Thousands of Iraqi militia fighters' contracts restored ahead of crunch election

Thousands of Iraqi militia fighters' contracts restored ahead of crunch election
The move to bring 30,000 Popular Mobilisation Forces militia members back into the fold comes less than a month before the nation's parliamentary elections.
3 min read
14 September, 2021
Falih Al-Fayyadh revealed the Monday move at a press conference [Getty]

The Iraqi government  has agreed to restore the contracts of 30,000 salaried militia fighters, ahead of the country's crunch 10 October parliamentary elections.

It follows the dismissal of tens of thousands of Iraqi fighters from the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a coalition of Iran-linked militias following the defeat of the Islamic State group in Iraq. 

The state's move, given the go-ahead on Monday, was revealed by Falih Al-Fayyadh, an ex-national security chief and now leader of the PMF, at a press conference.

The organisation is predominantly composed of pro-Iran and Shia Muslim militia groups and since its 2014 creation has been a key player in Baghdad's fight against the Islamic State group.

The 30,000 gunmen previously had their contracts cancelled and then reinstated after uproar, according to Al-Fayyadh.

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"By way of apology, we confirm that the authority has made efforts over the past month to return our sons whose contracts with the Popular Mobilisation Forces were terminated," he said.

"The authority, per its capabilities, has made several proposals to resolve the cancelled contracts issue, and so we were able to gain approval to absorb 30,000 people within the allocations available to the authority."

The plan increases the number of salaried PMF members by over 20 percent, making it over 167,000 strong.

The Iraqi government has faced pressure from high-level militia and political figures over the cancelled PMF contracts.

AFP's Arabic service also reported here have repeatedly been demonstrations in Baghdad connected to the issue.

Iran-backed Asaib Ahl Al-Haq ("League of the Righteous") chief Qais Al-Khazali tweeted his thanks for Monday's move.

"We appreciate all the sincere efforts that have been made to secure this justice, and we ask Allah that this is a new beginning in terms of restoring the rights of all whose rights were denied."

Despite this, not everyone was pleased.

Alliance Towards Reforms MP Mohammed Al-Ghazi said the resumption of the PMF contracts should not have an impact on voters' intentions during the election.

"The decision to return [the fighters to the PMF] should have come earlier, so that it would not be used as electoral propaganda,"  he told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, although he said "the decision [itself] is correct".

"We hope that it will not be exploited electorally."

Between 2015 and 2018, 30,000 PMF fighters did not have their contracts renewed, according to AFP.

Failure to be at work during the required hours was reportedly one justification for those who lost their jobs in the PMF.

The group was initially formed following IS' takeover of the north of Iraq and which threatened the capital Baghdad, and played a key role in fighting the group.

However, PMF factions have been accused of gross human rights abuses and of serving as an Iranian proxy in Iraq.

Baghdad has been keen to reduce Iraqi military influence in October's election and sacked a number of army officers this week for supplying escorts to political candidates during electoral campaigns.