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Iraq paramilitaries show off weaponry in big, anniversary parade

Members of the Iraqi Counter-terrorism Service (ICTS) are deployed in the streets of the capital Baghdad on March 27, 2021 [AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images]
Members of the Iraqi Counter-terrorism Service (ICTS) are deployed in the streets of the capital Baghdad on March 27, 2021 [AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images]

Thousands of Iraqi paramilitary fighters, including powerful Iran-backed factions, marched at a military base in eastern Iraq on Saturday showcasing tanks and rocket launchers in their biggest formal parade to date, reports Reuters.

The event, attended by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, marked seven years since the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) were formed to fight Daesh.

"I esteem your sacrifices, and the sacrifices of the Iraqi armed forces" in fighting Daesh, Kadhimi said, warning against any "sedition" within the PMF, but without elaborating.

The PMF's establishment created a state-sanctioned umbrella organisation of mostly Shia militias backed by Iran.

The Iran-aligned factions, which are the most powerful in the PMF, have since Daesh's defeat in 2017 expanded their military, political and economic power, and attacked bases housing the 2,500 remaining US forces in Iraq.

They have allies in parliament and government and a grip over some state bodies, including security institutions.

Those factions are also accused of killing protesters who took to the streets in late 2019 demanding the removal of Iraq's ruling elite. The groups deny involvement in activist killings.

READ: Iraq senior official pledges firm stance against 'sectarian calls'

Kadhimi, a US-friendly interim premier, has tried to crack down on the most powerful Iran-backed factions but without success because of their military strength and political influence.

The membership of Iran-aligned groups in the PMF has made it difficult for Kadhimi and state security forces to check the power of the militias since they are effectively part of the state itself.

On Saturday Kadhimi watched, flanked by militia commanders while hundreds of armoured vehicles drove past a banner of the late PMF military chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iran-backed commander who was killed in a US drone strike last year.

The parade, a demonstration of military might, took place at a base once occupied by US troops near the border with Iran.

The PMF was formed in 2014 after Iraq's top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged all able-bodied Iraqis to take up arms against Daesh, which had taken over a third of Iraq.

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