Both authors would like to thank MERI for facilitating the research.
The rapid rise of the Islamic State (IS)1 in Iraq — which saw the capture of major Iraqi cities such as Mosul, Tikrit and Fallujah and culminated with IS declaring its caliphate in the summer of 2014 — caught the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) unprepared, to the extent that at one point Baghdad itself was within IS's grasp.2 As a response to this existential threat, Iraq's most senior religious cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued an edict for all able-bodied men to join the ISF and help protect the homeland, its people and the holy shrines. Although Sistani's fatwa was based on principles of national unity, rather than any call for a religious jihad, the end result has been more divisive than unifying.3 The ISF suffered from a credibility problem following its collapse in the north, as well as a lack of capacity to absorb a large number of new volunteers on short notice.4 As a result, a plethora of substate armed groups rapidly emerged and congealed under the banner of the Hashd al-Shaabi (HS), or the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Some groups were newly established, others remobilized in response to Sistani's call, and others still were already active on the request of then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and used the fatwa for legitimization.
The PMF has proven to be an invaluable force in the fight against IS and played a pivotal role in preventing its further territorial gains. Estimated between 100,000 and 152,000 fighters, the PMF in conjunction with the ISF, the Kurdish Peshmerga and the International Coalition's air support has done much to stop the IS advance and bring it to the brink of defeat.5 However, questions concerning the impact of the PMF on Iraq's unity and the functioning of the state have remained unanswered. Despite the passage of a new law to recognize the PMF as a legal government entity, it still embodies many different ideologies, some of which counter or dilute loyalty to a unified Iraqi state.6
With IS nearing its territorial defeat, the time has come to address the repercussions of its rise — the prominent role the PMF now has in Iraqi society being one of the most dangerous elements that need to be countered. This article aims to briefly highlight the danger the PMF poses to Iraqi unity, before going on to argue for the best way to counteract this threat within the current political dynamics of Iraq. In the context of this article, Iraqi unity refers to preventing Iraq from failing as a state and fragmenting into small ethnoreligious territories. It requires the different communities to opt for cooperation rather than competition with one another and for the government to develop an inclusive system of governance based on citizenship and respect for the human rights of all groups.
Instead of one overriding ideology, a range of groupings exist within the PMF. Some, such as the Abbas Division and the Ali al-Akbar Brigade, were established in response to Sistani's call and are closely aligned with the Iraqi state. Muqtada al-Sadr's Saraya al-Salam combines its sectarian nature with nationalistic principles marked by a fierce resistance to external influence in Iraq.7
There are other powerful groups whose leaders openly declare loyalty to Grand Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran and claim to pursue an agenda of imposing the Khomeini-style velayat-e faqih in Iraq.8 Key leaders from groups such as Kataib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, and the Badr organization have in the past claimed to "represent" Ayatollah Khamenei in Iraq and to promote a Shiite-controlled state.9 Other, smaller groups such as Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, Saraya al-Khorasani, Kataib Sayyid al-Shahuda (KSK), Kataib al-Imam al-Ghaib (KIG) and Faylaq Waad al-Sadiq (FWS) have outspoken leaders fiercely loyal to Tehran's military and religious leadership. They openly display imagery of Grand Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei, and hail the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) special Quds unit, Qassem Soleimani.10
A number of forces also aim to reinforce the Sunni position in Iraq and counter the negative impact of IS, such as the Hashd al-Ashaari, Liwa Salahaddin and Haras Nineveh (previously Hashd al-Watani). The Hashd al-Ashaari is made up of Sunni tribal forces and receives funds from the Iraqi government under the PMF.11 Liwa Salahaddin is made up mainly of Sunnis from Salahaddin province and enjoys very close relationships with the PMF leadership — not the norm for the Sunni forces.12 There are also a number of smaller groups representing the minorities — including the Christians, Shabaks, Turkmen and Yazidis — with the aim of protecting them from the threat of groups like IS and advancing minority issues in Iraq, including demands for autonomy.13
Iraqi nationalism is a complex phenomenon that exists on many levels, though not in the sense of governing a united "nation." It is rather optimized by particular ethnosectarian groups maneuvering into a position of power/dominance over the others. If nationalism in Iraq is understood as involving multiple actors trying to gain and maintain power within the state, having militias directly linked to them can aid this process, legitimize the actors and create distinctive divides among the population. Moreover, due to the history of Iraq, where dominance over other groups has been enforced by the military, having rival ethnosectarian nationalisms backed by militias becomes a real concern; these rival nationalisms can use their militias to oppose the state or act against rival groups. This gives rise to internal security threats and instability, weakening the central government.14
