The popular mobilisation units as a relief agency : can the Coronavirus pandemic accelerate institutional transformation?


The coronavirus pandemic is helping the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) in Iraq to function as an auxiliary relief agency besides its role as a combatant force. Iraq is expected to be hit by several crises as a result of the pandemic, low crude oil prices, environmental degradation, and water scarcity. In a weakly centralized state such as Iraq, sub-state actors, such as the PMU will spearhead responses to contain crises. The PMU’s expanding role in civil realms encourages the PMU’s leaders to eye a role in Iraq’s reconstruction economy through corporate means by emulating the military models of Egypt and Iran. Such economic engagement will help the PMU hedge against budgetary difficulties caused by low crude oil prices pressuring Iraq’s finances. However, the PMU is plagued by internal cleavages that hinder the umbrella organization’s ability to maximize its institutional potentials. Inter-group cleavages are exacerbated by geopolitical tensions in the region between the US and Iran and in addition to Iraq’s unstable domestic politics. For the PMU to play a formidable role as an auxiliary relief agency in Iraq, genuine reform and homogenization of the PMU are needed. This will help the organization to become more cohesive in the long-term, however, recurring regional geopolitical tensions will very likely create setbacks.