In August 2019 Yousuf Al-Nasseri, an official in the Shi'ite Iraqi pro-Iranian militia Harakat Hizbullah Al-Nujaba, called to dissolve the "mercenary" Iraqi army and replace it with Al-Hashd Al-Sha'bi [the Popular Mobilization Units – PMU], the umbrella of Shi'ite militias of which Al-Nujaba is part. In response, Lebanese journalist Toni Francis, a columnist for the Al-Hayat daily, wrote that Al-Nasser's statement was part of the Iranian campaign to take over Iraq. Iran, he claimed, uses its ties with Shi'ite leaders and militias in Iraq, as well as in other countries in the region, in order to expand its influence zone and promote its agenda, including its struggle against the American influence, especially in Iraq. He added that the attempt to take over Iraq using the PMU is similar to the efforts of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to take over other countries by means of its militias, such as the Houthi militia in Yemen and Hizbullah in Lebanon. Therefore, we must not be surprised if we hear calls to disband the armies of those countries as well, he said.
Toni Francis (source: Al-Hayat, Dubai)
The following are excerpts from Francis's column:
"The call of Yousuf Al-Nasseri, an official in the Iraqi Harakat Al-Nujaba militia, to disband the Iraqi army did not come out of nowhere. Harakat [Al-Nujaba] forms an active part of the PMU militias, most of which are loyal to the Iranian leadership and follow its orders. Therefore, Al-Nasseri's campaign cannot be viewed separately from the Iranian program aimed at turning Iraq into an empty husk and completing its takeover of it.
"Iran does not hide its aspiration to replace the armies of the neighboring countries with the militias it supports and funds. It managed to take the first important steps in this direction in Iraq after the  U.S. invasion and the notorious decision to disband the Iraqi army. It is no secret that the attitude of [Iraq's] Kurdish and Shi'ite sectors towards the Iraqi army was negative [at the time], because the Shi'ite sectors had been oppressed by the Saddam Hussein regime – oppression that only intensified as a result of [their] uprisings against the dictatorial regime – and the Kurds suffered from oppression throughout [their] history, including from massacres and abuses. Therefore, it was a foregone conclusion that the relations of these two sectors [the Kurds and the Shi'ites] with the military establishment would be somewhat tentative.
"However, the downfall of the former [Saddam Hussein] regime led to [the adoption of] a new Iraqi model, which placed Shi'ites in senior defense positions while granting the Kurds a right to autonomy and an independent region. Why then does the negative attitude towards the army persist? Why do Iraq's Shi'ite politicians maintain their former negative attitude towards their country's army even today, when they are senior officials and commanders?
"This has nothing to do with genes or customs, but stems from the Iranian perception that the new [Iraqi] regime must be subjugated to the needs of the [Persian] Empire... Iran, which has fostered ties with prominent Shi'ite leaders [like Yousuf Al-Nasseri], makes every effort to bring Iraq, like other countries [in the region], into its sphere of influence. It does so by using the militias deployed in Iraq and other countries and turning them into frontline divisions in its war to expand its influence [zone] and in the conflict with the U.S.
"Iran's ideology is based on spreading the [Shi'ite] doctrine, but it obscures this with the discourse about the resistance axis, which it leads by means of the IRGC, which assigns tasks and sets out priorities. Recent statements by IRGC officials provide detailed explanations [of this]: The task of the PMU is to fight the American influence in Iraq and threaten the Arab presence there, and if it encounters difficulties, there is nothing wrong with suggesting to disband the Iraqi army. The task of the Houthis [in Yemen] is to keep pestering Saudi Arabia and take over Yemen. As for Hizbullah [in Lebanon], its task is to destroy Israel in the case of an attack on Iran, as IRGC Commander Hossein Salami said several days ago.
"The Iranian lexicon does not include a country [called] Iraq, but only the PMU militias. It does not include a country [called] Yemen but only the Houthis, and the Lebanese state is also absent [from the Iranians' lexicon] when they talk about Hizbullah. [Therefore] we should not be surprised if we hear calls to disband the armies in favor of the militias even sooner than we expect."
 Al-Nasseri's statement, made in an August 13 interview with Iraq's Aletejah TV, sparked widespread criticism in Iraq – including from the leadership of the PMU, which issued a communique renouncing it (rudaw.net, August 14, 2019) – as well as demonstrations of support for the Iraqi army (alarabiya.net, August 16, 2019). Following the uproar Al-Nasseri denied making the remarks, claiming that the channel had edited his statements selectively (baghdadtoday.news, August 14, 2019).
 Al-Hayat (Dubai), August 20, 2019.