Sistani’s spokesman Ahmed al-Safi has also called for investigations and for firm measures to be taken against the perpetrators to deter similar incidents in the future. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has announced the formation of a committee to investigate the matter, charging that the perpetrators of such crimes are “outlaws serving specific agendas” seeking to divide Iraq.
Areas of Baghdad have not been immune to the alleged transgressions of the popular mobilization forces. Clashes erupted Jan. 31 in the Karrada district between Hezbollah brigades and fighters affiliated with other popular forces after disagreements following the kidnapping of the brigades’ secretary-general, Abbas al-Mohammedawi, by unknown parties.
That same day, Abadi declared five regions in Baghdad — Adhamiya, Karrada, Khadimiya, Mansour and Saydiya — demilitarized zones in an attempt to reduce violence in the capital. He also lifted the nighttime curfew that had been imposed for years on different areas of Baghdad.
Another measure that should be taken is bringing the popular mobilization forces under government control alongside the Iraqi army. This would help prevent illegal and irresponsible behavior and allow direct judicial action against violators, eliminating the need to form investigative committees after every alleged crime or incident.
In light of the struggle with IS, Iraqis are not yet willing to dissolve the irregular forces, but further indiscriminate acts of violence could further deepen the sectarian divide and strengthen IS, which feeds and thrives on such divisions.