Iraqi paramilitaries and Iran-backed factions stage parade in Iraq, World News
Iraqi paramilitary fighters, including Iran-backed factions, marched through a military base in eastern Iraq on Saturday. The parade featured tanks and rocket launchers. It was their biggest official parade to date. The event was attended by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
The event marked seven years since the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) were formed to fight the Sunni Muslim extremist group ISIS.
“I esteem your sacrifices, and the sacrifices of the Iraqi armed forces” in the fight against ISIS, Kadhimi said, warning against any “sedition” within the PMF, but without elaborating.
The PMF establishment has created a state-sanctioned umbrella organization made up mostly of Iran-backed Shiite militias.
The Iranian-backed factions are the most powerful in the PMF. After the defeat of the Islamic State in 2017, these factions extended their military, political and economic power. They also carried out attacks on bases that house the remaining 2,500 US forces in Iraq.
They have allies in parliament and government and sway over certain organs of state, including security institutions.
These factions are also accused of killing protesters who took to the streets in late 2019 to demand the removal of the Iraqi ruling elite. The groups deny any involvement in the killings of activists.
Kadhimi, a pro-US interim prime minister, attempted to crack down on Iran’s most powerful factions, but was unsuccessful due to their military strength and political influence.
The membership of Iran-aligned groups in the PMF has made it difficult for Kadhimi and the state security forces to control the power of the militias, as they are effectively part of the state itself.
On Saturday, Kadhimi watched, flanked by militia commanders, as hundreds of armored vehicles passed a banner of the late PMF military leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iran-backed commander who was killed during the an American drone strike last year.
The parade, a display of military might, took place on a base once occupied by US troops near the border with Iran.
The PMF was formed in 2014 after senior Iraqi Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged all able-bodied Iraqis to take up arms against Islamic State, which had seized a third of Iraq.
(With contributions from agencies)