Iraq’s parliament adopts law legalising Shiite militias
BAGHDAD // Iraq’s parliament approved a law on Saturday that will transform an Iran-backed coalition of Shiite militias into a legal and separate military corps.
The Popular Mobilisation forces, or Hashed Al Shaabi, has been accused of abuses against Sunni civilians in towns and villages retaken from ISIL, according to international human rights groups and the UN Human Rights Commissioner.
The law, tabled by the chamber’s largest Shiite bloc, placed the militias under the command of Shiite prime minister Haider Al Abadi and gave militiamen salaries and pensions that mirror those of the military and the police.
The legislation, supported by 208 of the chamber’s 327 members, was promptly rejected by Sunni Arab politicians who said it was evidence of what they called the “dictatorship” of the country’s Shiite majority.
“The majority does not have the right to determine the fate of everyone else,” Osama Al Nujaifi, one of Iraq’s three vice presidents and a senior Sunni politician, said after the vote. “There should be genuine political inclusion. This law must be revised.”
Sunni lawmaker Ahmed Al Masary said the legislation fuels doubts about the participation of all Iraqi communities in the political process. “The legislation aborts nation building,” he said, adding that the law created a dangerous parallel to the country’s military and police.
Mr Al Abadi welcomed the legislation and said the Hashed Al Shaabi forces, the formal name of the militias, would cover all Iraqi sects, a reference to the much smaller and weaker Sunni tribal forces. The Shiite militias number more than 100,000.
“The Popular Mobilization will represent and defend all Iraqis wherever they are,” Mr Al Abadi said.
The vote comes as the government is waging a major campaign to dislodge ISIL from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and the last major urban centre still controlled by the extremist group.
The Shiite militias, most of which are backed by Iran, have been bankrolled and equipped by the government since shortly after ISIL swept across much of northern and western Iraq in 2014. Many of these groups existed long before ISIL emerged, fighting American troops ibetween 2003 and 2011.
They have played a key role in checking the advance of ISIL on Baghdad and the Shiite Shrine cities of Samarra and Karbala in the summer of 2014 and later helped retake ISIL-held areas to the south, north-east and north of Baghdad.
However, their role has diminished as Iraq’s security forces have regained their strength after suffering heavily during the ISIL blitzkrieg in 2014
Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and rights groups have long complained that the militiamen have been involved in extrajudicial killings, abuse and the theft or destruction of property in areas where they drove out ISIL The militias’ commanders, however, deny the charges or insist that the excesses are the work of an isolated few.
Currently, the militias are tasked with driving ISIL from the town of Tal Afar west of Mosul.
Meanwhile in Mosul, Iraqi military and hospital officials said mortar rounds fired by ISIL militants overnight and early on Saturday have killed 16 civilians in neighbourhoods already retaken by troops.
* Reuters and Associated Press
Updated: November 27, 2016 04:00 AM