Skip to main content

Comparing Iraq's Shiite forces to Iran's Basij

While the circumstances of Iran's Basij and Iraq's Popular Mobilization Units share similarities, there were differences in the domestic politics of the countries during the formation of these groups.
Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) forces allied with Iraqi forces chant slogans against the Islamic State in Tikrit March 30, 2015. Iraqi security forces continued their offensive against Islamic State militants on the outskirts of Tikrit on Monday, in an operation slowed by bombs and booby traps. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani - RTR4VI58

Iranian officials and Shiite authorities in Najaf reacted in June 2014 to the rapid advances of the Islamic State (IS) and its conquest of Iraqi cities by quickly organizing paramilitary forces. The Quds Force of Iran led by Qasem Soleimani quickly established dozens of paramilitary groups, mostly Shiite ones, to prevent IS from further expanding its forces. And during the past three months, the Shiite paramilitary forces, alongside the Iraqi army, started a series of offensive operations and managed to take back certain important cities. including Ramadi and Tikrit.

However, defeating the IS forces in Iraq is only a short-term goal for these Iran-led Shiite groups. They have negotiated with, and have put political pressure on, the Iraqi government to buy themselves legitimacy. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi officially announced that Hashid Shaabi Popular Mobilization Units) “is an official political party and a pillar of the Iraqi government.” Therefore, a budget has been allocated for Hashid Shaabi in the 2015 Iraqi budget. Hashid Shaabi forces number between 60,000 and 90,000.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 for annual access.