The PMF, Iran, And Recent Drone Strikes

On July 26th, concerning information broke out from an Iranian paramilitary group. On Monday of that week, a member group of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) claimed that two drone strike attacks at dawn targeted one of their ammunition depots. Interestingly, no group has claimed responsibility for the act. While Iraqi military officials have refrained from commenting, the United States-led military coalition against ISIS has claimed that they did not carry out any drone strikes in the Iraq-Syria region that week.

Overall the targeted group is not one of the hardline pro-Iran factions, however, this does raise some concerns about who was responsible for the strike, and the usage of drone strikes, in general, is always a subject that merits further investigation. Though to better understand this concerning recent development, the remainder of this article will be further delving into the implications of the drone strike, and the controversies surrounding drone strike usage in general.

To understand the concerning nature of the strike, it is important to first understand the PMF. The Popular Mobilization Forces was an initiative established by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in 2014 to combat the ever-growing threat of the Islamic State caliphate and made up of a conglomerate of around 50 volunteer paramilitary militias with different political interests. With the Sunni ISIS also threatening Iran, Iranian militias also make up a portion of the forces.

While the PMF is officially under the control of the Iraqi Prime Minister, the reality of the situation is a lot murkier. Following the defeat of ISIS, many of these militia groups have refused to disband or relinquish their hold over the areas they control. Furthermore, the Iranian-backed militias occasionally serve as regional warlords in Iraqi territory that serve the Iranian interests. Reports have also come out that many of these militias (while not necessarily Iranian) have also abused Sunni farming communities in the former ISIS territory that they’ve held.

As of 2019, the current Iraqi prime minister has begun taking steps to further integrate the PMF into the Iraqi military including issuing a mandate that by July 31st, 2019 PMF militias must integrate into the Iraqi military. While some Peace Brigades have largely been cooperative with the mandate, a fair amount of Iranian militias have outright rejected the mandate and have continued to operate independently.

As this naturally undermines the sovereignty and stability of the current Iraqi government, Paul Staniland, an international relations scholar, argues that the Iraqi government should treat the resistant Iranian militias as criminal gangs, and economically cut off the militias, to force the groups to disband. Staniland also warns against engaging the forces through armed conflict, as such action can not only further destabilize the fragile Iraqi government but also lead to a war with neighboring Iran. Considering that the group claiming to be targeted in Monday’s headline was not affiliated with any Iranian groups, that only makes Monday’s unclaimed attack even more puzzling. With no clear group responsible, it is difficult to suggest what actions should be taken in response to best garner peace.

Additionally, the use of drone strikes, in general, has been a topic of public outcry for the low accountability of the strategy and the tendency to kill disproportionately high amounts of civilian bystanders. While Monday’s attack was not near any civilian-populated areas, the lack of an immediate claim of who was responsible for the attack once again illustrates the low amount of accountability that is associated with the military tactic. Considering drone strikes’ capability to kill with little to no accountability, and its history of killing and injuring innocent bystanders, the use of drone strikes is not in the best interest of further promoting lasting global peace. 

Overall it would be fair to argue that Monday’s announcements are a concerning update for those interested in promoting world peace, considering the use of unclaimed military action in the Iraqi region and the nature of the tactic used to complete said military action. With that being said, as mentioned earlier, the lack of knowledge surrounding who was responsible for the attack makes prescribing an ideal response that promotes global peace incredibly difficult.

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