Iraq le­gal­izes Shi­ite mili­tias

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Iraq’s par­lia­ment yes­ter­day voted to ac­cord full le­gal sta­tus to govern­ment-sanc­tioned Shi­ite mili­tias as a “back-up and re­serve” force for the mil­i­tary and po­lice and em­power them to “de­ter” se­cu­rity and ter­ror threats fac­ing the coun­try, like the Is­lamic State group. The leg­is­la­tion, sup­ported by 208 of the cham­ber’s 327 mem­bers, was promptly re­jected by Sunni Arab politi­cians and law­mak­ers who said it was ev­i­dence of what they called the “dic­ta­tor­ship” of the coun­try’s Shi­ite ma­jor­ity.

“The ma­jor­ity does not have the right to de­ter­mine the fate of ev­ery­one else,” Osama AlNu­jaifi, one of Iraq’s three vice pres­i­dents and a se­nior Sunni politi­cian, told a news con­fer­ence af­ter the vote. “There should be gen­uine po­lit­i­cal in­clu­sion. This law must be re­vised.” Sunni law­maker Ahmed al-Masary said the leg­is­la­tion fu­els doubts about the par­tic­i­pa­tion of all Iraqi com­mu­ni­ties in the po­lit­i­cal process. “The leg­is­la­tion aborts na­tion build­ing,” he said, adding that the law cre­ated a dan­ger­ous par­al­lel to the coun­try’s mil­i­tary and po­lice.

The law, tabled by the cham­ber’s largest Shi­ite bloc, placed the mili­tias un­der the com­mand of Shi­ite Prime Min­is­ter Haider Al-Abadi and gave mili­ti­a­men salaries and pen­sions that mir­ror those of the mil­i­tary and the po­lice. In a state­ment, Abadi wel­comed the leg­is­la­tion and said the “Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion” forces, the for­mal name of the mili­tias, would cover all Iraqi sects, a thinly veiled ref­er­ence to the much smaller and weaker Sunni tribal forces. The Shi­ite mili­tias num­ber more than 100,000. “The Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion will rep­re­sent and de­fend all Iraqis wher­ever they are,” Abadi said.

The vote comes at a time when the govern­ment is wag­ing a ma­jor cam­paign to dis­lodge the Is­lamic State group from Mo­sul, Iraq’s sec­ond largest city and the last ma­jor ur­ban cen­ter still con­trolled by the ex­trem­ist group. The Shi­ite mili­tias, most of which are backed by neigh­bor­ing Iran, have been bankrolled and equipped by the govern­ment since shortly af­ter IS swept across much of north­ern and western Iraq in 2014. Many of these groups ex­isted long be­fore IS emerged, fight­ing Amer­i­can troops in ma­jor street bat­tles dur­ing the US mil­i­tary pres­ence in Iraq be­tween 2003 and 2011.

They have played a key role in check­ing the ad­vance of IS on Bagh­dad and the Shi­ite Shrine cities of Sa­marra and Kar­bala in the sum­mer of 2014 and later helped lib­er­ate IS-held ar­eas to the south, north­east and north of Bagh­dad, stand­ing in for the se­cu­rity forces which largely col­lapsed in the face of the IS blitz in 2014. How­ever, their role has some­what di­min­ished as more and more of Iraq’s se­cu­rity forces have re­gained their strength.

Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and rights groups have long com­plained that the mili­ti­a­men have been in­volved in ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings, abuse and the theft or de­struc­tion of prop­erty in ar­eas where they drove out IS. The mili­tias’ com­man­ders, how­ever, deny the charges or in­sist that the ex­cesses are the work of an iso­lated few. Cur­rently, the mili­tias are tasked with driv­ing IS from the town of Tal Afar west of Mo­sul. They seized the town’s airstrip ear­lier this week. Al-Abadi met mili­tia com­man­ders at the strip on Thurs­day. — AP

MO­SUL: Fight­ers of the Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion forces take a photo on the front­line against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants yes­ter­day. — AP

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