Iraqi militias refuse to disarm after ISIS defeat
London - Leaders of Iraqi militias grouped under the banner of the government-sanctioned Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) rejected calls to disarm once the Islamic State (ISIS), which they were formed to combat, is defeated.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the end of the war to drive ISIS out of the country.
“Our forces are in complete control of the Iraqi-Syrian border and I therefore announce the end of the war against ISIS,” Abadi said December 9 at a conference in Baghdad. “Our enemy wanted to kill our civilisation but we have won through our unity and our determination. We have triumphed in little time.”
Many Iraqi politicians have urged that the PMF disband, a request echoed internationally by some of Iraq’s allies, including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in October and French President Emmanuel Macron in December.
The 60,000-person PMF was formed after ISIS routed Iraqi government forces and seized large areas in northern Iraq in 2014 and helped push back the jihadists. ISIS-held territory, which at one time included 40% of Iraq.
“Any such discussion is rejected and we do not accept interference in Iraqi affairs,” PMF spokesman Ahmad al-Assadi said. “Asking for the dissolution of the [PMF] is like asking for the dissolution of the Iraqi Army because the [PMF is] a key element of Iraqi security.”
Assadi’s remarks were echoed by Iraqi Vice-President and former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. “We don’t want any country to impose its will on the Iraqi government and the brave Iraqi nation,” Maliki wrote on Facebook.
Disarming the PMF is seen as Abadi’s most difficult test.
The PMF is deeply divisive inside Iraq and has been accused of promoting Iranian interests and carrying out a wave of abuses.
US CIA Director Mike Pompeo said he sent a letter to Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, leader of al- Quds force, and other Iranian leaders expressing concern regarding Iran’s threatening behaviour in Iraq.
“What we were communicating to him in that letter was that we will hold him and Iran accountable for any attacks on American interests in Iraq by forces that are under their control,” Pompeo said at the annual Reagan National Defence Forum on December 2.
Iran says its presence in Iraq is to help Baghdad defeat ISIS.
The death toll from violence in Iraq was at its lowest monthly level in five years following ISIS’s military collapse, the UN Assistance Mission (UNAMI) said. The figures for October and November were the two lowest monthly death tolls since November 2012.
This past November, 117 civilians and police officers were killed and 264 wounded in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict, UNAMI said. The UN mission said violence in Iraq cost 114 lives in October and that the total since the start of the year was 3,229 dead.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Iraqi federal and Kurdish regional judiciaries of violating the rights of ISIS suspects with flawed trials, arbitrary detentions under harsh conditions and broad prosecutions. Abadi denied that Iraq put ISIS suspects on trial without evidence but did not address other parts of the HRW report.
Abadi’s government faces the task of exacting justice on ISIS members while preventing revenge attacks on people associated with the group that could undermine long-term stability.
Iraq’s anti-terrorism laws allow charges to be brought against a large number of people, even those not involved in violence but who are suspected of having helped ISIS, such as doctors who worked in hospitals or cooks who fed fighters.
Sarah Leah Whitson, director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division, said that, in acting this way, “Iraqi justice is failing to distinguish between the culpability of doctors who protected lives under ISIS rule and those responsible for crimes against humanity.”
HRW researchers estimated that 20,000 people had been imprisoned after being accused of ISIS membership. The number of prisoners has overwhelmed Iraq’s weak judicial system.
An innocent person wrongfully identified as an ISIS member in the screening process “may spend months in mass arbitrary detention during the course of their judicial investigation,” HRW said.