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US admits to supporting Iraq Shia militias with airstrikes

Iraqi army and Shia militias take positions outside Fallujah
Iraqi army and Shia militias take positions outside Fallujah, Iraq [file photo]

The Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), also known as the PMU or Hashd Al-Sha’abi in Arabic, is receiving “incidental benefit” from coalition airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, the spokesman for the US-led Coalition said yesterday.

“We do conduct airstrikes against Daesh targets anywhere that they can be found in Iraq. So we continue to strike their fighters, we continue to strike their resources. And in many cases this has provided incidental benefit to the PMUs, they operate near and around Tel Afar,” said Colonel John Dorrian, referring to the Iraqi Turkmen majority city 60 kilometres west of Mosul.

“The PMU are operating under the command and control of the government of Iraq, they’re executing the Iraqi plan, and they’ve blocked the egress routes from Mosul towards Syria and this is a good thing because it traps ISIL in Mosul,” he added.

Dorrian made the comments in answer to questions submitted to him over social media using the hashtag #AskOIRSpox, using the acronym for “Operation Inherent Resolve”, the codename for the international, anti-Daesh coalition.

In answer to another question about plans to contain the PMF after the operations to dislodge Daesh from Mosul conclude, the Kurdish Rudaw news network cited Dorrian as saying that the newly passed law bringing the Iran-backed Shia forces under Baghdad’s control was “an important first step.”

In the lead up to the launch of the Mosul offensive, which began on 17 October, the coalition was very clear that it would not be providing direct support to the PMF in light of the fact that they had carried out human rights violations.

According to Rudaw, the Coalition “will not support units which it has concerns about, including certain Shia militia units,” said Tobias Ellwood, Minister for the Middle East and North Africa at Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in the week before the Mosul offensive began.

As the conflict is now in its third month, the PMF have captured a large amount of territory west of Mosul and cut Daesh off from road access to Syria.

Since Baghdad passed legislation to bring the predominantly Shia militant force nominally under its control, the Coalition has increasingly provided the group with support, with the last officially acknowledged airstrikes in the area of Tel Afar having taken place on 20 December.  However, there have been increasing concerns that Iraqi legislation to make the PMF into an official part of the Iraqi military apparatus was just a way to legitimise forces who are loyal to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) rather than to Iraq itself.

Reports have indicated that the PMF and other Shia jihadists have crossed into Syria and have fought on the side of President Bashar Al-Assad in his attempt to crush the revolt against his family’s almost half a century of rule.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has urged the PMF not to involve themselves in the “domestic affairs” of other countries, but seemingly lacks the power to reign them in despite being their commander-in-chief.

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