As the PMF dilutes loyalty to the state in a number of ways, it places real strain on any prospect of Iraqi unity and endangers its territorial integrity. Once IS is defeated, this will only be magnified, as forces — and the politicians behind them — will be free to follow their own agendas. Not only will this lead to sectarian fighting but also to fighting within groups. In Mosul, small clashes between rival armed forces tasked with holding liberated areas have already threatened the fragile peace.15 However, it is important to note that the main issue is not with rogues inside the PMF, but rather the deeper ideological problem of having substate groups that delegitimize the government and its security forces. The new law passed in Parliament to legitimize the PMF does not change the fact that forces within the PMF have rival nationalisms that go against Iraqi unity and threaten the territorial integrity of the state. As long as the distinct groups within the PMF exist, no matter how the command or oversight changes, loyalty to actors other than and above the state will persist. The war against IS was, and still is, an opportunity to improve Iraqi unity, as conflict can mobilize popular support. However, the proliferation of militias in Iraq has jeopardized and watered down this process. The media, analysts and intellectuals also play an important role in sustaining and promoting a national ideology — or in the case of Iraq, unity — through reporting on the war.16 Thus, in a war like the one against IS, this is diluted through the multiple actors diverting attention away from the achievements of the Iraqi army. That said, the war has still led to gains in the support for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and, to some extent, Iraqi unity. The next section aims to demonstrate how Iraq could take advantage of these gains to address the challenges ahead.
THE WAY FORWARD
Having one inclusive army, police force and border patrol operating under a unified command structure and accountable to civil bodies of oversight is not only an important symbol for fostering national unity, it is also a primary prerequisite for an effective security sector as a whole.17 However, Iraq has been characterized by its substate militias since 2003 and has routinely failed in attempts to either integrate or demobilize them. Failed attempts in the past signal the difficulty in following an assertive, straightforward pursuit of this objective.18
The lack of a political agreement, scope for cross-community reconciliation, and a neutral arbiter able to provide security guarantees does not bode well for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) in the near future. Furthermore, the economic situation has deteriorated significantly since 2007, limiting the space for reintegration of ex-combatants and their absorption into the labor force. According to a 2008 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the United Nations considers a secure environment, the inclusion of all belligerent parties, an overarching political agreement, sustainable funding, and the presence of reintegration opportunities as minimum requirements for successful DDR in Iraq.19 It is unlikely these conditions will be sufficiently met immediately following the defeat of IS. Therefore, efforts in the short term should first focus on creating an environment conducive to a broad disarmament, demobilization and reintegration campaign. Significant progress must be made in the areas of security, national reconciliation and unity before broad commitments to a nationwide program of DDR can realistically be negotiated. While setting the stage for launching it following the defeat of IS, preliminary measures must be taken to foster unity and strengthen the appeal of national institutions, most notably the army and police force. This will weaken the appeal of security forces tied to political parties and other forces whose primary goal is to use their brand of ethnosectarian nationalism to gain power rather than to serve the collective national interest.
INTEGRATION OF THE PMF
Integration and the DDR of substate armed forces are inherently political processes that can only be advanced through negotiations and formal agreements. Success therefore hinges on the political will of all actors involved to reach and honor agreements. The main obstacle to a settlement — and a cause for noncompliance afterward — is often related to the security dilemma that arises from forces having to disarm and demobilize in the absence of security guarantees.20 Without a secure environment in Iraq, it will be effectively impossible to convince substate armed forces to lay down their weapons.21 The militias will fear IS's return, or the emergence of a similar group, if they are no longer there to provide security. Therefore, lessons need to be drawn from previous experiences of DDR in Iraq: for instance, from the Sunni Sahwa Movement, an American-backed force successful in fighting al-Qaeda in the past.22 The accomplishments of the Sahwa demonstrate the importance of building trust between communities and protection forces through localized security solutions.23 Had the members of this militia been properly integrated into the conventional security forces as planned, it is unlikely the security situation would have deteriorated to the extent it did after the United States pulled out in 2011.24
The recent history of Iraq in dealing with escalating ethnosectarian tensions suggests that, for the foreseeable future at least, the national army and police forces should be sufficiently diverse and inclusive to enable the provision of security and rule of law by units drawn from local communities. As trust between communities and security forces is built and security improves, the government could then move to give the ISF a more national character by gradually redeploying or merging localized units. Currently, however, individual PMF units are assuming (and competing over) the role of security provider in many places. Although still heavily Shiite-dominated, the PMF now includes large numbers of Sunni fighters as well as Christian, Shabak, Turkmen and Yazidi units.
