BAGHDAD — Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a decree on Thursday formalizing the inclusion of mostly Shi’a paramilitary groups in the country’s security forces.
According to the decree, members of the militias, an assortment of militia groups known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), will be granted many of the same rights as members the military.
Paramilitary members will be given equivalent salaries to those members of the military under the Ministry of Defense’s control, the decree said. They will also be subject to the laws of military service and will gain access to military institutes and colleges.
The decree had been expected for some time and comes two months ahead of a high-stakes general election. The PMF commands popular support among Iraq’s majority Shi’a population and is expected to sway voters.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis heeded a call to arms in 2014 after ISIS seized a third of the country’s territory, forming the PMF. The paramilitaries supported Iraq’s military in ejecting ISIS from areas the militant extremists overran in 2014, when Iraqi military and police divisions deserted en masse.
Iraq declared victory over the militants in December, but the militias, estimated to comprise more than 60,000 fighters, are still deployed in many of the predominantly Sunni areas which saw heavy fighting during the three-year war to oust ISIS.
Iraq’s parliament passed a law in 2016 to bring the PMF into the state apparatus, with the militias reporting directly to the prime minister.