Iran-trained mili­tias join US-backed Mo­sul cam­paign, fly­ing Shi­ite flags

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Gun trucks and humvees streamed north on a high­way head­ing to Mo­sul fly­ing the ban­ners of Shi­ite mili­tias along with Iraqi flags while blar­ing re­li­gious songs. The con­voys were the first clear sign of a new player on the battlefield in the US-backed of­fen­sive to re­take Mo­sul from Is­lamic State: Hashid Shaabi or Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion Forces (PMF), a coali­tion of Shi­ite mili­tias. Although it re­ports of­fi­cially to Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi, the coali­tion is mostly made up of groups trained by Iran and loyal to its Supreme Leader, Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei.

They have close ties with Gen­eral Qassem Soleimani, the com­man­der of Iran’s Quds Bri­gade, the ex­tra-ter­ri­to­rial arm of Iran’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guards. He was seen tour­ing the front­lines around Mo­sul last week. Among the ban­ners that could be seen fly­ing from ar­tillery can­nons, com­mu­ni­ca­tion tow­ers and build­ings re­cently re­taken from Is­lamic State were those of Kataib Hezbol­lah and Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, two of the main Ira­nian-backed groups, along­side the Badr Or­ga­ni­za­tion, con­sid­ered the largest. Dozens of holes dug on the side of the high­way for sev­eral kilo­me­ters in­di­cated how heav­ily mined the high­way had been only a cou­ple of days be­fore and the ef­forts the force had gone through to clear the road. One of the first vil- lages re­taken by the PMF since an­nounc­ing com­bat op­er­a­tions on Satur­day was Ain Nasir, some 30 kilo­me­ters south of Mo­sul. One fighter who par­tic­i­pated in the bat­tle to re­take the vil­lage on Satur­day night said that Is­lamic State had put up lit­tle re­sis­tance and that fight­ers had taken sev­eral vil­lagers hostage dur­ing their re­treat, us­ing them as hu­man shields. “We are fight­ing to push Daesh out of Iraq,” said Adel Khiali, 26, a PMF fighter af­fil­i­ated with the Badr Or­ga­ni­za­tion who was for­merly an Iraqi army sol­dier. Daesh is an Ara­bic acro­nym for Is­lamic State.

The Iraqi army and fed­eral po­lice came in to help clear the area af­ter the PMF, Khiali said. Still, as Khiali spoke, at least one mor­tar round hit the vil­lage, in­di­cat­ing that the area was not yet se­cure. There was a sense of re­sent­ment among some fight­ers on the battlefield on Sun­day that the PMF have been mis­rep­re­sented and that their sac­ri­fices have not been ap­pre­ci­ated. “We fight to help peo­ple re­turn to their vil­lages and they call us mili­tias,” said Ali Khiali, a 40- year old PMF fighter af­fil­i­ated with the Badr Or­ga­ni­za­tion. “Is that fair?” Adel and Ali Khiali are brothers.

The UN in July said it had a list of more than 640 Sunni Mus­lim men and boys re­port­edly ab­ducted by Shi­ite mili­ti­a­men in Fal­luja, a for­mer mil­i­tant strong­hold west of Baghdad, and about 50 oth­ers who were sum­mar­ily ex­e­cuted or tor­tured to death. Abadi’s Shi­ite-led govern­ment and the PMF say a limited num­ber of vi­o­la­tions had oc­curred and were in­ves­ti­gated, but they deny abuses were wide­spread and sys­tem­atic. But Amnesty In­ter­na­tional says that in pre­vi­ous cam­paigns, the Shi­ite mili­tias have com­mit­ted “se­ri­ous hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions, in­clud­ing war crimes” against civil­ians flee­ing Is­lamic State-held ter­ri­tory. The fly­ing of Shi­ite flags by the mili­tias and also some reg­u­lar army and po­lice units in the mostly Sunni re­gion around Mo­sul has been a cause of con­cern for lo­cal of­fi­cials. But the Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion forces have not been linked to any sec­tar­ian in­ci­dents so far in the cam­paign that started on Oct 17 with air and ground sup­port from the US-led coali­tion. “It’s not right what they say about us,” Adel said. “When they call us mili­tias it’s like they are in­sult­ing us.” Though Sun­day was only the sec­ond day that the PMF had of­fi­cially joined the bat­tle against Is­lamic State, the ban­ners and slo­gans of the or­ga­ni­za­tion made it clear that theirs is a pan-Shi­ite cause that may not end at Iraq’s bor­ders. — Reuters

QARYAT BAZWAYA: Mem­bers of the Iraqi Counter Ter­ror­ism Ser­vice (CTS) drive near the vil­lage of Bazwaya, on the east­ern edges of Mo­sul, tight­en­ing the noose on Mo­sul as the of­fen­sive to re­take the Is­lamic State group strong­hold en­tered its third week yes­ter­day. —AFP

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