Signs in Basra extol Shi'ite groups, fallen in the war on ISIS and Iranian leaders
A trip to Basra by Dave McAvoy reveals the extent of imagery lining roads showing different figures from Iraq's Shi'ite political parties and their respective organization, including armed groups that fought ISIS under the banner of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). These overlapping formations are now part of the government as the Fatah Alliance, coming in second in the 2018 elections. They also continue to be an armed group as the PMU has become an official government paramilitary group, playing an extensive role around the country.
At the recent Sulaimani Forum the issue of the role of the PMU was brought up several times. Referred to by its Arabic name Hashd al-Shaabi, the group is praised in some sectors as a pillar of society. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has defended it as the hope and future of the country and the region. However Ammar al-Hakeem said "All armed forces in Iraq must be under one system and command and must not have political affiliations or be involved in politics.” Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi seeks to "honor and contain" the PMU.
With rising tensions between the US and Iran forces like this play an important role. The US Treasury designated Harakat al-Nujaba under its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as a group under its Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN). This is one of many groups connected to the PMU. Other groups in the PMU, such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq have been increasingly outspoken in opposing the US presence.
Basra, a scene of protests in 2018 where some rioters ransacked offices connected to PMU-affiliates, is festooned with billboards praising the PMU. Many PMU fighters came from Basra, but the power of these groups has stoked resentment, especially as government services have failed while the PMU and its parties seem to enjoy benefits.
Billboards show Badr Organization leader Hadi al-Amiri. He is also head of the Fatah Alliance. The poster shows him next to Grand Ayatollah Sistani, whose fatwa in 2014 led to the formation of the PMU, and Ayatollah Khamanei of Iran. This show the clear link between the PMU leadership and Iran. Amiri served alongside the IRGC in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war.
Another poster shows members of the al-Khorasani Brigades (Saraya al-Khorasani also Talia al-Khorasani) with images of their fallen from the war on ISIS. This unit is closely linked to Iran.