Abu-Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Committee, the umbrella organization for the Shi'ite militias operating in Iraq, at a conference of the Union of Radio and Television in Mashhad, Iran (Sawt al-Ahwaz, July 2, 2017).
The Popular Mobilization Committee logo. Its name is at the center, topped with "Allahu akbar." Left and right are Iraqi flags inscribed "Republic of Iraq" (Popular Mobilization Committee website, July 10, 2017).
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (right) and Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Qods Force (left) in picture taken in eastern Iraq (Tehran Press, March 8, 2015).
1. Abu-Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Committee, the umbrella organization of the Shi'ite militias in Iraq, recently gave a speech at a conference in Mashhad, Iran. It deal with the trends the militias would take after the liberation of Mosul. Other Popular Mobilization Committee commanders have also made comments in recent months about the Shi'ite militias in the Middle East in general and Iraq and Syria in particular. In ITIC assessment they reflect the interests and intent of Iran, which handles the Popular Mobilization Committee according to its own local and regional interests (for the main points of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis' speech at the conference, see Appendix A).
Statements made by Abu-Mahdi al-Muhandis and other senior figures in the Popular Mobilization Committee indicate that Iran's interests in Iraq center on increasing Iranian influence, strengthening the Shi'ite sect, expelling American and Western influence, establishing Iranian influence along the Iraqi-Syrian border and opening an overland logistic route from Tehran via Baghdad and Damascus to Beirut. Their statements also indicate the possibility of deploying Shi'ite militias in the Golan Heights, when circumstances become suitable. In all probability, following the liberation of Mosul, the Popular Mobilization Committee in Iraq will serve as an important Iranian proxy to promote its interests in Iraq and Syria, seriously challenging the United States and the pro-Western Arab states.
The Popular Mobilization Committee
2. The Popular Mobilization Committee is an umbrella organization composed of about 40 Shi'ite militias operating in Iraq and sponsored by Iran. It was established in June 2014 when Mosul was occupied by ISIS, which was the high point of its achievements in Iraq, and posed a imminent danger to Baghdad. The Popular Mobilization Committee is based mainly on Shi'ite militias sponsored by Iran that in the past fought the American-led coalition in Iraq. Some of its commanders have extensive combat experience. In recent years the militias (whose strength has grown significantly) participated in the campaign against ISIS, directed by Iran and under the formal jurisdiction of the supreme command of the Iraqi army (for a profile of the Popular Mobilization Committee, see Appendix C).
3. One of the Popular Mobilization Committee's prominent commanders is Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, second in command to its commander, Falih al-Fayyadh. In 1983 al-Muhandis was involved in a series of terrorist attacks in Kuwait, among them attacks on the American and French embassies, acting as a an Iranian proxy in the service of Hezbollah in Lebanon. During the war in Iraq against the American-led coalition forces he headed a Shi'ite militia called the Hezbollah Battalions, which waged warfare and was handled by the Iranian Qods Force. In ITIC assessment, today Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis is the dominant military personality in the Popular Mobilization Committee, while Falih al-Fayyadh, the commander, is a figurehead (for a profile of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, see Appendix B).
Insights gained from a speech given by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and statements by other senior Popular Mobilization Committee figures
4. Various insights can be gained from a speech given by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and from statements made by other senior figures in the Popular Mobilization Committee. The insights relate to Iran's efforts to achieve influence in Iran and the Popular Mobilization Committee's role as a favored Iranian proxy organization:
A. In Iranian perspective, the liberation of Mosul is likely to hasten the struggle with the United States for influence in Iraq. Iran aspires to advance its interests in Iraq and turn it, eventually, into a state sponsored by Iran, part of the so-called "Shi'ite crescent" which would include Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. At the same time, Iran also seeks to reduce American influence in Iraq, which increased during the campaign against ISIS, especially in the fighting in Mosul.
B. The importance of the Popular Mobilization Committee: The Popular Mobilization Committee is Iran's favored proxy in Iraq(comparable to Hezbollah in Lebanon). The Iranian Qods Force has many years of practical experience in directing the Shi'ite militias fight against the American army. Some of the top commanders of the Shi'ite militias were in the past, and in ITIC assessment, are still being handled directly by the Qods Force(despite the formal link between the Popular Mobilization Committee and the Iraqi regime). Evident in Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis' speech was his determined rejection (supported by Iran) to any attempt the Iraqi government might attempt to dismantle the Popular Mobilization Committee.
C. The significance of the Popular Mobilization Committee's growing strength: The existence and growth of the Shi'ite militias, well-armed and supported by Iran, may have a negative influence on the stability of Iraq's political and societal systems. The existence of Shi'ite militias with political influence and directed by Iran will pose a challenge to the Iraqi Sunnis and weaken the central Shi'ite government in Baghdad. The strengthening of the Shi'ites in Iraq with Iranian support is liable tocause a groundswell of Sunni unrest and push the Sunnis to support terrorist and guerilla organizations, including ISIS, even during the era after the liberation of Mosul.
