By Kenneth R. Rosen—Foreign Affairs—May 22, 2017—
In the arid desert south of Tal Afar, members of Hash’d al-Sha’bi, which comprises nearly 60 predominately Shiite paramilitary units, have set up operations in this barren region outside of Mosul. Since last October, the group, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), has severed the Islamic State’s (ISIS’) supply routes to Syria using only their Jeeps, Hummers, and light tank weaponry, and in December, drove ISIS from the area.
When I arrived in early May, I witnessed a Jeep of militiamen tearing across the flat, dry expanse. As the truck streamed past the molehills of earth lining the various checkpoints, it churned up a cloud of dust. At the time, the Iraqi Army’s 9th Armored Division, the Federal Police, and the elite, U.S.-trained Rapid Response Units had surrounded the Old City of Mosul from all sides and the defeat of the militants seemed imminent.