The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have seized several villages in northwestern Mosul from the Islamic State in recent days and are planning to enter the strategic city of Tal Afar, the Iranian media reports. According to (FNA), an outlet affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.), PMF forces have captured the Badush region in northern Nineveh Province, and their next target is Tal Afar. FNA also quotes Hadi al-Ameri, a prominent PMF commander and head of the Badr Organization, as that the militia forces decided to first clear areas around Tal Afar so that Islamic State fighters cannot escape to Syria or receive reinforcements. Another PMF commander, Karim al-Nouri, said today that the militia forces are waiting for the Baghdad government to announce the Tal Afar operation and claimed that the complete liberation of Mosul from the Islamic State was imminent.
Comment: Since the very beginning of the military campaign against the Islamic State in Mosul, the Popular Mobilization Forces – which is dominated by Iran-supported Shiite militant groups – have been playing a leading role in military operations in western parts of Mosul. In recent months, PMF forces have captured dozens of villages in western Mosul, took the control of an army airbase outside Tal Afar, and have cut off the communications and supply lines between Tal Afar and Syria. Iraqi Sunnis and some regional Sunni leaders have repeatedly expressed the concern that the prominent role of Iran-backed groups in western Mosul could reignite sectarianism and undermine stability in the region once the Islamic State is ousted.
Although the PMF is a broad alliance of Iraqi militant groups and includes groups that are not linked with Iran, it is the I.R.G.C.-supported PMF units – such as the Badr Organization and Asaib Ahl al-Haq – that are leading the operations in western Mosul. These groups have engaged in sectarian killings and committed human rights abuses in the past. Many Iraqis and regional Sunni states are concerned that they may engage in similar acts against Sunnis in western Mosul after the defeat of the Islamic State. With the Islamic State on the verge of losing Mosul, the I.R.G.C. and its Iraqi militia proxies have also launched a vicious propaganda campaign against the U.S. and its regional allies – posing security risks to U.S. military advisers that are helping the Iraqi security forces in the country.