Renad Mansour writes: Many of Iraq’s Shia are taking up arms to fight the self-proclaimed Islamic State. However, rather than enlisting with the Iraqi military via the Ministry of Defense (MOD), they are opting to join paramilitary groups under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF or al-Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic), which has become the single largest ground force combating Islamic State fighters in Iraq. Despite Human Rights Watch’s accusation that some groups under the umbrella, such as the Badr Brigades, League of the Righteous (Asaib ahl al-Haq), and Imam Ali Battalions are carrying out widespread and systematic human rights violations, the PMF has maintained its popularity and legitimacy among the Shia base. A recently published poll showed that 99 percent of Iraqi Shia support the PMF in its fight against the Islamic State.
As a consequence, the number of recruits rushing to enlist with the PMF is substantial. According to various claims from well-informed sources in Baghdad, more than 75 percent of men ages 18 to30 residing in the Shia provinces have signed up. Although most of these recruits are reservists who will not fight, the mere volume is indicative of the PMF’s support in that region.
The sheer extent of such numbers would typically indicate some form of conscription. However, there is no such formal mandatory recruitment in place. The PMF is merely guided by Ayatollah Sistani’s al-wajib al-kifai fatwa, which itself very carefully restricts recruitment to only as many as needed to combat the threat posed by the Islamic State. Yet, a PMF administrator in Najaf told the author that more than enough recruits have joined. They are having no trouble attracting members who come from a diverse set of social classes and geographic regions. According to him, the only distinguishable group that is not joining is university students. [Continue reading…]