The PMF is beginning to resemble a cross-section of Iraqi society; however, rather than operating for Iraqi unity, some of the individual forces are promoting their own rival ethnosectarian nationalism in order to gain and maintain power. Rivalries among militias already compromised security and hampered military efforts in the Mosul campaign.25 The infighting between PMF units not only obstructs military effectiveness, but also gives rise to new security threats. Without local militias, however, the onus of maintaining stability in liberated areas falls on the Iraqi army and police, who currently lack the strength and numbers to both control and liberate areas from IS.
The central government should, therefore, take measures to incentivize the recruitment of diverse local units into the conventional security forces — potentially through affirmative action in recruitment and admission policies. This will provide local populations with the opportunity to become active stakeholders in the security of their areas. Rebuilding the Iraqi army into a force that represents the entire population can be the building block of a wider unity project. To borrow a sales analogy, the Iraqi population has become a large market with two corporations competing for clients; one of the corporation's (the Iraqi government's) subsidiaries (the Iraqi army) is selling one brand (Iraqi unity) to unite the people, while the other (PMF) is selling multiple brands to create competition among them.
To take the analogy one step further, in order to sell Iraqi unity and get the population to become loyal to its brand, the government has to carry out a significant marketing campaign. If the population supports the army over the PMF, it will become more difficult for political actors to push the PMF to prominence, especially with elections around the corner (it is likely that provincial elections will be postponed from late 2017 and held in combination with national elections in 2018). The more successful the marketing campaign is, the easier it will be to demobilize the PMF and reintegrate the forces into either the army or the wider population. Hence, the Iraqi army has to be marketed as, and become, a united force that represents the entire population and offers security to everyone. Victory over IS, and the important role that the ISF has played in Mosul, could act as the launching pad for this marketing campaign. A sense of Iraqi pride would have to be created and harnessed to deter political actors seeking outside assistance from undermining the government and Iraqi unity. However, the army cannot be the only product sold under the unity brand. Abadi would have to install a wider program of reform, including anti-corruption, the rule of law and multifaceted development initiatives.
In the direct aftermath of an IS defeat, Iraq is likely to be confronted with thousands of battle-fatigued militia members who no longer wish to carry a weapon, yet face a struggling national economy and see few opportunities to use their, often limited, skillsets in peacetime. Moreover, as Lilli Banholzer points out, "The experience of combat and living in extreme deprivation and constant fear and stress does not leave former combatants unharmed."26 Therefore, even in the absence of formal agreements and without confronting any particular militia as a whole, a program designed to provide psychological and socioeconomic assistance to individual fighters wishing to make the combatant-to-civilian transition needs to be established.27 Eligibility should be conditioned on their disarmament and demobilization, and the program should be supported by an experienced partner such as the United Nations or the World Bank.
The reintegration package should include psychosocial support mechanisms, healthcare and education benefits, vocational training and job placement. There should be a maximum amount spent per combatant, though specific types of assistance should be based on individual needs assessed through counseling sessions conducted during demobilization.28 This will help prevent demobilized combatants from turning into potential spoilers of any provisional peace. Such an approach would also allow for a better absorption of demobilized PMF elements by Iraq's struggling labor market, as it allows for better regulation of the number of job seekers entering the market.
In conjunction, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the Ministry of Interior (MoI) should implement procedures to facilitate or incentivize the integration of individual militia members into the ISF. PMF combatants who, after an IS defeat, wish to become part of the conventional security forces should have the opportunity to do so — in particular, if they can be part of the above-mentioned localized security solutions. The government could pursue this process through a range of incentives and policy measures. This could include affirmative rank-harmonization policies in which, as appropriate, militia members join the conventional security forces at ranks equal to or slightly above their previous positions. Furthermore, members could be offered better career development and retirement plans, additional training or simply higher salaries in relation to the PMF. It must be stressed that integration should be done individually, rather than at a group level, to ensure loyalties are indeed transferred from the militias to the state. Additionally, strict vetting procedures must be in place to prevent infiltration of the security forces by extremist elements or perpetrators of war crimes. Their integration would risk delegitimizing the process and the security forces as a whole.29
Finally, it is possible that more hard-line Iranian-backed Shiite militia members will not take advantage of the opportunities offered to individual combatants. Disproportionate integration into the army by moderate, non-Shiite militia members during this phase could render the PMF a distinctly Shiite paramilitary force. Some leaders would see this as desirable.30 There might, however, be a positive side. As the army and police force grow in strength at the expense of the PMF, and their ethnosectarian make-up diversifies, the PMF will gradually lose strength and appeal, making negotiations concerning the eventual demobilization and final integration of remnant forces into the ISF more feasible.
