Iraq's Iran-backed PMF militia flaunts drones ahead of seventh anniversary parades

Iraq's Iran-backed PMF militia flaunts drones ahead of seventh anniversary parades
Video shared by PMF-linked Telegram channels showed a procession of military vehicles at a rehearsal for a large-scale parade to take place in the next few weeks.
3 min read
15 June, 2021
A fighter of Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces stands guard next to a wall showing the group's logo outside their headquarters in the capital Baghdad on June 13, 2021. [Photo by Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP via Getty Images]

Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an Iran-backed paramilitary group, showed off new aerial weaponry on Sunday ahead of a parade marking seven years since it was formed.

Video shared by PMF-linked Telegram channels on June 13 showed a procession of military vehicles topped by drones  in a rehearsal for a large-scale parade to take place in the next few weeks.

The Intelligence Directorate of al-Hashd al-Shabi or the PMF unveils at least 2 types of drones. This is part of PMF units and directorates' preparation for a big military parade later this month.

— Hamdi Malik, PhD. (@HamdiAMalik) June 13, 2021

Posts on social media by PMF supporters used images of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the paramilitary group’s deputy leader killed in a US drone strike close to Baghdad International Airport in January 2020.

A few months before his death, Muhandis issued an order for the PMF to form an air defence unit, but his superior, Falih al-Fayyadh, denied the very next day that the paramilitary force was creating an air force.

The PMF was founded after a fatwa was issued by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader for Iraq’s Shias.

He asked young men to step up to fight the Islamic State (IS), the extremist group which tore through Syria, then Iraq in the summer of 2014. The PMF fought alongside the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish Peshmerga to defeat IS in Iraq. The IS group was declared territorially defeated at the end of 2017, however the PMF continues to fight alongside Iraqi and Kurdish forces to extinguish what is left of IS in the country.

On Monday, Iraqi prime minster Mustafa al-Kadhimi praised Sistani’s call, saying IS were a “terrorist monster that would have terrified the world”.

However, the PMF are widely suspected of having committed crimes against civilians in western Iraq, including the forced disappearances of hundreds of Sunni men from the western province of Anbar in 2015.

Factions of the PMF have attacked foreign military and diplomatic sites, particularly those with a US presence, across Iraq. The method of attack has shifted sharply in recent months, from rockets to explosive-laden drones. One such attack took place on Monday, with a base close to Baghdad’s airport struck using a drone, though no casualties or damages were reported. 

Its notoriety has grown since Iraq’s popular protest movement, which began in October 2019.

PMF militiamen have been responsible for some of the hundreds of civilian deaths since the start of the protests. When senior commander Qasem Muslih was arrested on suspicion of killing prominent Iraqi activist Ihab al-Wazni, PMF forces surrounded Baghdad’s Green Zone, where the government and foreign embassies are based; a few days later, a senior Iraqi intelligence officer was assassinated in the heavily fortified Baladiyat area of eastern Baghdad. Muslih was released less than two weeks after his arrest.

Muslih’s release was followed a few hours later by a visit to Baghdad from Iranian general Esmail Qaani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. Qaani visited the Iraqi capital once again on Sunday, his second visit in the space of a week.