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Iraqi premier calls election, bans armed factions from contesting

Iraqi forces and Popular Mobilization Forces advance toward the city of Al-Qaim as they fight against Daesh on Wednesday. (AFP)
BAGHDAD: Iraq will hold a parliamentary election on May 15 next year and political parties with armed wings will not be allowed to take part, Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said on Wednesday.
“The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), as a part of the Iraqi security system, have no right to practice politics,” Al-Abadi said. “So, as a military institution, they will not participate in the election. Political parties should give up their armed wings, or they will be prevented from taking part.”
The PMF is a government body established in June 2014 to cover all the armed factions fighting Daesh alongside the Iraqi government. It consists of more than 10,000 volunteers from all Iraqi sects, ethnicities and minorities, but its majority is Shiite and Iranian-backed Shiite paramilitary forces form its backbone. Al-Abadi’s announcement is aimed at isolating these troops from their original armed factions.
The prime minister began a campaign some months ago to restructure the PMF units, merge many of them with the regular army units, dissolve many battalions and form new brigades of fighters from different armed factions, prevent the use of the names of irregular factions, and prohibit the use of any militia marks, banners or pictures.
However, most registered Shiite, Sunni, Kurd, Turkmen, Christian and Yazidi political parties in Iraq have armed wings, and most of them are a part of the PMF.
Al-Abadi’s announcement will have an effect on those parties.
“Practically all the political parties have volunteers within the Popular Mobilization. It is not fair to punish the politicians who fought Daesh,” Kareem Al-Nuri, a PMF commander and a senior leader of the Badr Organization, one of the most influential Shiite armed factions, told Arab News.
“Yes, the participation of the security or military officials under their official title is prohibited in the constitution, but if they resign or participate as politicians, there will be no problem.
“But the PMF is a part of the Iraqi security forces. Its fighters submit to military laws and standards. And yes, they will not participate the election as they are soldiers.”
The decision on the election date needs to be approved by Parliament and the president at least 90 days in advance before it can be confirmed. Iraq has 18 parliamentary constituencies, each electing between seven and 34 deputies according to demographics.
The last election took place in April 2014, when the State of Law alliance of former Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki won most of the votes but fell short of an overall majority. Al-Maliki ceded power to Al-Abadi that August.
On the ground on Wednesday, federal officers accused the Kurdistan Regional Government of reneging on agreements with Baghdad to hand over border crossings. They warned that fighting may resume unless the Kurds reconsidered their position.

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