Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Units and their State-endorsed Extra-Legality

This seminar will take place online.

Established as an umbrella organisation that includes approximately fifty distinct militant groups, Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) –also known as al-Hashd al-Sha‘abi (HS) –significantly contributed to countering the advances of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). Advertising their battlefield performance has enabled the PMU to gain popularity among vast segments of the Iraqi population. On the one hand, they have evolved into a state-sponsored auxiliary, having filled in the security vacuum following the defeat of the Iraqi security forces in Mosul in 2014. On the other hand, some of the constitutive elements have been consciously evading state regulation. The PMU’s hybrid nature is further marked by internal tensions and ideological divisions. Drawing on extensive fieldwork, this research aims at unpacking the PMU’s relationship with and influence over the Iraqi state. Are they contributing to restoring the legitimacy of the Iraqi state? Or, instead, are some of the units challenging Iraqi sovereignty, while contesting the state’s capability to deliver security and guarantee the rule of law? The research elaborates on the rationale guiding the government’s strategy vis-à-vis the PMU, which has shifted towards the PMU‘s partial incorporation into the national defense infrastructure. The discussant will also evaluate the PMU’s attempt to translate their semi-legal status into a source of legitimacy, unlocking access to state resources. The aim is to contribute to the debate on state policies towards hybrid armed non-state actors.