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February 1, 2018 4:11 pm

Iraqi Shi’a Militia Commander Highlights Iranian Role in Onslaught Against Kurds

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Fears of religious and ethnic persecution in Kurdistan by the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi Shia militia are growing. Photo: ABN News Agency.

The leader of the Shi’a paramilitary organization that rampaged across Iraqi Kurdistan following the September 2017 independence referendum has hailed the continuing support his group receives from the Iranian regime and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi — also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) — acknowledged that his organization had received generous financial and operational support from Tehran, in a speech last week in the Iraqi city of Basra, the broadcaster Kurdistan 24 reported.

During the war against ISIS, al-Muhandis noted, Hashd al-Shaabi had increasingly integrated with the Iraqi government forces, who are also backed by Iran.

“The support of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been essential, and the youth of Hezbollah had an essential role in training, planning, and supporting us,” al-Muhandis declared. Fighters from Hezbollah in Lebanon have served alongside Iranian units in the conflicts in Iran and Syria.

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Hashd al-Shaabi was formed in late 2014, after a decision by the leading Iraqi Shi’a cleric Ali al-Sistani to protect Shi’a shrines in central and southern Iraq from ISIS attacks. It has played a central role as Iran’s proxy in Iraqi Kurdistan in recent months, driving out Kurdish forces out of much of the territory they had previously liberated from ISIS. Hashd al-Shaabi fighters have also prevented thousands of Kurds from returning to the homes they fled following the Iranian-led military onslaught in October last year.

Multiple reports of persecution and harassment of Iraqi Kurds by Hashd al-Shaabi have surfaced on a weekly basis. On Thursday, Kurdish media reported that two young Kurds had been abducted near Daquq by Hashd fighters and taken to an undisclosed location. Eyewitnesses said the two were seized during an armed raid by Hashd al-Shaabi on a nearby village.

Control over Iraqi Kurdistan boosts Iran’s rulers in repressing their own Kurdish separatist movement, as well as providing them with a land corridor to Tehran’s allies in Syria and Lebanon. But its support for Hashd al-Shaabi is not universally welcomed by Iraq’s Shi’a minority; earlier this month, the prominent Shi’a Islamist leader Moqtada al-Sadr denounced the “despicable political agreements” that led to Hashd al-Shaabi joining Iraq’s ruling coalition.

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