Although it is beyond the scope of this article to lay out a comprehensive national reconciliation strategy, the government must launch a broad campaign aimed at healing society from the wounds inflicted during the war against IS. Naturally, retributive mechanisms such as criminal-justice proceedings will form part of this program; however, other building blocks for post-conflict justice — such as truth, reparations and reconciliation — also need to be included.31 An excessive focus on punishment for perpetrators of IS crimes may render the reconciliation program as nothing more than a vessel for executing "victor's justice," unable to effectively address victims' needs or reconcile damaged inter-community relations. Bringing victims and offenders together on a voluntary basis through truth commissions can be an effective way to complement judicial mechanisms with the other building blocks of post-conflict justice.32
The combination of criminal trials and truth-seeking mechanisms has the ability to enhance national unity by establishing a shared historical narrative. It can also contribute to improving inter-community relations by highlighting the suffering of all and offering a platform for direct participation of both victim and perpetrator. Truth mechanisms can help to generate additional insight and create an understanding of how segments of Iraqi society came to commit the mass atrocities that occurred. Such an understanding can go a long way in preventing episodes of mass violence in the future. It can serve as the basis for a national debate on establishing new societal norms and further legislative measures within the framework of national reconciliation, such as anti-corruption measures and laws aimed at decentralization and the devolution of power from the central government in Baghdad to the provincial councils.33
All of these elements are important for national reconciliation and should be part of a long-term multi-phased framework. An excessively narrow focus on retribution through criminal trials can add to divisions in the country by creating winners and losers, thus giving rise to new inter-community grievances and perpetuating existing ones. National reconciliation needs to involve the government's bringing all groups back into the fold and fostering a sense of unity by focusing on building a shared future together. It is therefore primarily a time for inclusion and the creation of stakeholders, not retribution through exclusion and punishment.
Additionally, as part of the platform for reconciliation, issues such as the equitable distribution of wealth from Iraq's natural resources, the disputed territories, and the Kurdish independence referendum need to be addressed. Failure to reach agreement — or at least to further negotiations — will not only give some of the PMF units a reason to operate in flash zones; it could also exacerbate strife among the Kurds, PMF units and the Iraqi population. These types of localized conflicts empower the rival nationalisms of the PMF units and can be used to legitimize their continued existence.
It must be noted that the Government of Iraq (GOI) does not have to reach final agreements in all of these areas. However, rather significant progress still needs to be made before any program aimed at formal DDR and the integration of substate militias can realistically take place. Notwithstanding the urgency of matters previously discussed, the following section sets out what an eventual formal program of DDR and security-sector reform (SSR) in Iraq might look like and examines some of the pitfalls associated with this important element of state building.
Ultimately, any process designed to properly deal with the challenges of Iraq's militias and corresponding rival nationalisms has to combine reform with the disarming of large numbers of surplus security personnel. While DDR assists individual ex-combatants' transition to civilian life, thus helping to "right-size" the operational side of the security sector, SSR deals with the structure and relations among the various components of the sector at large. The main purpose of both is to consolidate the state's monopoly on force.34 SSR does this by establishing efficient and effective security structures accountable to civilian control;35 DDR contributes to state building by breaking down informal command structures and limiting the emergence of spoilers in the peace process.36 The OECD DAC Handbook on Security Sector Reform acknowledges that DDR and SSR should generally be pursued in conjunction with — and considered to be part of — a single comprehensive security- and justice-development program.37
The dynamic between DDR and SSR means both interact in a way that either complements or compromises each other's chance of success. When DDR fails to successfully reintegrate ex-combatants back into civilian life, they may take up arms again, form criminal gangs or otherwise pose security threats that could compromise the SSR process. Alternatively, failures in the process of SSR can lead to erosion of trust between local communities and the security apparatus, in turn enabling the formation and rise of subnational armed groups or militias. On the other hand, successful DDR can free up valuable government resources needed for SSR activities, while the creation of an effective and transparent security sector can ease the security dilemma confronting former combatants as they face the decision to voluntarily take part in a DDR program. Both DDR and SSR are inherently political processes that tend to rise and fall together.38 Decisions made during their implementation directly impact existing power relations. Any process to demobilize or otherwise sever ties between the militias and Iraq's political parties cannot be characterized differently. Hence, it can only be advanced through negotiation and political agreement; the previous section highlighted ways to foster an environment in which such agreements might be reached.
