Iraq PM curbs powers of Iran-backed armed groups

Iraq PM curbs powers of Iran-backed armed groups
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Members of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) take part in a military parade in the town of Taza, south of the northern oil city of Kirkuk, Iraq June 28, 2019. (Reuters)
Iraq PM curbs powers of Iran-backed armed groups
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Abdul Mahdi's decree integrates paramilitary units into the military. (AP/File photo)
Updated 03 July 2019

Iraq PM curbs powers of Iran-backed armed groups

Iraq PM curbs powers of Iran-backed armed groups
  • Adel Abdul Mahdi says groups must choose between political or military activity
  •  Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr announced the dissolution of his armed wing Sarraya al-Salam

BAGHDAD: Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr announced the dissolution of his armed wing Sarraya al-Salam on Monday and ordered the closure of its headquarters, uniting its fighters with the official security establishment.

Sarraya al-Salam was formed in June 2014 and consists of more than 20,000 fighters. It was set up to defend the Shiite shrines in northern Iraq when the radical Islamic militants, Daesh, stormed the northern and western parts of the country and sized most of Sunni-dominated towns and cities after the dramatic collapse of the Iraqi army. It is one of the largest armed Shiite factions that emerged from the mantle of Mehdi Army militia, which played a pivotal role during the sectarian war between Shiite and Sunni factions that slaughtered tens of thousands of innocent people from both communities across the country.

Sadr responded to a decree issued by Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi late on Monday to bring armed factions under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) less than an hour after it was circulated. This reflected Sadr’s great support for Abdul Mahdi’s government and aimed to embarrass the pro-Iranian armed factions, which would be seen to be undermining the state’s authority if they operate outside the official security establishment.

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Sarraya al-Salam, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Kataib Huzbollah-Iraq, the most powerful Shiite militias that carried out deadly attacks against US troops in Iraq during the period of 2007–2011, in addition to Badr Organization, the oldest and most organized Shiite militia, represented the backbone of the PMU that fought Daesh alongside the government. The PMU are a government body established by Nuri al-Maliki, the former Iraqi Prime Minister in June 2014 to organize the work of the Shiite, Sunni, Yazidi and Christian armed factions and individuals that have volunteered for Daesh at that time. The PMU now consist of more than 150,000 fighters, whose equipment matches that of most of Iraq’s regular military units.

Abdul Mahdi’s decree seeks to bring the work of armed factions under the umbrella of the PMU and states that all factions are to operate under the commander of Abdul Mahdi, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. They must give up their old names and replace them with official military names and classifications. No political affiliations are allowed. Any faction that refuses to give up its political affiliations must become a political organization. Factions that become political organizations, are only permitted to carry weapons for the purpose of protection. The decree also orders the closure of factional headquarters, the removal of checkpoints and the ending of activities outside the framework of the official military establishment.

“What was issued by the Prime Minister in terms of the PMU is an important decision and a correct step towards building a strong state,” Sadr said in a statement. “What I am interested in is that Sarraya al-Salam which I established, be the first to apply (the items of the decree) immediately.

“Abu Yasser (commander of Sarraya al-Salam) must immediately implement the orders by closing the headquarters, canceling the name of the faction and re-associate with the relevant government agencies.”


Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 

Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 
Updated 32 min 30 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.”