On June 8, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) held a military parade in the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. The parade marked the International Quds Day (Jerusalem Day). The Quds Day is an annual event held on the last Friday of Ramadan to express support for the Palestinians and oppose Zionism and Israel. It was initiated by Iran in 1979.
The PMU is a 90,000-strong coalition of predominantly Shia militias, which has actively particilated and is still participating in anti-ISIS operations of the Iraqi government. The PMU was established in 2014 and was officially incorporated into the Iraqi Armed Forces in December 2017. According to some experts, the PMU is the most capable military force in the coutry. The PMU and its leaders also have significant political influence.
For example, a political alliance led Muqtada al-Sadr achieved victory in the 2018 parliamental election, which took place in May. Al-Sadr is leader of the Peace Companies (Sarāyā al-Salām), which are a component of the PMU. Other PMU-linked politicians and groups also gained notable result in the election.
The PMU’s Quds Day military parade in Kirkuk is another sign of the group’s influence across Iraq. Over the last few years, the city and its oil-rich countryside used to be in hands of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and its US-backed military force known as Peshmerga. However, in 2017, the KRG made an unsuccessful attempt to establish an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. The KRG staged an independence referndum in the Kurdish autonomy and multiple other areas including, which were seized by Peshmerga during the war on ISIS.
The KRG’s referendum was held on 25 September 2017 triggering a large-scale political crisis and military tensions with the Federal Government. As a result of this crisis, the Iraqi Army and the PMU used a military option retaking Kirkuk and many other areas from Peshmerga. A de-facto military defeat and a split within KRG political factions put en end to the KRG’s attempts to create an independent state in northern Iraq in 2017 and forced Kurdish President Masoud Barzani to announce his intentions to resign. Despite this, the Barzani family remained in power. For example, Masrour Barzani, a son of Masoud Barzani, is Head of the KRG’s Security Council.
Currently, the PMU, PMU-affilated politicians and PMU-affilated humanitarian organizations are actively working in northern Iraq, especially in the areas formerly controlled by Peshmerga, thus expanding its influence there.
Pictures are collected by Dambiev (source):