It is widely acknowledged that local ownership (and agency) over any DDR/SSR program is an important prerequisite for success.39 The central government must therefore take the lead in its design and implementation. At the same time, diplomatic efforts must also be directed at the various exogenous backers of the militias to seek their support for the program — or at least prevent active opposition to it. Moreover, the ideological pluralism within the PMF renders it significantly more complicated to incorporate some units than others. The shrine-protection units such as the Abbas Division and the Ali al-Akbar Brigade were formed through Sistani's fatwa calling for the protection of the shrines from the threat of IS. They are controlled by Sistani, who supports the Iraqi state and the current Abadi-led government. Therefore, as their ideology is closely linked, these groups will turn into what Paul Staniland terms a "superfluous supporter" more easily incorporated.40 Other groups fomenting a stronger Shiite or Khomeinist ethnosectarian nationalism have a more ambiguous ideological fit and are likely to have to be contained in the short term while the Iraqi army and Iraqi unity are being rebuilt and individual members are incorporated, thus laying the ground for eventual suppression or incorporation. However, the latter would require them to at least partially mitigate their brand of rival nationalism, as was the case with the Badr organization when it gradually loosened its commitment to velayat-e faqih.41 At the same time, it must be stressed that the overall tactic should be containment, while unity is rebuilt, leading to eventual incorporation and suppression.42
Additionally, the recent "Hashd Law" legalizing the PMF forces will pose an obstacle for government strategy towards militias unwilling to curb their rival nationalisms. Institutionally, the forces comprising the PMF are now part of the state structure, constraining the government's ability to suppress potential rogue militias in the future. Although the Hashd Law will eventually need to be repealed in order to make serious strides in the DDR and SSR process, the announcement should be made at the opportune moment, after formal agreements are reached and when integration and demobilization can be initiated in earnest.
Disarmament is likely to be one of the most problematic aspects of any future process. According to Alpaslan Ozerdem, DDR/SSR in Afghanistan became bogged down in a political quagmire due to the precondition it set: disarmament before demobilization and reintegration.43 Given the similarities in the conflict situation and gun culture of Afghanistan and Iraq, it is best to avoid this by letting go of the conventional DDR standard of disarmament prior to demobilization and integration. Depending on what the future security situation allows, it may be appropriate for Iraq to follow the Tajikistan model (1997-2001). Widely perceived as a success story, reintegration of former fighters was prioritized and started even in the absence of adequate disarmament levels.44 It is believed that this has greatly benefitted the success of the program, as it allowed for the cultivation of trust between the government and former rebels and increased their willingness to participate.45 Part of the approach could be to initially limit the disarmament of militias to heavy weapons (artillery, armor, rocket launchers, etc.) but allow small arms and light weapons (SALW) for the time being. Notwithstanding, the wide availability of SALW in Iraq does constitute a significant security risk.46 If a large-scale disarmament phase does take place, whether before or after (re)integration of combatants, its scope should include the civilian population.
The recruitment of many youths within the PMF targeted mainly poor urban areas, such as Sadr City (Baghdad), Basra, Diwaniya and Amara.47 The militias themselves are capable of, and should, in accordance with the local security solutions outlined in the previous section, facilitate the reinsertion of members to their areas of origin. Demobilization then is unlikely to take the form of protracted cantonment. It could instead be realized by setting up community (and neighborhood) registration centers offering education and job-counseling sessions. They would also assess the eligibility and members' needs in terms of psychosocial support. This would ensure that the individualized reintegration package that would emerge from this process would be sensitive to the different needs of members returning to rural or urban areas.48
Provided that significant progress has been made in the areas discussed in the previous section (security, national reconciliation, unity) and the individual integration and reintegration of former militia members have produced some success stories, it is likely that a significant number of combatants will wish to integrate into the conventional security forces. This is particularly so if one considers the limited skillset of individual combatants who make up the bulk of the PMF. According to the International Crisis Group, "The large majority of Hashd volunteers have not finished primary or middle-school studies and previously worked in precarious conditions as day laborers making a maximum of 25,000 Iraqi dinars per week (barely $20 USD)."49
For many of these youth, joining units within the PMF was the only way to earn a better salary and receive survivor benefits for their families. Moreover, as the Iraqi army collapsed and failed to protect holy shrines and communities across the country, many perceived it as proof of dysfunction and corruption among the political elite. Accordingly, forces comprising the PMF offered them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for heroism and wielding authority. Instead of completely rejecting this energy, it could be harnessed and redirected in a way that complements rather than compromises Iraqi unity and stability. Integration into the conventional security forces (e.g., police, army, counterterrorism units and border patrol) should occur on an individual rather than a unit basis, to ensure informal command structures are dissolved and loyalties transferred.
