Sistani’s Militias Split From Iraqi Government Control

Militias will form a new umbrella organization overseen from Najaf

Four Iraqi militia factions loyal to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani have withdrawn from the government-run Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and will be forming a new umbrella organization directly tied to Sistani.

The PMF incorporates Shi’ite militias, and was formed at Sistani’s behest to provide help for the ISIS War. Since then, there has been some pushback at the militias’ power as part of the military. The government has also tried to sideline them to reduce their political power ahead of the June election.

The existing PMF includes a number of politically influential militias, mostly aligned to parties that have support from Iran. This is part of why the US has tended to oppose the militias as Iranian proxies, though it is oversimplifying things to claim these groups are directly run from Iran.

The new group will be calling itself the Mobilization of Holy Shrines, and will be commanded, at least in part, by religious authorities in Najaf. This group commands about 15,000 fighters now.

Being connected to Sistani makes these groups virtually untouchable for the government, as the Grand Ayatollah is hugely influential with the Shi’ite majority. It’s not clear if they plan anything in particular, or if they are just forming an alternate group because this allows them to ignore moves on the PMF.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.