The Popular Mobilisation Units and their Pursuit of Power and Legitimacy within the Iraqi State


Dr. Inna Rudolf is a Senior Research Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and a postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Divided Societies. Within the XCEPT consortium, she is analysing the implications of identity politics and the mobilisation of violent memories in conflict-affected borderlands. As part of her PhD thesis at the War Studies Department of King’s College London, Rudolf focused the hybridization of security sector governance, examining Iraq’s paramilitary umbrella – the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) – and their quest for legitimacy within the state. She received her master’s degree in political science and Islamic studies in 2012 at the University of Heidelberg, specialising in Conflict Resolution, Peace Building and Political Islam. In addition to her field work in Iraq, she lived in Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia and Palestine for several years.

Prior to joining the research team at ICSR, she represented the BMW Foundation in the Middle East and North Africa region. She is also a partner at the Candid Foundation – an independent Berlin based think tank working on political, social and cultural challenges facing Muslim communities in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and beyond.


Despite their modest performance at the ballot box in comparison to the 2018 parliamentary elections, the Shi‘ite political parties associated with Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) have remained important brokers with sufficient power to steer the government’s decision-making. Having been recognised as a state-sanctioned paramilitary umbrella since November 2016, the PMU regard themselves as entitled to co-shaping not only the political process, but also the very nature of Iraqi statehood. Their continued leverage over the contested Iraqi state and its institutions raises the question of how such an array of hybrid auxiliary forces has managed to consolidate its position and reap the benefits of its alliance with the country’s ruling elites. To provide an answer, Rudolf will present her analysis of how the PMU and their affiliates have sought to attain legitimacy within the political, religious, and civic fields – the main arenas of competition underlying the power dynamics within the fragmented Iraqi state.