The popular mobilization forces have been widely controversial in Iraq since their inception in June 2014. Public opinion has focused on the legitimacy of these irregular forces, their activities and the possible illegal killings committed by them in the fight against the Islamic State (IS).
In light of the dire need for these forces in the ongoing conflict on the one hand, and lapses in disciplined behavior among their ranks on the other, Iraqis remain conflicted about them.
Reports occasionally appear about violations and abuses by the mobilization forces on the battlefield and off it. At the same time, however, one cannot deny their contribution to hindering IS’ progress toward the central and southern areas of the country.
In addition, the forces have also recently made offensive advances against IS, improving their reputation in the public’s eye and in the Iraqi political arena.
The popular mobilization forces were formed after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa calling on all those able to take up arms and volunteer in the security forces in the fight against IS. The forces were to fall under the umbrella of the state’s security services and within its legal frameworks and practices.
In the course of events, however, some of these groups embarked on a different path, operating independently, outside judicial and governmental monitoring and supervision, somewhat along the lines of Iran’s Basij, which were founded in 1979 at the directive of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.