On April 4, 2020, eight factions of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) issued a joint statement, accusing the Iraqi-designated P.M. Adnan Al-Zurfi of being an "American agent," and threatening to increase attacks against U.S. forces if Iraqi lawmakers approved his cabinet.
The statement, which included three messages — one addressed to U.S. forces, one to Iraqi lawmakers, and one to the Iraqi people — was signed by the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq Movement, the Al-Kharasani Brigades, the Al-Nujaba' Movement, the Syed Al-Shuhada' Brigades, the Ashura Brigades, the Imam Ali Brigades, the Al-Awifya' Movement, and the Soldiers of the Imam Movement.
The statement not only aligns with the usual fiery threats from pro-Iran proxies, but also is also in line with Tehran’s desperate attempts to prevent the formation of a pro-U.S. government which might endanger Iran's efforts to bypass the crippling U.S. sanctions. Over the past years, Iraq has emerged as a last-ditch lifeline for the Iranian regime's political-economic recovery. The regime has been taking advantage of the exemptions given by Washington to the Iraqi government in order to channel money to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force.
The statement also appears to aim at provoking the U.S. administration to take uncalculated military action at a critical time, while its resources are stretched thin internally as part of the efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic. The factions are hoping that such a move would place more pressure on President Trump to react militarily, which may expose him to local criticism.
Moreover, the statement seeks to boost Iran's IRGC commander Esmail Qanni's position as someone who can match the famed influence of his predecessor, Qassem Soleimani, over the Shi'ite factions in the region. For over four months now, Tehran has failed to forge an agreement among Iraqi Shi'ite factions on who will replace PMU deputy commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, as well an agreement among Shi'ite politicians as to who will replace the resigned PM Abdul Abul Mahdi.
The factions' joint statement comes two days after Qaani's visit to Baghdad, in which he met with PMU commanders in order to amend rifts over leadership and unite their efforts to foil President Barham Salih's designation of Al-Zurfi as a prime minister. Al-Zurfi, who seeks to present his government program before the parliament no later than April 17, pledged earlier in March to ensure that PMU's "loyalty will be to Iraq, and Iraqis".
Reactions to the factions' statement highlights Qaani's failure to control several key figures in the Iraqi political scene such as Shi'ite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, who was, to a certain extent, an obstacle even for Soleimani. Yet Soleimani knew how to harness Al-Sadr's differences with Iraqi groups to support Iran's agenda in Iraq.
'U.S. Threats Against The Factions Are An Attempt To Cover Up Their Defeats'
Citing the Iraqi parliament's decision to expel the U.S.-led coalition from Iraq, following the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani and PMU deputy commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis on January 3, 2020, the statement said that the factions have "definitive evidence that the American forces increased their aggression and tyranny, and carried out more attacks. Therefore the sons of the national resistance factions met to confirm their historical position of considering the American forces as occupation forces."
The factions said that the attacks against the military bases that host the U.S. troops are "only a simple response to their [U.S.] attacks," noting that the recent repositioning of the U.S. forces, and their failure to counter rocket attacks on Iraqi bases are a sign of retreat.
"You [U.S. forces] have proven that you are occupation forces, and that you respect only the language of force, and on this basis, you will be dealt with." The statement added that the "recent U.S. threats against the factions and the leaders of the resistance are nothing but an attempt to cover up their defeats, because they are too weak to go into a war with the factions."
The joint statement by the eight factions
The statement said that the U.S. troops "will not be able to stand in the face of the factions combined," and the factions "will turn the land and the sky of Iraq into hell for you [U.S. troops]."
'Al-Zurfi Is American Agent'
Addressing Iraqi MPs, the statement emphasized that the factions "reject the designation of the American intelligence-backed candidate Adnan Al-Zurfi," noting that this designation "will not be permissible."
The statement accused President Saleh of endangering the civil peace in Iraq by insisting on nominating "a controversial personality [Al-Zurfi] who was rejected by the highest religious authority [Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani] and the protesters." It urged Iraqi lawmakers to foil Al-Zurfi's attempt to secure the necessary votes to pass his cabinet.
A third message in the statement addressed the Iraqi people: "We [the factions] pledge to you to remain loyal soldiers, to defend you, and sacrifice for you, and that we will not let America continue to occupy our land, steal our wealth and divide our state."
Al-Zurfi, Al-Sadr's Reactions
The designated PM Adnan Al-Zurfi was the first to react to the statement when he tweeted a video showing him signing a government program which he intends to present before the parliament, with a hashtag that reads: "Iraq first," thus signaling his intention to move forward with his plan to win parliament approval despite the threats.
Al-Zurf's tweeted video
Meanwhile, Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr criticized the factions' statement through his affiliate Saleh Mohammd Al-Iraqi, who tweeted: "Many politicians and some of the so-called resistance factions, did not learn the lesson of this hardship and pandemic [coronavirus], and they are still looking for gains."
The tweet further condemned the factions for "favoring their own interests over the resistance [..] at a time when the Iraqi people are struggling against death, an imminent war – May Allah forbid- and pandemic."