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Iraq PM slammed for sectarian abduction of Sunnis near Baghdad

The Iraqi prime minister has been criticised by one of Iraq's three vice presidents for the abduction and forced disappearance of dozens of Sunni Arab civilians from their homes in the township of Tarmiyah, north of the capital Baghdad.

Vice President Ayad Allawi, who also heads the Iraqi National Accord parliamentary bloc, slammed Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi's government, calling on the authorities to end its silence over the abduction of around 50 men from Sunni villages in the Tarmiyah district.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi premier admitted that a "part of a unit" from the Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an official part of the Iraqi military, was responsible for the attacks on Tarmiyah and the sectarian targeting of Sunni villagers.

This comes after Iraqi officials appeared on Arab television, including Al Jazeera, and appeared to blame the Daesh terrorist group for the abductions. The commander of the military brigade responsible for the area, however, said that he had no idea how the men were disappeared and did not make any mention of Daesh.

Tarmiyah is held and secured by the Iraqi government with no Daesh presence, and forms a part of the southern edges of Salahuddin province near Baghdad.

Al-Abadi's admissions could prove damning, as the PMF form an official part of the Iraqi armed forces and are therefore under his direct command.

Although the PMF are completely separate to the standard army, they enjoy their own budget, supplies and facilities, and are also heavily backed by regional Shia power Iran, who seeks to transform the PMF into a force similar to its own Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The PMF were formed in 2014 as a collection of Shia jihadist organisations but were unofficially operating until last year.

A flawed investigation

Al-Abadi has pledged an investigation into the disappearances, after he confirmed that the "unit from the Hashd Al-Sha'abi said that the [Iraqi army] knew" about the abductions, using the Arabic name for the PMF.

The prime minister's suggestion is that the Iraqi army knew about what was happening, yet did nothing to prevent the Shia jihadists from forcibly disappearing dozens of Sunni Arab civilians, as well as other actions that are considered war crimes under international law.

Al Jazeera cited eyewitnesses and security sources as saying that vehicles carrying armed men but no identification or license plates appeared in Tarmiyah and began their campaign of terror.

The government's investigation will be headed by the PMF's own governing committee, in addition to the ministries of defence and the interior, as well as the Joint Operations Command.

Ahmad Al-Mahmoud, an analyst at the UK-based Iraq monitoring group, Foreign Relations Bureau of Iraq (FRB), scoffed at the prime minister's suggestions.

"So the Hashd's own committee will be investigating itself? This is not a minor misdemeanour where they can simply 'look into it'. People have gone missing, and it's important a serious body looks into this matter," Al-Mahmoud told MEMO.

Referencing previous investigations related to the disappearance of 643 men from Saqlawiyah near Fallujah in 2015 that seemed to yield no results or curtail war crimes and abductions, the analyst said: "The Iraqi government, parliamentary committees and the governor of Anbar province himself [Sohaib Al-Rawi] confirmed that these men had been abducted by extremists within the army – why have they done nothing about it?"

The fates of the missing 643 men are still unknown, though they are presumed to have been killed following footage released from around Fallujah showing the PMF and Iraqi military units torturing civilians and killing them.

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