However, offering a no-holds-barred choice between integration and demobilization can be problematic for various reasons. First, the number of PMF fighters opting for integration may exceed security-sector needs and result in an unsustainably large and disproportionate force. Second, as the various components of the PMF are predominantly Shiite, excessive integration on their part could exacerbate the issue of disproportionate Shiite participation. A third factor to take into account is the capacity of the new security sector to effectively absorb large numbers of former PMF fighters in a narrow time frame. Considering this, it is important that options for reintegration be offered relative to the needs of the security sector and centered around principles of inclusion and diversity. A quota system could ensure these principles and help build trust between the new security forces and local communities. At this stage, it is critical to maintain appropriate vetting procedures throughout the integration process. Preventing infiltration by extremist elements as well as the integration of perpetrators of war crimes and human-rights abuses is important if the image and legitimacy of the new security forces and the DDR/SSR process are to be protected.
Finally, those who at this stage do not wish to integrate into the new armed forces should receive assistance for their reintegration into civilian life or retirement with full benefits. Reintegration is a long-term process, and Iraq's domestic economy may struggle to absorb the large numbers of ex-combatants into the labor market. As DDR experience in several African countries has shown, seeking the "reintegration of combatants back into poverty" is not constructive.50 Accordingly, Kees Kingma argues that DDR should often be implemented as part of a multi-dimensional effort that includes long-term development goals and targets communities rather than individuals. In the case of Iraq, the involvement of the United Nations (UN Development Program, specifically) is recommended to ensure integration of DDR efforts with wider development programs.51 It is important that the educational and vocational-training packages offered at this stage correspond with economic needs and realities on the ground so that the community as a whole benefits.52 Another means of mitigating the challenge of labor-market absorption is to assist members of militias in finishing their secondary education prior to formal demobilization. The United States successfully employed this strategy for the gradual demobilization of soldiers after World War II.53
The rise of militias in Iraq should be seen as a double-edged sword. Since 2003, they have both compromised and contributed to security — often simultaneously. In seeking to complement the state by providing security and other essential government services, they have actually undermined it, leading Iraq into a vicious circle where the militias gain popularity as the legitimacy of the government falters. This is the primary mechanism responsible for the persistence and proliferation of substate militias in Iraq. Having forces that represent a distinct rival nationalism — whether a transnationalism linked to Iran, or a Sunni nationalism opposed to the government — dilutes the population's loyalty to the state. The longer the PMF continues after the fall of IS, the stronger these rival nationalisms will become, weakening Iraqi unity.
Moreover, the ISF is an extension of the state. People's perceptions of it, as well as their loyalty, transfers directly to the state. It is vital that the entire population be represented in the ISF and that it be the sole provider of security. When substate actors are seen as key to security, they undermine the state's legitimacy and inhibit the consolidation of democracy. If the PMF is still operating at the same level, come the next national elections (2018), the results could be catastrophic. In elections, the sectarian rhetoric will be stronger and will pull the society in multiple directions, further damaging unity. Ultimately, any process designed to deal with this challenge has to combine security-sector reform with the demobilization and reintegration of large numbers of surplus security personnel. However, both SSR and DDR are inherently political processes that can only seriously advance through negotiations. The current reality on the ground does not bode well for DDR, and a rushed, overly aggressive pursuit of this objective is likely to bear close resemblance to past failures in dealing with Iraq's militias.
Therefore, the Iraqi government and parliament must wisely use the time following the defeat of IS, making progress first in the areas of security, reconciliation and national unity, as well as maintaining or improving Baghdad-Erbil relations. Previous experience in Iraq has shown that real improvement in security can only be achieved through inclusive solutions that give local communities a stake in their own security. Efforts for national reconciliation have to go beyond mere retribution and include restorative mechanisms that grant a more active role to both perpetrator and victim and are better equipped to produce a shared historical narrative about what has happened and why. It also has to involve innovative anticorruption measures and efforts to decentralize power from the central government to the provincial-council level.
Complementing these efforts, an assistance program will have to be set up for individual militia members wishing to make the transition from fighter to civilian. If this program proves capable of producing success stories for ex-combatants, and progress in the other areas is also ensured, it will create an environment in which DDR has a realistic chance of success. Only then can a comprehensive DDR/SSR program based on formal agreements with all militias be launched as an ultimate solution to Iraq's problem with militias and rival nationalisms. This program will have to be adapted to fit the local context and potentially deviate substantially from conventional DDR standards in its sequencing and overall design. Due to the dynamics in Iraq, the process cannot be instant; it will have to be a medium-term project gradually progressing over the next five years. However, failure to begin the process now could have catastrophic repercussions for the future of Iraq.
