurds.
The Congress silence on the atrocities in Afrin means that America already betrayed itself & US will live with this shame for a 100 years. All the ghosts of al-Qaeda’s victims on 911 should fill the dreams of the US commanders who remain silent in the face of these atrocities ’till madness drives them to end it.

March 10th, 2018, 4:59 am


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