Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, Deputy Commander of the Popular Mobilization Units: Optimism over Liberation of Mosul Was Exaggerated; No Objection to Russian Military Intervention in Syria; After Mosul, We Will Enter Syria; Hizbullah Trained Us against the Americans after 2003
Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units, said that "people were overly optimistic" about the liberation of Mosul. In an interview with the Lebanese Mayadeen TV, Al-Muhandis said that "from the very beginning we understood that this would be a difficult and lengthy operation." He said that the PMU is negotiating with Moscow about buying arms, and added that the PMU has no objection to Russian military intervention in Syria. "In my opinion, conditions are ripe for this," he said, stating that this is the prerogative of the Iraqi government. Al-Muhandis discussed the PMU's relations with Hizbullah and his own personal connection with the late Hizbullah military commanders Imad Mughniyah and Mustafa Badreddin, who, he said, had supervised the establishment of jihadi forces that fought the Saddam regime and the American forces after 2003. He also said that he was "proud of" his relations with Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah. The interview aired on January 3.
Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis: "With regard to Mosul, people were overly optimistic about the liberation of this very large city. It is a large city spanning a great area, bordering on countries like Syria. It served as the capital of ISIS, that terrorist organization. This overly optimistic approach is the reason for the view that the operations in Mosul were faltering. From the very beginning, we understood that this would be a difficult and lengthy operation, which would take time, because of the complexity of the geographic area, and the presence of a large population."
"Meetings are taking place with the leader of the PMU, who is in Moscow. One of the goals is to reach understandings on providing weapons to the PMU."
Interviewer: "You want to get arms from Moscow?"
Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis: "Of course. [Russia] is a country that exports arms. The Iraqi army has always used Russian weapons."
Interviewer: "Does the PMU object to or accept Russian military intervention to help Iraq fight ISIS? I'm talking about legal means, of course. "
Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis: "This is up to the Iraqi government. If it agrees to this, we have no objection. In my view, the conditions are ripe for this, and there is some form of cooperation [between the two countries]. With regard to Russia entering Syria, there is some form of political cooperation between Iraq and Russia, and in fact, it is more than just on the political level."
Interviewer: "Some of the PMU commanders have declared that when they have completed the battle for Mosul, that they will proceed toward Syria to fight ISIS there."
Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis: "I say this too. We shall go to any region where there is a threat to Iraqi security. Allah willing, [the battle] in Syria will end before [the battle] for Mosul, and we will not have to go there. If we go there, it will be under the orders of the Iraqi military leaders, and of the Iraqi government. The PMU will not violate the sovereignty of any state, unless it is by order of the Iraqi government. But any reasonable person..."
Interviewer: "That would also require a request by the Syrian government."
Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis: "Of course."
"We have established an official committee, consisting of a representative of the Supreme Judicial Council, and a representative of the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, along with legal experts and military officers, in order to put the status of the PMU into order – military battalions, headquarters, and administration units – and to regulate our legal and administrative status vis-à-vis the state and the judiciary. It seems that time is not in our favor. "
Interviewer: "With regard to alliances, I have not yet asked you about your ties with Iran. Iran supplies you with weapons, money... "
Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis: "We have strong ties. Iran has been the central pillar providing support for the PMU. It has supported us with weapons, ammunition, plans, and advisors – both Iran and Hizbullah..."
Interviewer: "Do you have good ties with Hizbullah?"
Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis: "Very good ties."
Interviewer: "On the operational level?"
Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis: "Yes, of course. From the beginning, Iran and Hizbullah contributed to our training and planning, and supported us with weapons and supplies. This was with the knowledge and agreement of the former prime minister and the present prime minister."
Interviewer: "Your relations with Hizbullah go back a long time, right?"
Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis: "Do you mean on a personal level?"
Interviewer: "You had a personal connection to the martyr Imad Mughniyah, right? "
Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis: "Of course. My ties with the great martyr Imad and with the martyr Mustafa Badreddine go back to the early 1980s. We had strong operational ties. These two martyrs played a very important role in the training of the fighting Iraqi mujahid forces. The first to train the early Iraqi opposition Jihadi groups, in the early 1980s, were Imad [Mughniyah] and Mustafa [Badreddine]. They also played a central role in the organization of cells of resistance to the Americans in Iraq."
Interviewer: "They trained Iraqis here in Iraq in the fighting against the Americans?"
Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis: "Yes, they trained the first cells of Iraqis – and I was among them – against the Saddam regime. They also helped, trained, and prepared the Iraqis to fight the Americans in Iraq."
Interviewer: "When was this?"
Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis: "After 2003. They played, and their brothers continue to play, a central role in training and drawing up operational plans. They play a very important role. Imad and Mustafa will continue to play an important role."
Interviewer: "As long as we are talking about personal relations – do you have personal relations with Hassan Nasrallah?"
Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis: "I am proud of my relations with him. They go back a long time. He is the leader of the resistance and an important figure in the region. We follow his example and the example set by our brothers in Hizbullah."
Interviewer: "Tell me the truth, Abu Mahdi, do you follow the fighting of the resistance in Syria and South [Lebanon] as allies, as friends, as partners, or out of solidarity alone? Conversely, does Hizbullah follow the actions of the PMU here as an ally and a partner? Is there a military aspect to this, or is it [merely] a sense of solidarity with the PMU, as your ally?"
Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis: "No, [Hizbullah] feels a true sense of solidarity with the PMU. The PMU has become an important player in the region and in the country. We view Hizbullah and Iran as our allies, our friends, and our partners in the region, against the camp of takfir, of killing, and of slaughter. They say: 'We have brought slaughter upon you,' and we say that we have brought resistance and steadfastness upon them. The goals of Hizbullah and Iran and our own goals in Iraq are to preserve the land, to end the wars, and to restore stability to the region."