1 Although referred to as the Islamic State in this report, this term only came into being after a caliphate was declared on June 29, 2014. Islamic State was formerly known, and is often still referred to, as Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). It is also often referred to as Daesh, which is based on the Arabic acronym of its name and has negative connotations.
2 Mark Tran & Mathew Weaver, "Isis Announces Islamic Caliphate in Area Straddling Iraq and Syria," The Guardian, June 30, 2014.
3 Juan Cole, "Enter the Ayatollah: Sistani Calls on Iraqis to Enlist in Fight against 'Terrorists,'" Informed Comment, June 14, 2014.
4 Renad Mansour, "Your Country Needs You: Iraq's Faltering Military Recruitment Campaign," Diwan, July 22, 2015.
5 "Iraq's Parliament Passes Law Legalizing Shia Militias," Al Jazeera, November 26, 2016; Tom Westcott, "Battle for Mosul: Shia-Led Fighters Sever Key IS Cross-Border Supply Route," Middle East Eye, November 19, 2016.
6 The law recognizes the PMF as a separate force from the army, but places it under the Iraqi prime minister's command. It also gives the PMF members government salaries and pensions similar to those of the military and the police.
7 "Mapping Military Organizations," Stanford University, 2016, http://web.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups.
8 Velayat-e faqih was advanced by Ayatollah Khomeini in the 1970s and is installed in the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The constitution of Iran calls for a faqih, or Vali-ye faqih (Guardian Jurist), to serve as the Supreme Leader of the government.
9 "Mapping Military Organizations."
10 Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, "Kata'ib al-Imam al-Gha'ib: Intro and Interview," Pundicity, January 12, 2015; Abbas Qaidaari, "Iran's New Group in Iraq: Saraya Al-Khorasani," Al Monitor, January 11, 2015; "Popular Crowd Forces in Iraq (Al-Hashd al-shaabi) Origin and Future 'Survey,'" Rawabet Research and Strategic Studies Center, 2016.
11 "Iraqi-Sunni Tribes Recruiting Children to Fight IS, Says HRW," The New Arab, November 21, 2016.
12 Nour Samaha, "Iraq's 'Good Sunni'," Foreign Policy, November 16, 2016.
13 For more on the call for regional autonomy by the minorities see: Dylan O'Driscoll and Dave van Zoonen, "Governing Nineveh after the Islamic State: A Solution for All Components," MERI Policy Papers 3, no. 2 (2016): 1-9.
14 Dylan O'Driscoll and Dave van Zoonen, "The Hashd al-Shaabi and Iraq: Subnationalism and the State," MERI Policy Report (2017): 1-52.
15 Mewan Dolamari, "In-fighting Erupts between Iraqi Forces in Mosul, Casualties Reported," Kurdistan 24, July 21, 2017.
16 Geoffrey Jensen, "Military Nationalism and the State: the Case of Fin-De-Siècle Spain," Nations and Nationalism 6, no. 2 (2000): 257-274; Barry R. Posen, "Nationalism, the Mass Army, and Military Power," International Security 18, no. 2 (1993): 80-124.
17 The principle of unity of command or unity of efforts is one of the foundations of efficient military organization which has withstood the test of time since Sun Tzu's The Art of War through to the modern-day U.S. Army Field Manual.
18 See Myriam Benraad, "Iraq's Tribal 'Sahwa': Its Rise and Fall," Middle East Policy 18, no. 1 (2011): 121-31; Dylan O'Driscoll, "Autonomy Impaired: Centralisation, Authoritarianism and the Failing Iraqi State," Ethnopolitics (2015): 1-18; and David Ucko, "Militias, Tribes and Insurgents: The Challenge of Political Reintegration in Iraq," Conflict, Security & Development 8, no. 3 (2008): 341-373.
19 Government Accountability Office, "Securing, Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq. Progress Report: Some Gains Made, Updated Strategy Needed," Congressional Committee Report GAO-08-837 (2008): 39-40.
20 Barbara F. Walter, Committing to Peace: The Successful Settlement of Civil Wars (Princeton University Press, 2002).
21 Alpaslan Özerdem, "Insurgency, Militias and DDR as Part of Security Sector Reconstruction in Iraq: How Not to Do It," Disasters 34, no. s1 (2010): S40-S59.
22 The Sahwa forces were created in 2005, although only formalized in 2006, to fight al-Qaeda in the Sunni region of Iraq. For more, see Myriam Benraad, "Iraq's Tribal 'Sahwa': Its Rise and Fall."
