BAGHDAD: Iraq’s parliament approved a law on Saturday that will transform Popular Mobilisation forces, a mostly Iranian-backed coalition of Shia militias that played a role in fighting the militant Islamic State group, into a legal and separate military corps.
Disagreements over the paramilitary units are complicating efforts to pull Iraq together as forces battle to defeat the IS group, the ultra-hardline Sunni group that overran a third of the country in 2014, proclaiming a “caliphate” that spans parts of Syria.
All the Shia blocs in parliament voted for the bill in a session boycotted by lawmakers from the Sunni minority who object to the existence of armed forces outside the army and police.
Popular Mobilisation, or Hashid Shaabi in Arabic, was accused of abuses against Sunni civilians in towns and villages retaken from the IS group, according to international human rights groups and the UN Human Rights Commissioner.
“I don’t understand why we need to have an alternative force to the army and the police,” said Sunni member of parliament (MP) Raad al-Dahlaki. “As it stands now, it would constitute something that looks like Iran’s Revolutionary Guard,” he added.
Iraqi forces started an offensive on Oct 17 to capture Mosul, IS’s last major city stronghold in Iraq, with air and ground support from a US-led coalition.Kurdish and Popular Mobilisation forces are supporting the offensive.
The law does not say how many fighters will be incorporated under the legalised Popular Mobilisation corps, which currently claims to have more than 110,000 fighters, or define the breakdown between members from the different communities.
The government says between 25,000 and 30,000 members of the Hashid are Sunni tribal fighters and nearly all the rest are Shias, with a few Yazidi and Christian units, reports Dawn.