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Will Iraqi government-PMU disputes spiral into armed clashes?

With the Islamic State nearly defeated in Iraqi cities, disputes between PMU-affiliated Shiite factions and the Iraqi government have surfaced, threatening future military clashes between them.
Iraqi fighters from Hashid Shaabi take part in a training at Makhmur camp in Iraq December 11, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem - RTX2UHUL
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With Iraqi forces close to achieving military victory against the Islamic State (IS) in its main Mosul strongholds, some heated disputes have arisen among Shiite factions bent on preserving their independence and large scope of involvement in security and political matters not only in Iraq but in the region. Several political parties have called for disbanding these forces and incorporating them into the official armed forces, because keeping the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) as a shadow force for the other Iraqi military forces would strengthen the PMU’s national and regional systemic role. Will these disputes turn into a military clash pitting the Shiite factions against the Iraqi government?

In a recent development in the dispute between the Iraqi government and PMU factions, Al-Hayat newspaper reported April 21 that some PMU factions — in collaboration with Lebanon’s Hezbollah — concluded a deal with the Qatari government under which Qatari hunters were freed in return for a ransom and Qatar’s pledge to pressure the Syrian opposition to lift the siege imposed on Shiite villages in Syria. This is regarded as a flagrant infringement on Iraq’s sovereignty. The hunters, some of whom are members of the Qatari ruling family, were abducted in southern Iraq by PMU-affiliated forces. Although some PMU-affiliated factions, such as Kata'ib Hezbollah and the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Brigade, were held responsible for the operation, the true affiliation of the kidnappers is yet to be confirmed. 

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