By depriving the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) of its leading strategist, the assassination of Abu Mahdi Muhandis, the chief of staff of the PMF, delivered a significant blow to what U.S. officials regard en masse as Iran’s Trojan Horse in Iraq. Building on interviews with PMF commanders and Iraqi officials, this chapter seeks to identify the imminent organizational hazards that arise for the still-amorphous paramilitary structure. Furthermore, the author explores the long-term opportunities for an incremental security sector reform tailored to the specificities of the Iraqi context. For that purpose, the author illustrates the instrumental role of the so-called resistance factions in the formative stages of the PMF, elaborating on the vision of Muhandis for institutional consolidation and concentration of systemic capabilities. In the aftermath of the assassination and subsequent leadership vacuum, the PMF’s main shareholders must act in concert to safeguard the group’s systemic gains. The different centers of gravity had to identify—and most importantly impose—a unifying figure with the authority and credibility to manage the inherited patronage networks. The intra-organizational diversity of opinions along with the factions’ often contradictory agendas would require the newly appointed successor to appease those that are less well-connected and eager to renegotiate their hand within the contested PMF Commission.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan organization that seeks to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security priorities.