- Abadi’s decree is likely intended to appease the United States and its Gulf allies, demonstrating a commitment to containing the influence of Iran-backed Shia militias in Iraq.
- The decree is unlikely to prevent Iran-backed groups from participating in the 2018 general election, not least through support for affiliated, but formally resigned, former members.
- The risk of a sustained Shia-Shia conflict remains low. A second fatwa, or religious decree, by the Najaf-based Ayatollah Sistani calling for a demobilisation of the militias would be a game-changer, however, forcing Iran-aligned groups to either accept Sistani’s authority or to outright align with Iran at a time of heightened Iraqi nationalism.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on 1 November that political parties participating in the parliamentary elections must not have armed wings.
Abadi proclaimed in his announcement that there must be “clear separation” between political and armed groups. The statement came days after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on 22 October that Iranian-backed Shia militias “must go home”. The US fears – in our assessment, correctly – that these groups now seek to translate their military successes in defeating the Islamic State into greater political representation in the Iraqi federal government.
Impact on Hashd al-Shaabi
Abadi’s decree does not present a major obstacle to Iranian-backed paramilitary groups expanding their political influence. Abadi lacks the political capital to implement the decree; nearly all Iraqi political parties have affiliated armed groups, including Iran’s rival and Abadi’s ally of convenience Muqtada al-Sadr. The spokesperson for the Iran-backed Badr Organisation, Karim al-Nouri, said on 1 November that pre-existing political organisations that joined the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation Units, in 2014 to protect the homeland from the Islamic State would not be banned from electoral participation. Badr’s gesture indicates that this had already been agreed upon, most likely with Abadi himself.
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