23 Interviews with the authors revealed that both Sunni and Shiite Turkmen from Tal Afar perceived the diversification and inclusion of Sunnis in the local security forces as the main factor behind the improvement of security in that region after 2009.
24 For more, see Dylan O'Driscoll, "Liberating Mosul: Beyond the Battle," Middle East Policy 23, no. 4 (2016): 61-73.
25 See Mustafa Habib, "Security Problems, Scrappy Militias Delay Fight Against Extremists in Western Mosul," Niqash, February 01, 2017.
26 Lilli Banholzer, "When Do Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs Succeed?" German Development Institute Discussion Paper 8 (2014): 6.
27 Colin Gleichmann, Michael Odenwald, Kees Steenken and Adrian Wilkinson, Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration: A Practical Field and Classroom Guide (Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit, 2004).
28 Özerdem, "Insurgency, Militias and DDR."
29 Sean McFate, The Link between DDR and SSR in Conflict-Affected Countries (United States Institute of Peace, 2010).
30 Bill Roggio, "Iraqi Militia Leader Wants to Model PMF after Iran's Revolutionary Guard," Long War Journal, March 22, 2016.
31 Elmar Weitekamp, Stephan Parmentier, Kris Vanspauwen, Marta Valiñas and Roel Gerits, "How to Deal with Mass Victimization and Gross Human Rights Violations: A Restorative Approach," in Large-Scale Victimization as a Potential Source of Terrorist Activities, eds. Uwe Ewald and Ksenija Turkovic (IOS Press, 2006), 217-241.
32 Nils Christie, "Answers to Atrocities: Restorative Justice in Extreme Situations," in Victim Policies and Criminal Justice on the Road to Restorative Justice, eds. Ezzat Fattah and Stephan Parmentier (Leuven University Press, 2001): 379-392.
33 O'Driscoll and Van Zoonen, "Governing Nineveh after the Islamic State."
34 McFate, The Link between DDR and SSR in Conflict-Affected Countries.
35 Nicole Ball, Enhancing Security Sector Governance: A Conceptual Framework for UNDP (UNDP, 2002); Özerdem, "Insurgency, Militias and DDR"; Michael Brzoska, "Development Donors and the Concept of Security Sector Reform," DCAF Occasional Paper 4 (2003).
36 Banholzer, "When Do Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs Succeed?"
37 OECD DAC Handbook on Security Sector Reform (SSR): Supporting Security and Justice (OECD, 2007).
38 Security Sector Reconstruction and Reform in Peace Support Operations, eds. Michael Brzoska and David Law (Routledge, 2016).
39 Liz Panarelli, "Local Ownership of Security Sector Reform," USIP Peace Brief 11 (2010).
40 Paul Staniland, "Militias, Ideology, and the State," Journal of Conflict Resolution 59, no. 5 (2015): 770-793.
41 Phillip Smyth, "Should Iraq's ISCI Forces Really Be Considered 'Good Militias'?" The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, August, 17, 2016.
43 Özerdem, "Insurgency, Militias and DDR."
44 Stina Torjesen and S. Neil MacFarlane, "R before D: The Case of Post Conflict Reintegration in Tajikistan," Conflict, Security & Development 7, no. 2 (2007): 311-332.
45 Anna Matveeva, "Tajikistan: DDR in the Context of Authoritarian Peace," in DDR: Bringing the State back in, ed. Antonio Giustozzi (Ashgate Publishing, 2012), 29-39.
46 For example, when IS infiltrated Kirkuk on October 21, 2016, it staged attacks on multiple targets within the city limits. As police and counterterrorism units rushed to respond, the streets were flooded by civil-vigilantes armed with AK-47s and other weaponry eager to stop the attack. Several videos later emerged showing ad-hoc militias dragging the corpses of dead IS fighters through the streets behind their cars while emptying their clips in the air.
47 International Crisis Group, "Fight or Flight: The Desperate Plight of Iraq's 'Generation 2000,'" Middle East Report 169 (2016).
48 Özerdem, "Insurgency, Militias and DDR."
49 International Crisis Group, "Fight or Flight: The Desperate Plight of Iraq's 'Generation 2000,'": 16.
50 During DDR efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, transitioned ex-combatants that had trained as carpenters through vocational training programmes declared that they deliberately re-joined armed groups as their businesses suffered from a perpetual lack of customers. See Banholzer, "When Do Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs Succeed?"
51 Kees Kingma, "Demobilization of Combatants after Civil Wars in Africa and their Reintegration into Civilian Life," Policy Sciences 30, no. 3 (1997): 151-165.
52 Özerdem, "Insurgency, Militias and DDR."
53 Banholzer, "When Do Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs Succeed?"