Iraqi Sunni MPs reject move to legalize Shiite militias

Iraqi Sunni MPs reject move to legalize Shiite militias
Members of the Iraqi parliament gather at the parliament headquarters in Baghdad, in this file photo. (Reuters)
Updated 27 November 2016

Iraqi Sunni MPs reject move to legalize Shiite militias

Iraqi Sunni MPs reject move to legalize Shiite militias

BAGHDAD: Sunni Arab politicians and lawmakers in Iraq rejected a law approved by Parliament on Saturday that will transform Popular Mobilization forces, a mostly Iranian-backed coalition of Shiite militias into a legal and separate military corps.
The Sunni bloc called it evidence of the “dictatorship” of the country’s Shiite majority. Disagreements over the paramilitary units are complicating efforts to pull Iraq together as forces battle to defeat Daesh.
All the Shiite blocks in Parliament voted for the bill in a session boycotted by lawmakers from the Sunni minority who object to the existence of armed forces outside the army and police.
The legislation was supported by 208 of the chamber’s 327 members.
Popular Mobilization, or Hashid Shaabi in Arabic, was accused of abuses against Sunni civilians in towns and villages retaken from Daesh, according to international human rights groups and the UN Human Rights Commissioner.
“I don’t understand why we need to have an alternative force to the army and the police,” said Sunni MP Raad Al-Dahlaki. “As it stands now, it would constitute something that looks like Iran’s Revolutionary Guard,” he added.
Iraqi forces started an offensive on Oct. 17 to capture Mosul, Daesh’s last major city stronghold in Iraq, with air and ground support from a US-led coalition. Kurdish and Shiite militias are supporting the offensive.
The law does not say how many fighters will be incorporated under the legalized corps, which currently claims to have more than 110,000 fighters, or define the breakdown between members from the different communities.
The government says between 25,000 and 30,000 members of the Hashid are Sunni tribal fighters and nearly all the rest are Shiites, with a few Yazidi and Christian units.
The Kurds have their own military force, called Peshmerga, deployed in the Kurdish autonomous area in northern Iraq.
The law provides for Popular Mobilization to report directly to the prime minister, who is a Shiite under Iraq’s governing system that split top state positions between the different communities after the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein.
The army reports to the defense minister, who is traditionally a Sunni, although the position has been vacant since the sacking by Parliament of Khaled Al-Obeidi in August.