A stall in fighting has prompted Iranian-backed militias sieging Fallujah to threaten mutiny.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, leader of Iraq’s Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) and a U.S. designated terrorist, threatened Sunday that his forces would enter the city “if necessary.” Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and their coalition finished encircling the city Tuesday, but Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered a halt of the invasion June 1 out of concern for the approximately 50,000 civilians still in Fallujah. Muhandis’s threat flies in the face of the Iraqi government’s explicit orders that PMUs not enter the city.
“Despite this progress, the Popular Mobilization has grown increasingly dissatisfied with the pace of the operations in Fallujah,” wrote Emily Anagnostos and her team at the Institute for the Study of War in a report. “Popular Mobilization militias may try to force the acceleration of the campaign and enter the city themselves, as has likely been their ambition all along.”
Abadi has attempted to whitewash the role PMUs and their Iranian backers are playing in the Fallujah siege, despite ample evidence both are heavily involved. War crime allegations against the PMUs in previous battles against Islamic State — including murder, kidnapping and torture — are likely the main reason for the order. The Shia PMUs tend to view Sunni residents of former ISIS-held territories as collaborators. The units are reported to have already taken as many as 600 prisoners, many of whom have been tortured and killed, since the siege began over two weeks ago.
“Shiite militias want to punish Fallujah for continued [Islamic State] attacks on Shiite areas in and around Baghdad. Abadi is powerless to stop the IRGC-backed Shiite militias,” said Mike Pregent, a Hudson Institute adjunct fellow who specializes in Iraq, to The Washington Post. The IRGC, or Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is an Iranian paramilitary group responsible for funding and training insurgents and terrorists abroad.
Reports of disagreements between the ISF, PMUs and other groups have already hampered the potential for the Fallujah invasion to restart, giving Muhandis and his PMUs even more cause for a unilateral invasion that could lead to the deaths of hundreds of civilians.
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