Iraq's Muqtada Al-Sadr Announces Disbanding His Militia, Calls On Iran-Backed Shi'ite Militias To Follow Suit; Hizbullah Brigades Claim Dissolving Some Elements, Say Peshmerga Should Be Next

November 19, 2021

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On November 19, 2021, the populist Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr announced he was disbanding the Promised Day Brigade, an armed group under his command, and closing its headquarters.[1]

In a statement issued on Twitter, Al-Sadr said he hoped the move, which he deemed a "goodwill gesture," would be a "step toward beginning to dissolve the armed factions, handing over their weapons, and closing their headquarters."

The Promised Day Brigade will also surrender any weapons it still has "within 48 hours," according to Al-Sadr's tweet.

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Al-Sadr, whose political bloc maintained the most seats in Iraq's recent parliamentary elections, has increasingly advocated for reeling in militias and arms under state control, especially after the November 7 failed assassination attempt on Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, widely blamed on Iran-backed militias.

A day prior, in a speech in Najaf, Iraq, on November 18, the cleric called on Iran-backed Shi'ite militias in Iraq to disband and surrender their weapons to the PMU (Popular Mobilization Units).

He also called on the PMU to purge "undisciplined members" from its ranks.[2]

On November 18, Abu 'Ali Al-'Askari, a senior official in the Hizbullah Brigades, said in a statement responding to Al-Sadr's earlier calls that [the Hizbullah Brigades] "welcome any suggestion about handing over weapons to the state to avoid internal fighting." However, he continued, "Firstly, the entity demanding [that weapons be handed over to the state] should be the first to surrender its weapons, particularly heavy weapons, and transfer responsibility for them to the PMU leadership, to structure their organization and get rid of their undisciplined fighters."

Secondly, Al-'Askari said that disbanding the militias should begin with the "largest militia by size and number, the Peshmerga, which numbers 160,000 fighters equipped with the latest weaponry. They are the ones who should surrender their arms to the state as a second step."

"If these two steps are completed," Al-'Askari noted, then the "project of limiting arms in the hands of the state will succeed."[3]

Fourthly, "the rights of millions of Iraqis whose voices were stolen in the recent election should not be forgotten, particularly with this massive rigging [of the election], or else there will be no  the democratic process in Iraq."

However, in a subsequent statement following Al-Sadr's November 19 tweet, Al-'Askari announced that the Hizbullah Brigades were "disbanding the Popular Defense Brigades, suspending all of its activities, and closing its headquarters."

The move was undertaken "in response to what was published by one of the friendly parties [i.e., Muqtada Al-Sadr] regarding the initiative to dissolve its military forces."

Al-Askari further added: "We hope that our brothers in the party [that took] this initiative transfer their three brigades under the command of the PMU, and reach an understanding with the Peshmerga leaders to complete its dissolution [so we can] enter a new stage of spreading security and peace in our beloved Iraq."

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[1] Twitter, Mu_AlSadr, November 19, 2021.

[2] Sky News Arabia, November 19, 2021.

[3] Telegram, abualaskary, November 18-19, 2021.

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