5. As to continuing the fight against ISIS, the following military insights can be gained from Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis' speech:
A. For Iran, importance of influence and control along the Iraqi-Syrian border: According to Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis' speech, Iran regards control of both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border as important, and views the Popular Mobilization Committee militias as the military force that will clear the border area of ISIS and promote Iranian interests. According to Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, about 150 kilometers (almost 95 miles) along the border have been "liberated" from ISIS. Thus it can be assumed that after the liberation of Mosul, Iran will increase its efforts to control the border using Popular Mobilization Committee forces. 
Convoy of Popular Mobilization Committee militias which reached the Iraq-Syria border at the end of May 2017 (Twitter account of the military information unit of the Popular Mobilization Committee, May 30, 2017).
B. Importance for Iran in opening the main road linking Baghdad and Damascus: A key Iranian interest, as reflected in Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis' speech, is opening the road linking Baghdad and Damascus. Iran is probably planning to use it for overland movement from Tehran to Syria and Lebanon through Baghdad[Note: Events on the ground in recent months indicate that the Iranians and the Syrian regime are currently engaged in an intensive drive to open and secure the road from Damascus to Baghdad, and make it passable].
Using the Damascus-Baghdad road. Left: Trucks en route from Iraq to Syria. Right: Three trucks on their way from Syria to Iraq at the improvised border crossing opened on the Syrian-Iraqi border northeast of the al-Waleed crossing (called al-Tanf on the Syrian side) (Syria TV Channel 7, June 12, 2017).
6. The Israeli aspect:
A. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis ended his speech by saying that "if Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah asks the Popular Mobilization Committee to turn towards with Israel if a confrontation breaks out, the request will be complied with immediately and [the Popular Mobilization Committee] will be there [to support Hezbollah]" (Shabakat Nahrain, June 3, 2017). He did not specify which Israeli front Popular Mobilization Committee operatives would be deployed to, but he apparently meant the Golan Heights. [Note: On March 8, 2017, Akram al-Kaabi, who heads the Iraq Shi'ite militia called The Movement of the NobleOnes, announced his operatives had established a so-called Brigade for the Liberation of the Golan.]
B. Deploying pro-Iranian Shi'ite operatives on the Golan Heights front would, in ITIC assessment, serve Iran's interest in turning the Golan Heights into a confrontation front against Israel. Iranian proxies may be deployed there, such as Lebanese Hezbollah and the Shi'ite militias from Iraq, directed Iran.
Qais al-Kh'azali, the Iraqi Shi'ite leader of the militia calling itself the "League of Righteous People," gave a speech on May 10, 2017, to his operatives. He talked about the Shi'ite vision of spreading throughout the Middle East. He said, "...if in the past people used to talk about the 'Shi'ite crescent,' with the help of Allah we will have a 'Shi'ite full moon.' We will have all the land, from east to west. With the help of Allah and with the spirit of the last Shi'ite imam, the deployment of our fighting forces will be completed: from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in Iran, to Hezbollah in Lebanon, to Ansar al-Allah (the Houthi rebels) in Yemen, to the holy mobilization [i.e., Popular Mobilization Committee] in Iraq and the brothers of al-Zeynab [i.e., the Shi'ite operatives defending the shrine of Set al-Zeynab south of Damascus], your brothers [in Syria]..." (al-Jazeera, Kanat al-Iraq, May 10, 2017).
At the end of May 2017 a Popular Mobilization Committee force arrived at the Syria-Iraq border west of Sinjar and began moving south towards the ISIS-controlled city of al-Qa'im. At the same time, a Popular Mobilization Committee force began moving northeast from the al-Waleed border crossing (according to Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the force was located about 70 kilometers (about 43 miles) from the al-Waleed crossing.
On June 14, 2017, an improvised border crossing was opened about 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) northeast of the al-Tanf crossing (near the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border triangle). Syrian TV broadcast pictures of trucks reportedly carrying merchandise crossing the Syrian-Iraqi border in both directions. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis' speech indicated that on the Iraqi side of the improvised crossing there were (an unknown number of) Popular Mobilization Committee operatives, who he claimed had joined the Syrian army forces and Hezbollah operatives on the Syrian side of the border.
On March 8, 2017, Akram al-Ka'abi, who heads the Iraqi Shi'ite "Movement of the Noble Ones" (harakat al-nujaba) issued a recorded announcement in which he said his operatives had established the "Brigade for the Liberation of the Golan." He said its objective was to help the Syria "liberate" the Golan Heights when the campaign against "terrorism" ended (see Appendix C). Furthermore, on June 24, 2017, Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's secretary general, said that tens of thousands of fighters might join a war against Israel, coming from countries such as Iraq, Yemen, Iran and others.