SULAIMANI (ESTA) — Thousands of Iraqi paramilitary fighters, including powerful Iran-backed factions, marched at a military base in eastern Iraq on Saturday showcasing tanks and rocket launchers in their biggest formal parade to date.
The event, attended by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, marked seven years since the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) were formed to fight Islamic State (ISIS).
“I esteem your sacrifices, and the sacrifices of the Iraqi armed forces” in fighting ISIS, Kadhimi said, warning against any “sedition” within the PMF, but without elaborating.
The PMF’s establishment created a state-sanctioned umbrella organization of mostly Shia militias backed by Iran.
The Iran-aligned factions, which are the most powerful in the PMF, have since ISIS’ defeat in 2017 expanded their military, political and economic power and attacked bases housing the 2,500 remaining U.S. forces in Iraq.
On Saturday Kadhimi watched, flanked by militia commanders while hundreds of armored vehicles drove past a banner of the late PMF military chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iran-backed commander who was killed in a U.S. drone strike last year.
The parade, a demonstration of military might, took place at a base once occupied by U.S. troops near the border with Iran.
The PMF was formed in 2014 after Iraq’s top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged all able-bodied Iraqis to take up arms against ISIS, which had taken over a third of Iraq.
(Esta Media Network/Reuters)