New Iraqi prime minister says military and militias will soon take on ISIS

Mustafa Al Kadhimi tells militia leaders supported by Tehran they will play a main role in coming offensive

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Iraq’s new Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi has said the military will soon begin a major offensive against ISIS and that militias backed by Iran will be part of the operation.

In an attempt to placate the pro-Iranian militias, Mr Al Kadhimi made the announcement during a visit to the Baghdad headquarters of the Popular Mobilisation Forces on Saturday.

Also known as the Hashed Al Shaabi, the PMF is an umbrella group of many militias in Iraq.

Mr Al Kadhimi had hinted they should eventually be disarmed unless they became totally subject to the country’s leadership as members of the military.

Most of the Hashed groups had indicated that they would not obstruct Mr Al Kadhimi’s reform drive.

The prime minister is a former intelligence chief supported by the US.

Hashed groups could still make or break his promise to restore the state and hold early elections after the previous government crushed a civil uprising demanding fundamental political change.

Mr Al Kadhimi said the military operation against ISIS would be widespread and aimed at preventing a resurgence of the group, “with a big role and with a fundamental participation of the Hashed".

“ISIS may be under the illusion that we are occupied with Cabinet formation and economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, and use it as an opportunity to expand," he said.

"They are wrong. We will soon launch the battle. ISIS, wait for us."

Among those attending was a representative of Kataib Hezbollah, whose leader, Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, was killed in a US drone strike along with Iranian Al Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani in Baghdad in January.

When Mr Al Kadhimi was nominated six weeks ago, Kataib Hezbollah accused him of helping the US to kill Suleimani and Al Muhandis, who was also de facto leader of the Hashed.

A photo of Al Muhandis was hung in the room where Mr Al Kadhimi spoke.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi walks with Head of the Popular Mobilization forces Faleh al-Fayyad during meeting in Baghdad, Iraq May 16, 2020. Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

In his address to the Hashed, he referred only to its “martyrs” who died fighting ISIS, and not those who fought for the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al Assad.

Mr Al Kadhimi said the Hashed was a “legal entity tied with the army”.

“The strength of the state depends on the harmony of its institutions, so we have to work together on the spirit of this harmony,” he said.

Several times he reminded the militia chiefs that they owed their moral stature to Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, a relative moderate who is Iraq’s highest Shiite authority.

Mr Al Sistani played a main role in forming the Hashed in 2014, when he issued a fatwa calling on Iraq’s Shiites to take up arms against extremists.

But the ideological allegiance of many of the most lethal factions in the Hashed leans towards the ruling clerics in Iran.

Several Hashed groups regard themselves as soldiers of Mr Al Sistani’s religious seminary in Najaf.

They were mostly powerless as more militant groups helped the previous government to crush the peaceful protests that broke out in October, shooting demonstrators and killing and abducting civil activists.