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Iraq's Iran-backed militias 'vying for control of Syria border' Open in fullscreen

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Iraq's Iran-backed militias 'vying for control of Syria border'

The PMU want to act as Iraq's post-IS border guards [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 December, 2016

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Iraq's Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) want to control the northern and western borders with Syria, according to Iraqi officials in Baghdad.
Iraq's Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) want to control the northern and western borders with Syria, according to Iraqi officials in Baghdad.

Commanders in the PMU presented PM Haider al-Abadi with a proposal to deploy forces along the border region after completely pushing out Islamic State [IS] forces from Tel Afar, the sources said.

The proposed deployment would reportedly begin from the Rabi'a region in western Nineveh province and terminate at al-Qaim, opposite the Syrian town of Al-Bukamal.

"The militias have said they are ready to handle full control of the border after the completion of the battle for Tel Afar, but the prime minister has yet to give his approval," Iraqi government sources told The New Arab's sister publication [AR].

The sources speculated that the request remains "sensitive", and is linked to recent reports alleging Iran intends to establish a direct route from Tehran to Damascus via Tel Afar to bypass the Anbar province.

Sources close to the PMU contacted by The New Arab's sister publication did not deny the report.

"The purpose of the request is to block the flow of Daesh fighters from Syria to Iraq," said the sources, using an Arabic acronym for IS. However, the sources stressed the area involved covers only a 140 km stretch of the 620-km border with Syria in the north.
The PMU is now an official force and there is nothing odd in it handling any task anywhere in Iraq
-- Iraqi Hizballah commander
"The PMU is now an official force and there is nothing odd in it handling any task anywhere in Iraq," commented Satar al-Sa'idi, Iraqi Hizballah commander, on the reports.

Reorganising the now-defunct border guard forces, which were merged with Interior Ministry forces following IS' capture of swaths of western and northern Iraq in 2014, requires a long time, he added, saying the army must remain inside cities at present.

For this reason, he continued, the PMU are ready to undertake the task.

Sadek al-Obeidi, MP from the Islamic Dawa party, confirmed the report.

"Porous parts of the northern borders will be manned by the PMU," he told The New Arab's sister publication, while the army would control the "less complicated" western borders.

But the PMU will act as an auxillary force to the army, he insisted, dismissing the link to the purported Iranian project to connect Tehran to Damascus.

In late November, Iraq's parliament approved a law converting the PMU into a government forces answering to the prime minister directly.

The PMU have been locked in battles with IS near Tel Afar, with support from the Iraqi air force. The militia said it intends to seize the city despite opposition from Turkey, which is concerned for the Turkmen population of the town.

The 640-km border with Syria has three main crossings.

Currently, the Iraqi army controls al-Walid crossing, IS controls al-Qaim crossing and Kurdish Peshmerga forces control the Rabi'a crossing in the north.

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