U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s call for Iranian-sponsored militia forces in Iraq to be disbanded drew angry reactions from leaders of Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.). Qais al-Khazali, the head of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, said Washington should immediately withdraw its troops from the Arab country as soon as the fight against the Islamic State is over. “The Foreign Minister of America: You must withdraw [U.S.] military forces from our country Iraq after the end of the pretext of the presence of Daesh [Islamic State], immediately and without any delays,” he tweeted. Separately, Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the Badr Organization, another Iranian-backed unit within the P.M.F., said “no one welcomes his trip to Baghdad” and called on Tillerson to apologize for making “irresponsible statements” against the paramilitary forces. P.M.F. Spokesman Ahmad al-Asadi said Tillerson’s allegations that there are “Iranian militias” in Iraq are “baseless.”
Comment: Speaking in Riyadh just before departing for Baghdad, Tillerson had told reporters that it was time for “Iranian militias” to “go home” as the war against the Islamic State was “coming to a close.” The P.M.F. is a coalition of predominantly Iraqi Shiite militia groups but also include units from other Iraqi ethnic and religious groups. The most powerful Shiite units such as the Badr Organization, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Harakat al-Nujaba, have close ties with Tehran.
During his meeting with Tillerson, however, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi defended the P.M.F., stressing that they are not Iranian proxies and are “ an official institution within the state.” Last November, Iraq’s parliament approved a law legalizing the P.M.F. as separate military corps – a decision some Sunni Iraqi politicians and lawmakers derided as a Shiite “dictatorship.” But while the P.M.F. is now an integral part of the Iraqi armed forces, some P.M.F. units still receive their guidance from Iran’s Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani rather than the Iraqi government.
With the Islamic State in Iraq on the brink of collapse, Iranian-supported P.M.F. commanders have dialed up anti-American propaganda. They often accuse the U.S. military of supporting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and call for American troops to leave the region. Iranian leaders also are pressuring the Baghdad govenrment not to dissolve the P.M.F. and "expel" U.S. troops after the fight against the Islamic State is over.