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US demands Iraq dismantle armed militias

Pompeo and Iraqi foreign minister talked about how the United States and Iraq can work together to make Iraq more safe and stable.

The United States called Wednesday for Iraq to dismantle non-government “armed groups” that have “undermined national sovereignty” ahead of a visit to Washington by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi.

“Armed groups not under the full control of the prime minister have impeded our progress,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Those groups need to be replaced by local police as soon as possible.”

Kadhemi faces challenges from Hashed al-Shaabi

Pompeo was speaking at a press conference in Washington together with Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein, one day before Kadhemi meets President Donald Trump at the White House.

Read more: Iraq-US strategic talks set to begin with muted expectations

Pompeo did not specify which groups he was referring to, but Kadhemi, who took office in May, faces challenges from factions of the Hashed al-Shaabi, a coalition of Iraqi Shiite paramilitary groups with close ties to Iran.

His visit to Washington comes amid weekly attacks attributed to the groups against US installations and assets in the country.

Pompeo said that he had assured Hussein that the US would help Iraq toward this end.

“We talked about how the United States and Iraq can work together to make Iraq more safe and stable,” he said.

Hashed al-Shaabi is an Iraqi state-sponsored umbrella organization composed of some 40 militias that are mostly Shia Muslim groups, but also include Sunni Muslim, Christian, and Yazidi groups. The popular mobilization units as a group was formed in 2014 and have fought in nearly every major battle against ISIL.

It has been called the new Iraqi Republican Guard after it was fully reorganized in early 2018 by its then-Commander in Chief Haider al-Abadi.

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued “regulations to adapt the situation of the Popular Mobilization fighters,” giving them ranks and salaries equivalent to other branches of the Iraqi military. On May 16 the Iraqi prime minister wore the Popular Mobilization Forces uniform in support of them.

The Popular Mobilization Forces have been involved in several battles of the military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant since their founding, the most important being the Second Battle of Tikrit. After the end of the battle of Tikrit, the complex of occupation forces handed over security issues to local police and security forces.

Groups have been engaged in fight against ISIS

On Monday April 6, 2015, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that, while being heavily involved in the conquest of Tikrit, the Popular Mobilization Forces will not join the planned Mosul conquest. This statement was reversed in March 2016, when al-Abadi reportedly rejected calls by Nineveh’s provincial council to prohibit Popular Mobilization Forces from taking part in retaking Mosul. 

Shiite volunteers reportedly entered Al Anbar Governorate on very first days of May 2015, among heavy protests of Sunnite personalities, with limited operations continuing in 2016.

In Autumn 2016, they participated in the Mosul Offensive acting as left flank of the anti-IS forces, and by November had captured a number of smaller towns and villages from IS, expanding roughly along a line from Qayyarah to Tal Afar, while keeping a distance (20+ km) to the city of Mosul itself.

In October 2017, the PMF was part of the Iraqi government forces that recaptured Kirkuk, which had been under Kurdish control since 2014.

Pompeo said the US is committed to supporting the official Iraqi security forces “to curb the power of militias that have for far too long terrorized the Iraqi people, and undermined Iraq’s national sovereignty.”

Read more: Iraqi Prime Minister visits US as pro-Iranian groups ramp-up attacks

The two countries have been conducting a “strategic dialogue” since June as the Trump administration seeks to reduce the US military presence there.

Pompeo urges people “not to focus” on US troop departure

Asked about the plan for cutting the 5,000 US troops now in Iraq, Pompeo said he had no numbers and urged people “not to focus on that.”

But the continuing US presence, mostly focused on fighting remnants of the Islamic State jihadist group, will be a key issue when Kadhemi meets Trump.

Read more: US pledges to reduce troops in Iraq as tensions ease

Hashed al-Shaabi, which maintains armed units viewed as threats by Washington, is integrated into the Iraqi state, and its political representatives have called for the expulsion of US troops.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk