After Fighting ISIS, Iranian-Backed Militias Seek Political Power in Iraq

Iraqi Shiite militias that helped Baghdad oust Islamic State—some of which are loyal to Iran—now want to translate battlefield gains into greater political power in parliamentary elections scheduled for spring.

Several powerful paramilitary groups have pledged over the past two weeks to surrender control of their arms and fighters to the Iraqi government. Iraqi law forbids militia members from engaging in political activity.

“Now we do politics,” said Naim al-Aboudi, a spokesman for one of the militias, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, which is backed by Iran. “Dissolving the military wing is a step to preserve and protect the clout of the government and security forces.”…

The militias—known collectively as the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces—nevertheless gained strength, capturing territory and becoming revered among many Iraqis. They now have about 140,000 members. …

The militias are now seeking to politically challenge Mr. Abadi, who is backed by the U.S. in his bid for re-election. The largest bloc in parliament nominates the prime minister, who must then win the backing of two-thirds of the 328-member assembly.

Mr. Abadi is seeking to curb the militias’ influence in politics. But his options are limited, especially when it comes to the older, more powerful militias, many of which have close ties with Iran.

“There’s no putting the Hashd back in its box,” said Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies. “It’s such a slippery, ephemeral thing that trying to keep the Hashd out of politics is basically impossible.”

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