Iraq’s paramilitary troops angered after budget snub

Iraq’s paramilitary troops angered after budget snub
The Popular Mobilization Units played a key role in the fight against Daesh but were also accused of committing abuses in Sunni areas. (AFP)
Updated 05 March 2018

Iraq’s paramilitary troops angered after budget snub

Iraq’s paramilitary troops angered after budget snub

BAGHDAD: Commanders of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated paramilitary groups have been left furious after the country’s annual budget failed to deliver the funding they claim they need to pay all their fighters.
The Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), also known as Hashed Al-Shaabi, played a key role in the fight against Daesh but were also accused of committing abuses in Sunni areas.
The units, many of which are backed by Iran, were formally incorporated into the Iraqi security forces in 2016. But some in Iraq fear they have become too powerful and are another tool of the Iranian government to exert influence in Iraq.
Iraq’s Parliament on Saturday approved the long-delayed 2018 budget, which exceeded $88 billion. But the budget did not included any extra allocation to cover the salaries and allowances of all the fighters of the PMU. It also failed to cover the differences in salaries and allowances between the PMU fighters and soldiers who serve in the regular forces under the ministries of defense and interior, the commanders said.
PMU commanders told Arab News that the decision not to address their salaries and allowances was a “betrayal” and a denial of the fighters’ sacrifices during the three years of war against Daesh. They called on the Iraqi government and the Parliament to correct it soon.
Upsetting the Shiite armed factions at this delicate time may disrupt the security situation in some Iraqi provinces, especially in the center and south of the country. It also places pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi, who is looking for any opportunity to boost his chances of winning a second term in elections in May.
Qais Al-Khaza’ali, the commander of A’ssaib Ahl Al-Haq, one of the most prominent Shiite armed factions, said the lack of pay equality between PMU fighters and those serving in the regular security forces “is a real betrayal in every sense of the word.”
He said the PMU fighters should be considered permanent government employees.
Shiite militias backed by Iran are the backbone of the PMU that fought with the Iraqi government after Daesh seized almost a third of Iraqi territory in the north and west of the country.
They mobilized in 2014 as Daesh seized territory and became a formal military organization backed by parliamentary legislation in November 2016. The law states that the fighters of PMU have to get the same rights and salaries as their counterparts in the other security services.
Ahmed Assadi, commander of Jund Al-Imam, one of the PMU factions, told Arab News that the fighters are contractors and not governmental employees.
“Their contracts are automatically renewed every three months and can be simply terminated with the signature of a brigade commander,” he said.
The conflict between Abadi and the PMU commanders, particularly the ones closest to Iran, erupted in the last 15 months due to attempts by Abadi to restructure the PMU and subject it to the same regulations and standards applied to other Iraqi military institutions.
The total number of PMU fighters has been at the heart of the dispute. The budget allocated to cover the expenses of the PMU is $844 million to cover salaries and $223,000 as an investment budget. But this only covers 110,000 fighters out of 142,000, PMU commanders told Arab News.
“We had pressured the government to increase the budget to cover the salaries of the 32,000 fighters who are not covered by 2017-budget and the government has responded by allocating money to cover another 12,000 fighters,” a senior PMU commander told Arab News.
These 12,000 fighters are Sunnis based in Mosul, which doesn’t address the Shiite commanders complaints.He said Abadi does not want to apply the PMU law because he is trying to reduce the number of fighters.
“He is translating the US desire to integrate the PMU with other security formations and end its moral independence,” the commander said.
The monthly salary of each PMU fighter is around $700, but the commanders say the fighters rarely get more than $400 to $425, as they have to cut salaries of the registered fighters to secure the payments of the non-registered fighters.
Abadi has said that the budget for the PMUs has increased and he has ordered to an investigation into why their salaries are not paid in full.
He has criticized some PMU commanders and accused them of taking over the salaries and allowance of the PMUs’ fighters to cover the expenses of their headquarters and electionl campaigns.
“We want to ensure that these funds go to the fighters, not to hire people or fund election campaigns.” Abadi, said.


Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 

Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 
Updated 35 min 9 sec ago

Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 

Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 
  • With millions living in tents across country’s northwest, threat of COVID-19 is severe
  • $1.6m awarded by non-profit organization funded by UK, US, Canadian, Dutch governments

LONDON: Syria’s White Helmets, the civilian rescue group that recovers victims from rubble after airstrikes in the war-torn country, is now making personal protective equipment (PPE) to further its life-saving mission.
The civil defense service, which has worked to reduce the harm of indiscriminate shelling from the Assad regime, has received a $1.6 million award for the production of PPE from a non-profit organization funded by the UK, US, Canadian and Dutch governments.
Funds from the Humanitarian Grand Challenge group have led to the creation of a PPE-producing facility that has manufactured some 2 million masks.
It is also producing protective gowns and face shields — key equipment in the fight against COVID-19 — and handling the disposal of used PPE for northwest Syria’s population, who live in a precarious area that is predominantly out of the regime’s control. 
“The COVID-19 pandemic was the most difficult challenge the White Helmets faced in 2020,” said Munir Mustafa, its deputy general manager for humanitarian affairs.
“We witnessed the spread of the virus in north-western Syria among humanitarian workers and medical personnel, while the global pandemic made cross-borders logistics almost impossible.”
The White Helmets has enhanced community efforts to keep people safe from COVID-19 amid pressing security challenges.
“Our volunteers and fellow humanitarians, health care providers and other essential workers are safer now and can continue caring for Syrian civilians and responding to the pandemic,” Mustafa said.
The White Helmets, established in 2014, was originally formed for search-and-rescue efforts and to broaden the provision of first responders. It claims to have saved some 120,000 lives.
Its role has developed as challenges facing the Syrian people have grown. Violence in the country has demolished health care facilities, decimating communities and cutting off millions from crucial medical care. 
The bombing of civilian areas has forced many to flee to temporary refugee facilities that are often cramped and in poor condition.
With millions living in tents across the country’s northwest, the threat of COVID-19 is severe.
Around 500 cases of COVID-19 are being recorded per day in northwest Syria, but experts say the true number is much higher due to inadequate testing infrastructure.
The Humanitarian Grand Challenge said: “The White Helmets’ ability to manufacture and distribute personal protective equipment inside Syria will not only protect those working in the overwhelmed health system, but reduce the spread of the virus among the most vulnerable.”