Iranian, Iraqi Ayatollahs Vie for Control Over Iraqi Shi’ite Militias

US assassination of PMF leader leaves open a gap in power

Last month, the US assassinated Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of the government-controlled Shi’ite militias in Iraq, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). This has left open questions about who is running the PMF, and who is their primary ally.

Muhandis was assassinated alongside Iranian Gen. Qasem Suleimani. It was clear Iran was closer to the PMF at the time. This hugely impactful attack has everyone in Iraq doing soul-searching about the future, and many are looking to cut ties with foreign powers.

PMF factions that were already primarily allied with Iraqi religious leaders, like Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, are arguing for more Iraqi autonomy, while Iran’s clergy are pushing for the PMF to be a Shi’ite force backing regional religious interests, not just Iraqis.

These two groups aren’t violently opposed to one another, and there probably is some middle ground that will ultimately be reached. In the meantime, however, there is ongoing effort to take the lead over the most militias.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of