Iraqi militia chief says it will take two months to fully integrate into state forces

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi issued a decree to curb the powers of influential Iranian-backed militias

epa06144382 Members of Iraqi Shiite militia Imam Ali Brigades, which belongs to Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces, take rest during a live ammunition training exercise in Najaf city, southern Iraq, 14 August 2017.  Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared that Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces will continue to battle the Islamic State group (IS) and will take part in Tal-Afar battle despite from calls to prevent Shiite militias from participating in the battle.  EPA/KHIDER ABBAS

Iraq's militias require two months to fully integrate into the military after an order issued by the country's prime minister, Falih Al Fayyadh, the chairman of their umbrella group, said on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi issued a decree earlier this month to curb the powers of influential Iranian-backed Shiite militias, which was seen as a political move aimed at reassuring the United States.

The militias fall under the umbrella of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a collection of mostly Shiite militias that fought ISIS and were incorporated into the Iraqi armed forces in 2016.

“As instructed, the offices of the Popular Mobilisation Forces will shut down across the country,” Mr Fayyadh said during a press conference.

“The process will take two months to complete and will be in favour of the forces,” he said.

Mr Al Fayyadh said that he has completed a structure that is consistent with the orders announced by the premier.

Mr Abdul Mahdi has set a tight deadline of July 31 for the militias to comply, but the government will have to take the decree's enforcement seriously if it is to have any effect.

In a decree a few weeks ago, Mr Abdul Mahdi said the offices of the militias that operate independently within or outside Iraqi cities will be closed and any armed factions working “openly or secretly” against the new guidelines will be considered illegal.

The militias, which helped Iraqi and US-led international coalition forces drive out ISIS have a broad influence in Iraqi politics.

Together, they number more than 140,000 fighters, and while they fall under the authority of Iraq’s prime minister, the PMF’s top heads are politically aligned with Iran.

Washington has been pushing Baghdad to rein in the Iranian-backed paramilitary group, which it says poses a threat to US interests in Iraq.

Fears have escalated that Iraq could be a potential arena for violent regional confrontation between Washington and Tehran because of the presence of the militias that have been reportedly operating in close proximity to military bases hosting US forces.

Several unclaimed attacks on bases in Iraq that are hosting US forces and on a site used by a US energy firm were carried out last month. Local officials blamed the militias for one of the incidents, but Iran has not commented.

Tensions between the two comes after the imposition of US sanctions on Tehran last year because of its nuclear activities and a series of attacks against tankers in the Gulf that Washington blames on Iran.