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Iraq slams calls to disband Hashd al-Shaabi militia alliance

The militia group played a central role in the battle against IS [Getty]

Date of publication: 3 December, 2017

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Iraqi politicians slammed calls by the French president to disband a militia alliance that was pivotal in the battle against the Islamic State group.
Iraqi officials have slammed calls by French President Emmanuel Macron to disband the Shia-dominated militia coalition that has been key in battling the Islamic State group.

The 60,000-strong Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation Forces, was formed from a collection of militias in 2014 after IS routed government forces to seize swathes of northern Iraq.

It has played a central role in helping push back the militants but has been plagued with accusations of gross human rights abuses when they recaptured Sunni-majority areas from IS.

Calls have grown from the West for the Hashd - an umbrella group dominated by Iran-backed Shia militias, officially controlled by Iraq's prime minister - to be dismantled as the IS "caliphate" has been reduced to a few pockets of desert.

"Any such discussion is rejected and we do not accept interference in Iraqi affairs," said one of the group's leaders, Ahmad al-Assadi.

"Asking for the dissolution of the Hashd is like asking for the dissolution of the Iraqi army because the Hashd are a key element of Iraqi security."

At a press conference with Iraqi Kurdish leaders on Saturday, Macron called for "a gradual demilitarisation" of the Hashd and for all militias in Iraq to be "dismantled".

"Emmanuel Macron interfered unexpectedly in Iraq's internal affairs by calling for the dismantling of a legal institution, Hashd al-Shaabi," vice-President and former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday.

"We don't want any country to impose its will on the Iraqi government and the brave Iraqi nation," the leading Shia politician said, who is rumoured to have close ties with the group.

Earlier this year, US Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend made a rare acknowledgement of the Hashd al-Shaabi after Iraqi forces announced the launch of an offensive to take west Mosul from IS.

"The entire [US-led] coalition salutes and wishes God's blessings on the brave Iraqi soldiers, police and militias who today are fighting to liberate their country and make the region and the world a safer place," Townsend said in a statement, the commander of the US-led anti-IS coalition.

But despite the pro-government forces' pivotal role in retrieving IS-held territories, their campaigns have been marred by accusations of war crimes and human rights abuses.

Many are also concerned about the huge influence and power the Hashd al-Shaabi wields and that Iran's connections with the militias have effectively handed Tehran control of Iraq.

Although Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi wants to limit their influence in politics, he strongly defended the Hashd al-Shaabi after comments from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Iranian militias in Iraq should "go home".

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